Long before any settler set foot on the land that is now known as Sherbrooke, it was frequently visited by the Abénakis, acting as a midway point between their settlements and the hunting grounds, fishing rivers and lakes of the south.
In 1793, Americans from Vermont settle in the township of Ascot. In 1802, the group’s leader, Gilbert Hyatt, builds his first mill at the forks of the Magog River and the Saint-François River. Hyatt builds a flour mill and his fellow countryman, Jonathan Ball, sets up his sawmill on the opposite side of the river. Named Hyatt’s Mill after its founder, the village will have to wait until 1815 before it sees its first English immigrant’s arrival. A few years later, in 1818, the hamlet is aptly named Sherbrooke after its governor, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke.
In 1823, Sherbrooke becomes the administrative center of the Saint-François judicial district. In 1834, the British American Land Company is created. Managed by Alexander Galt, the company is an incentive for the English settlers to take residence in the Eastern Townships. In 1836, an Anglican school opens its doors in Lennoxville. It acquires the status of university in 1846.
In 1852, the creation of a railway network in the Eastern Townships helps bolster Sherbrooke’s economic development by providing easier trade routes. New immigrants from Ireland work in the construction of the railroad. Many of these Irish workers will eventually settle in Sherbrooke, where they join the French Canadian workers in the rapidly expanding factories along the Magog River.
To ensure the economic development of the area, the Eastern Townships Bank is created in 1855.
Sherbrooke sees an increase in French Canadian immigration starting in 1850 and, as early as 1871, francophones become the majority, except in the borough of Lennoxville.
Economically, Sherbrooke enters its first industrialization phase between 1834 and 1866. Nevertheless, some sectors retain an agricultural focus, like Ascot and Saint-Élie. The second industrialization phase, from 1867 to 1896, is characterized by the emergence of stock companies and the use of electricity for industrial purposes.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Sherbrooke is a rapidly expanding industrial city.
The second half of the 20th century brings the decline of some industrial sectors, namely the steel and textile industries. Sherbrooke evolves into a regional center for government services, education and commerce. In 1954, the University of Sherbrooke is founded. The Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke is created in 1969. The Collège de Sherbrooke opens in 1968 and Champlain College welcomes its first students in 1971.
In the 1970s, a breath of fresh air sweeps across Sherbrooke with the opening of the Centre culturel de l’Université de Sherbrooke and the Maurice O’Bready theatre. The vitality of the city is accentuated by Sherbrooke’s numerous museums, movie theatres, shows, festivals and a new municipal library (1990).
In 2001, before merging with the seven neighbouring municipalities, Sherbrooke had a population of 76,000. Following the merger, in 2002, the population of the new city of Sherbrooke reaches new heights with 150,000 souls. Immigration from the Middle East, Asia, South America, North Africa and Europe maintains Sherbrooke’s reputation as a welcoming city.
Text reproduced with permission from Destination Sherbrooke
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