People have been living in this general area for centuries. Archaeological evidence confirms that native peoples had hunting camps and small villages along the Credit and Humber river valleys from about 8000 B.C.E.
European settlers began arriving in Ontario by the early 1780s. But, even into the early 1800s, Brampton was still wilderness, largely untouched by settlement. To prepare for the eventual influx, lands in Chinguacousy and Toronto Gore Townships were surveyed in 1818. Surveyors described the region as low, swampy and covered with dense hardwood forest. Slowly land was cleared, cabins built and fields were ploughed for farming.
The historical heart of modern Brampton has always been the intersection of Queen and Main Streets, later known as the "four corners". This urban focal point has existed since the 1820s. Only a handful of people lived in the community at this time.
Another defining feature of the new settlement was Etobicoke Creek. The creek played its part in Brampton's development but because it was slow-moving and meandering, it could never sustain large-scale milling operations. The Brampton settlement grew more slowly as a result.
In the early 1820s, John Elliott settled in the village. He and another settler named William Lawson were staunch members of the Primitive Methodist movement and they established a strong Methodist presence in the area. Both were from Brampton, Cumberland, England. In 1834, they named the settlement Brampton in honour of their English home. Elliott also had village lots surveyed for sale to help attract other settlers. John Scott established the first industrial venture with an ashery used to produce potash.
By 1846 the village had two stores, a tavern, tannery, cabinetmaker, two blacksmiths and two tailors and the population had reached 150 people.
In 1853, Brampton was officially incorporated as a village. The population had grown to more than 500 people. Several churches were built, along with a grammar school, distilleries, several stores and John Haggert's agricultural implements factory. The local economy was growing and the village supported the surrounding farms and rural hamlets.
The Grand Trunk Railway constructed a rail line and a station in Brampton in 1856. In the mid-Victorian era, the arrival of a railway line usually triggered an economic boom and Brampton was no different. By the 1860s the village was growing fast. In 1867, Brampton was selected as the Peel County seat. The County Courthouse, Jail and other public buildings were constructed. Kenneth Chisholm built Alderlea, a massive estate in the heart of the Village. Large homes were built near the Courthouse. Extensive land holdings surrounding the four corners were subdivided to build houses for the many new arrivals. Brampton was incorporated as a town in 1873 and John Haggert was elected the first Mayor.
A new industry was emerging in Brampton by the mid-Victorian era. In 1860, Edward Dale established a flower nursery. Within a few short years, Brampton became known as the “Flowertown of Canada” and soon Dale's Nursery was Brampton's largest employer. By the turn of the century, hundreds of acres of land were filled with greenhouses growing prize orchids, hybrid roses and many other quality flowers. Most of these flowers were grown for export around the world.
The 20th century brought new industries to the town, mostly along the railway line, including the Williams Shoe factory, the Copeland-Chatterson Loose-Leaf Binder company and the Hewetson Shoe factory. Major banks established branches on the four corners. In 1907, American industrialist Andrew Carnegie established a library in the downtown and the population reached 4,000 people by 1910.
Brampton's citizens endured two world wars and the Great Depression during the first half of the 20th century. These major world events took their toll on the local economy. Some factories closed and the flower industry began a slow but steady decline.
The City slowly transformed after the Second World War. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the automobile began to change the landscape, as did rapid urban growth in Toronto. New subdivisions began to develop. In the late 1950s, Bramalea was created and touted as "Canada's first satellite city". Bramalea was a planned community built to accommodate 50,000 people by integrating houses, shopping centres, parks, commercial business and industry.
In March 1948, Brampton endured a devastating flood when Etobicoke Creek overflowed its banks. The creek flooded repeatedly, but the 1948 flood was considered the worst. The town launched an ambitious civil engineer project to straighten and reroute the creek. Construction of a concrete diversion channel began in June 1950. Premier Leslie Frost officially opened it on July 5, 1952.
In 1974, the Region of Peel was created and
Brampton became a city. Large-scale and leading-edge industries located in Brampton. In the 1980s and 1990s, large subdivisions developed on lands formerly used for farming. The culturally diverse and vibrant City of today was emerging.
Brampton is now among the largest urban centres in Canada with a population of over 450,000 people. The roots of Brampton's success can be traced to its heritage. The foundations were first laid almost 200 years ago when a group of industrious people established a small hamlet at the crossroads of Queen and Main Streets.
Historical photos provided by the Peel Art Gallery, Museum + Archives (PAMA)