From 1856 to ’61 mostly Irish immigrants arrived in the area. They were fleeing the aftermath of the Irish potato famine (1845 – 52), hoping for a new start with their 100 free acres. Many of them were already experienced in farming. They preferred the fertile acres in the Township of Dungannon to the rocky or swampy land in Faraday. Therefore Dungannon became more densely settled. In 1868 there were only 31 families in Faraday, yet 58 in Dungannon. L’Amable on the beautiful L’Amable Lake became the largest and busiest village in the district, whereas York River to the north of L’Amable was the smallest community at that time.
The settlement of York River, insignificant and young as it was, had already undergone several name changes – from York Mills to York Branch, then The Branch and eventually York River. It would change its name once more due to the arrival of Senator Billa Flint, who hailed from Bridgewater (now Tweed). The energetic, extroverted Senator had already made quite a name for himself by having held public office in Belleville and by having closed numerous large land deals in various townships. Now he took a lively interest in York River. He succeeded in persuading a number of skilled tradesmen to move to York River, among others, carpenters and blacksmiths, shoemakers and millwrights. They were needed in the area, to which ever more settlers were drawn. Through Senator Billa Flint’s influence and actions York River grew significantly and prospered. The Senator, who had no small ego, felt he deserved recognition for this. Hence he applied to the Postmaster General to have the village renamed Bancroft, which was his wife’s maiden name. Few people knew the Senator’s wife, Phoebe Sawyer Bancroft, and so the villagers decided to object to the proposed name change. Accordingly, they sent a petition to the Government requesting that the name not be changed. However, the powerful Senator got his way, and York River was renamed Bancroft in 1879. Eventually the villagers got used to the new name. Later still, the people of Bancroft showed their respect for the Senator’s accomplishments by naming three streets in his honour – Phoebe, Billa and Flint.
Most of the settlers succeeded in reaping good harvests from their newly cleared lands. They had only crude tools, like cradles and scythes for cutting grain, flails for threshing it and just their bare hands for pounding it into the sacks. But what they lacked in technology, they made up for in effort and determination.
The ample hardwood forests in the Bancroft district attracted the lumber industrialists. The Bronson and Weston Lumber Company established its headquarters in the area and hired lumbermen who then settled in Bancroft.
The Central Ontario Railway came to Bancroft in 1900, connecting Bancroft to Trenton. The arrival of the first train in Bancroft in the summer of 1900 attracted a great crowd. In 1903 a second railway line, the I.B. & O., connected Bancroft to Lindsay. For decades the trains served to transport both people and goods, at a time when the settlers’ wagons were often no match for the rocky and bumpy, ill-maintained roads. When cars and trucks took over, the railway lines were no longer necessary and became unprofitable. Having served their purpose, they were closed in the sixties and seventies.
In December 1904 Bancroft was incorporated as a village. Some fifty years later, as the lumber industry slowed, uranium mining started up in the area. Minerals abound in the Bancroft area. Some 1600 different mineral species have been identified on the fringe of the Canadian Shield running from Madoc through Bancroft to Wilberforce. The Faraday Uranium Mine operated from 1954 to 1964. It reopened under the name of Madawaska Mine in 1975 and produced uranium ore until 1982, when it was closed. During these two active mining periods a total of 9 ½ million pounds of triuranium octoxide were mined. This uranium compound is environmentally attractive for disposal purposes, because it is one of the more stable forms of uranium. When the mines were active, the people of Bancroft benefited from the economic boom. Today a number of abandoned mineral caves and mines can be found throughout the Bancroft area, which makes it a paradise for rockhounds. Bancroft justly prides itself as the “mineral capital of Canada”. The annual Rockhound Gemboree in August is always well attended by amateur geologists from far and wide.
However, rockhounds were not the only people to appreciate the natural charm of the forests and lakes in the Bancroft district. It began to attract an increasing number of tourists, cottagers and campers as well as retirees, who wanted to settle permanently in the area to pursue outdoor activities or simply relax. In 1999 the Village of Bancroft merged with Dungannon Township to form today’s prosperous Town of Bancroft.