The first settlers came here from England, Scotland, and Ireland around 1834, and they named the newly proclaimed Bristol Township after Bristol, Gloucestershire County, England. Some years later, families from Poland, Germany, as well as a few French Canadians joined the mix of pioneers and many made the long over-land trek, walking from Montreal after disembarking ships there.
The earliest mode of transportation was by boats that came up the Ottawa River to the foot of Chats Falls. The first early steam boats, the Lady Colborne and the George Buchanan, operated since 1836 throughout the 1840's, from Lac Deschenes to Lac des Chats. The George Buchanan boarded at Unionville (Pontiac Station) and ran the 20 mile trek across Chat’s Lake to Albertville (Portage du Fort).
In 1835 - William King opened the first Grist Mill on Silver Creek. Prior to the mills, the women would card wool into rolls; then spin it into yarn and knit socks and underwear for the men of the family. During this period, one of the first mills was started by a Mr. Stewart who came over from Scotland in 1837.
The first homes were hewn out of logs from the vast stands of white pine, spruce, balsam, cedar, and other hard woods. Later, agriculture, forestry, mining industry were developed, allowing a diverse economy to begin and giving an economic foothold to the fledgling population.
Since 1860 Bristol held an annual Agricultural Exhibition on the present grounds of Pine Lodge until the early 1900s.
The Bristol area was the home to the first Horse Drawn Railway in Canada which operated out of Pontiac Bay until 1886. The Union Forwarding Company operated this railway which linked Pontiac Village to Union Village above Chats Falls. The Horse Railway was made up of 18 foot-long cars that had roofs to protect the passengers. Its operators received many complaints from passengers because there were no windows or screens to keep out the mosquitoes and black flies.
1908 the federal government called for tenders to build the Norway Bay Wharf at the end of Cutherburtson Street now the Wharf Road, and in 1913 the wharf was completed and maintained by the Department of Public Works. From 1923 to 1963 the ferry, Norvic, landed at the Norway Bay Wharf. The ferry was sold in 1963. Mr. Gamble who owned the ferry paid the wharfage fees charged each year by the federal government.
In 1956, Hilton Mines opened in Bristol one of the first ore-pelletizing plants in Canada. The mine was closed in 1976, but travelers can still see the gigantic pit miles away from both sides of the Ottawa River as they approach Bristol.
In 1988 the Bristol Township bought the local wharf from the federal government and landscaped it with trees, flowers, benches, and a brick walk. The wharf is still used for regattas, swimming lessons, and a boat launch
Today, the immense size and beauty of the Pontiac, along with the majesty of the Laurentian mountains and the Ottawa River, are some of the reasons that attracted the early settlers and continue to bring newcomers and visitors to Bristol and other small villages in the Pontiac region to live, work, and explore. Tourism is now the backbone behind the local economy. Indeed, there are over 4000 lakes in the Pontiac area. During the summer months Bristol's population swells from 1,120 to over 2,500. And at the end of the summer some of these vacationers even decide to stay.
Outdoor activities abound. The Ottawa River and the many lakes allow easy access to activities such as boating, canoeing, and fishing. If you're feeling really adventurous, go kayaking at Calumet Island. Or experience the fast flowing rapids at the chutes in Chutes Cologne. And hiking is just steps away throughout the whole region.
You can enjoy a healthy peddle on P.P.J. Cyclopark which begins in Bristol - it's 92 km in length. You can go swimming in McLellan Park and watch the hustle and bustle of boaters and people enjoying the waterfront. In the evening, stroll leisurely by the waterfront and enjoy the calm and quiet. But you might want to tuck a can of mosquito repellent in your jacket.
Bristol has two first-class golf courses nearby: Norway Bay Golf Club and Pine Lodge Golf Course.
As to winter activities, they are also plentiful. You can go skiing, skating, snowmobiling, or snow-shoeing.
A stone's throw from Bristol, you'll find the Bristol Heritage Centre, located at #14 Route 148. It opens for the season on July 1st through to Labor Day weekend. You'll find a limited food concession as well as local artisans on hand with some of their crafts and artwork for sale.
Finally, note than the area in and around Bristol has some of the best hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts to make your stay comfortable. There is the Pine Lodge Hotel in Bristol and The River View Inn in Norway Bay. Both the Pine Lodge and the River View Inn offer interesting menus and heart-warming meals.
And there are usually many cottages available for rent that will provide you with ‘a home away from home’ during your visit to the Bristol area.
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