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The antecedent of the Peterborough Historical Society began in 1896 amidst a general growth of interest in national and local history. A small group of local notables, concerned about the preservation of stories and artifacts from the pioneer years of Peterborough, formed the Town and County of Peterborough Historical Society. They elected Catharine Parr Traill honorary president, Colonel H. C. Rogers president, and T.A.S. Hay secretary.

From the beginning, and throughout its subsequent iterations, the Historical Society was closely associated with the promotion of a local museum. The founders established the Victoria Museum which, with organized lectures, was the focus of their activities. The initial collection came from the Peterborough Mechanics Institute to which were added artifacts and documents solicited from the public. These were first housed in rooms of Inverlea House, managed by the Nicholls estate, and subsequently moved to space in the new Carnegie library in 1912.

Inverlea House, Peterborough, Ontario. Photo Courtesy Peterborough Museum and Archives.of
Inverlea House. Photo Courtesy Peterborough Museum and Archives.
Carnegie Library, Peterborough, Ontario. Photo Courtesy Peterborough Museum and Archives.
Carnegie Library. Photo Courtesy Peterborough Museum and Archives.

Shortly following the flurry of its establishment, the Historical Society lapsed into intermittent dormancy. For several decades the Society was silent, during which time the museum’s collection suffered neglect, including loss, theft and other forms of dissipation.

In 1953 a new group of citizens, led by such energetic enthusiasts as Anne Heideman, resurrected the Society and developed it into a sustainable organization, renamed the Historical Society of the City and County of Peterborough. Its members focused on creating a new museum. For this purpose, and to safeguard what was left of the collection, in 1961 some members established the Peterborough District Historical and Art Museum Foundation. The Historical Society was instrumental in successfully guiding the City to embrace the creation of a museum as its centennial project, the Peterborough Centennial Museum and Archives.

In 1969 Jeanette Connal Brown bequeathed Hutchison House, the home of the town’s first resident doctor, to the Historical Society. Once again the Society embraced the idea of a museum as a suitable vehicle to promote local history. With the responsibility of restoring the house as a museum, the Society in 1977 applied to the Province of Ontario for Letters Patent to incorporate as the current Peterborough Historical Society.

For a more extensive account of the relationship of the PHS to the development of museums in Peterborough, see Ken Doherty, Preserving Peterborough’s Past: 150 Years of Museums and History (Peterborough Historical Society Occasional Paper #16: 1995).