Peterborough is located on the Otonabee River, about 40 kilometres north of Lake Ontario and 110 kilometres northeast of Toronto. It is known as a gateway to the Kawartha Lakes cottage country. Peterborough’s population in 2006 was 74,898 for the city proper and 116,570 for the census metropolitan area.

First Nations groups initially came to the Peterborough area some 11,000 years ago. The first British settlement was started in 1818 by Adam Scott. The name of the original settlement was Scott’s Plains. In 1825, Britain’s experimental plan to send poor Irish families to Upper Canada resulted in the arrival of 1,878 Irish immigrants. The plan was overseen by York (Toronto) politician Peter Robinson, in whose honour the settlement was re-named. In 1904, the world’s highest lift lock was completed in the Trent Canal. A year later, Peterborough became a city.

By the 1870s, the city had become Ontario's main timber producer. Hydroelectricity was developed along the Trent waterways outside Peterborough. This attracted large manufacturers, including Edison Electric in 1891 and Quaker Oats in 1902. Both companies are still in operation today. The Peterborough Canoe Company was founded in 1893. By 1930, one quarter of all those employed in the boat building industry in Canada worked in the Peterborough area.

In the early 1960s it boasted the highest per capita level of manufacturing employment in North America. Since the 1960s, major companies have closed their operations, but new employers such as Minute Maid and Siemens Milltronics have moved in to fill the gap. Insurance companies, shopping plazas and tourist attractions have had a strong impact and mixed agriculture is a continuing economic base. As well, Trent University and Sir Sandford Fleming College have made the city a notable education centre.

In terms of religion, occupation and ethnicity, Peterborough has been considered “demographically average” within Canada. This feature has made it an important barometer of future trends, both politically and for consumer market testing. The area also attracts many retirees. Culturally, Peterborough is home to writers, publishers, a symphony orchestra, museums and heritage organizations, theatre companies and art galleries.