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Jackson Creek - the Underground Creek

By Elwood Jones Trent Valley Archives

Jackson Creek runs underneath the buildings in the downtown core of Peterborough to this day. Why did this happen and how?

Jackson Creek flowed from the Cavan swamps, passed through Peterborough and entered the Otonabee River near Townsend Street. The Creek was the major source of waterpower for the earliest industries in Peterborough because unlike the Otonabee River it was not fast flowing. The Otonabee was harnessed by short canals, called raceways, by the 1860s, and by the 1880s the Otonabee was the best river in the province for producing electricity; there were over 20 generating plants between Trenton and Bobcaygeon by 1900.

Jackson Creek seems to have weighed heavily with Richard Birdsall who surveyed the town in the summer of 1825. The longest blocks, east west, were between George and Aylmer. These blocks had seven town lots compared to two for the other blocks between Park and the river.

This presented some problems as the town developed, as bridges were needed wherever the creek crossed the town lines. Quite early, the intersection of Brock and Aylmer was crossed by bridges. This is scarcely visible now, but if you walk the area one can see Jackson Creek flowing from the northwest to the southeast. The creek was then visible to Hunter Street, where a Hunter Street bridge was built over the creek. The creek is visible again in the Charlotte Mews before it passes under the Charlotte Street bridge. The creek is open off and on to the river. Even so, the creek’s course was altered in different areas.

It seemed worthwhile to bridge the creek in several projects because of the compactness of the walking town. Peterborough’s population doubled every 20 years until 1920, So land was at a premium. As well, Birdsall’s survey effectively ignored the creek in laying out the lots. In some parts of downtown buildings, including the parking garages on Simcoe Street and King Street, proved to be the bridges.

There have been discussions since the 1950s about making the creek more visible in the downtown area. However, much of the land is owned in small parcels.

A Map of Peterborough showing where Jackson Creek runs under the downtown core.