The Town of Bancroft, originally called York River, developed at a shallow spot in the York River where travelers on the Monck Road could ford the river with horses and wagons. Upstream of the crossing, the original river was much wider than present day and provided a spot to collect saw logs for the spring log drive down the York River. Businesses sprang up to supply the needs of both travelers and loggers. Logging, sawmills and wood processing survive as part of our modern-day economy. However, the original white pine forests are long gone, replaced by second and third growth forests and reforestation. Bancroft is the hub of a large geographical region commonly referred to as North Hastings or north of 7.
Mineral exploration throughout the area began in the latter half of the 1800′s. Small mining operations developed to recover iron, magnetite, corundum, graphite, feldspar, gold and, more recently, rare earth minerals. Although these mining operations are now history, the Bancroft area is known far and wide for its concentration of gem and mineral sites. The gem and mineral cultural economy is celebrated annually with the Bancroft Gemboree.
Homesteads developed in the 1850′s, with the offer of free land for immigrants. To qualify, homesteaders had to settle on a piece of property they had only seen on a map, build a home and survive off the land for a period of five years. Not all of the land was suitable for farming and many failed. Today, a few farms still operate in the area. Most active farming involves the raising of animals for sale, and most farm fields are used to grow hay and as pasture. With the growing demand for organic foods, local producers are finding a market for organically grown products. The agricultural creative economy features products grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and drugs.
In 2004, Bancroft was named Ontario’s Most Talented Town. The video submitted to TV Ontario featured musicians, stage performers, quilters, face painters, woodworkers, painters, sculptors and more. Many of those featured do not live in the Town of Bancroft but in what is termed the Bancroft catchment area. That is the geographical area within which the residents consider and use Bancroft as their main service centre. Artists and artisans appreciate the peace and serenity of the Bancroft area. Many earn much of their total annual income from this source.
The businesses in this area of Bancroft attract customers from all over, and not just in the immediate vicinity. There is such a vast amount of talent here, and the small business can no longer rely on their customers knowing where they are. Word of mouth travels, but it only travels so far.
With rural areas just starting to embrace online media marketing (and the surrounding area being hotspots of tourism), businesses in this area need to do more to reach out to – not only local clients – but visitors. Restaurants can benefit from online media marketing that finds passersby on the major highways passing through from Toronto to Belleville and to Ottawa. If traffic doesn’t move off these roads, they won’t find businesses hidden in the shadows. Online Partnerships, Twitter, Face book, QR codes, Google Places, and mobile phone apps can go a long way to helping rural and small businesses attract urban travelers passing through their neck of the woods.
It is becoming increasingly more common that local residents – even in rural and small towns – are tossing the Yellow Pages and conducting searches for movie theatres, real estate, automobiles, restaurants, and even ATV sales online before they go anywhere else.