Marchmont Grist Mill

Saturday May 2, 2015

It was 18 degrees with just occasional clouds.  I had the occasion to meet my parents and an older brother in Orillia for breakfast.  West of Orillia is the village of Marchmont, named after the Earl of Marchmont.  It grew up as a small farming community where the mill served initially to grind grain then primarily as a feed mill preparing food for local farmers for their livestock. Other local industries such as the blacksmith also served the needs of the farmers in the adjacent land grants.

Some records indicate a government operated mill here as early as 1834 built to provide employment for local natives.  This didn’t work as expected and by 1843 the mill was sold into private hands.  When the original mill burned in1884 the town went without one for about three years.  A new mill was built in 1887 by Charles Powley who installed two runs of mill stones.  He used one for grinding flour and one for making livestock feed for the local farmers. In 1947 it was converted to a full time feed mill and the flour rollers were removed.  The mill records indicate 13 different people operated the mill until it closed for good in 1987.  It has been used as a private residence since 1989.  In the picture below the dam on the North River creates the beautiful Marchmont mill pond.  The residents used the pond for swimming in the summer and skating in the winter.


Water flows out of the mill pond and over the dam to maintain the water level in the mill pond. When the mill was in operation water was allowed out of the pond and through a flume to the water wheel.  The original wooden flume was replaced in 1910 with the present metal one which is four feet in diameter.  It runs under Marchmont Road and into the mill.  Before the mill was closed the aging pipe had sprouted many leaks.  In the winter natural ice sculptures 15 feel high would be created around the leaks.


The Marchmont Grist Mill as it appears today in service as a home.  The mill is featured in the cover photo as it appeared in the early 1900’s.


The flume is seen entering the side of the mill a few feet above the river level.  At first there was a large water wheel here which was later replaced with the more efficient turbines.  The water was returned to the river through the chute at the bottom.


The spiral casing for the turbine was connected to the end of the flume.  Water is forced into the spiral casing spinning the turbine blades.


The spinning turbine blades power a system of drive shafts, belts and pulleys inside the mill.  A chute would be opened with a hand cranked wheel to allow water to flow into a chamber about 30 feet below the lower floor of the mill.  When running at full speed the turbine could produce 75 horse power.


Corn was brought in by the wagon load, and later on trucks, to be prepared as food for livestock. It would be dumped into a slot on the floor just inside the door where it would drop into a bin below.  Customers brought grains for processing or came to purchase products such as Swift’s Dairy Feed that was produced on site.  In this archival photo we see the front side of the mill where customers would have entered.  In the background we can see the Baptist Church and then the Blacksmith’s house.


Marchmont Baptist church celebrated it’s 127th Anniversary this past weekend.  It’s formation dates back to 1877 when church meetings were held in people’s homes.  Jacob Powley owned a town lot just to the west of the mill pond.  He sold it for $1.00 for the purpose of erecting a church.  In October 1888 thrity-one members of Orillia Baptist Church formed the new congregation that came to be known as Marchmont Baptist Church. In 1923 the church numbered 61 and had outgrown the building.  The abandoned Gospel Hall was purchased and moved as an addition to the back of the church.  In 1962 a new church lot was acquired in trade for the old lot and building.  The cemetery in town belongs to the Baptist Church but is dated to 1832.  This contains the earliest settlers and came under the care of the Baptist church at a later date.  The old church building is gone but the owner of the house pictured below has added a considerable history of the place in the comments at the end of this post.


Across the lane from the old church building stands the former blacksmith shop and an 1860 home from it’s former owner.


Built of local logs in the 1840’s, this house is the oldest one in Marchmont and one of the oldest on it’s original site in Ontario.  It is currently in use as an artist’s studio.


This old board and batten building has the appearance of being an old garage.  The White Rose sign contains the logo for a Canadian motor oil company with roots to the early 1900’s.  By the 1920’s they were opening up stations to serve the growing need for gas for cars.


Old gas pumps stand beside the old garage.  Imperial Oil is Canada’s second biggest oil company, operating under the brand name Esso.


Built in 1898 the old union school building has also been converted into a residence.


It was nice to get out of town and see an historic community that hasn’t been surrounded by development.  It should take the GTA a few more years before it expands to the point that high rises are needed in Marchmont.




6 thoughts on “Marchmont Grist Mill

  1. Pingback: Bruce’s Mill | Hiking the GTA

  2. Pingback: Old Mills of Southern Ontario | Hiking the GTA

  3. Derrick Charpontier

    My father was the last operator of the grist mill me and my 2 brothers were the last generation who worked in the mill i will post some stories when i have a bit of time my mother still lives on the mill pond and i recently purchased the old white house which was a post office and convience store

  4. Pingback: Road Trip – Camp Calydor and Marchmont Grist Mill | Hiking the GTA

  5. Roger T. Pretty

    Your remarks about my house in Marchmont being converted from the old Baptist Church are not correct. My house was next door to the church and my front lawn is where the church stood. The Wassenaar family traded a piece of the farm where the new church was built. There apparently was a shed on my garden because when my wife and I moved here in 1970 the soil was rich and needed no fertilizing. That is where the church goers parked their horses. My house was a commercial building, built typically two feet from the road allowance and in line with the General Store. Premier Leslie Frost states in the first chapter of his book FIGHTING MEN that Company C had its farewell dinner served in the upstairs of my house before departing for England and WWI. Other famous persons have visited my house: Tommy Douglas slept there the night before delivering the centennial sermon at the old West Street Baptist in Orillia. Stephen Lewis, former leader of the Ontario NDP and Canadian ambassador to the U.N., and later appointed by Kofi Annan as UN ambassador on the AIDS pandemic, visited several times. His wife, journalist Michele Landsberg, addressed a women’s group in my sitting room. My wife and I added to the house and renovated it. Every room but one is a room with a view. Every prospect pleaseth. And the neighbours are fine too. In 1970 grass grew down the middle of Marchmont Road. Only two or three years ago it was surfaced properly. There were 15 houses then, two were torn down, but now there must be about a hundred or more. I live in what we locals describe as downtown Marchmont. Over the decades Marchmont has absorbed more territory. It used to cluster around the mill and the bridge but now it extends to Division Road, Marchmont School, and apparently sprouted suburbs. I see you also did not learn about the sawmill that once existed below and behind my house. The timbers that built mine were likely sawn there in 1870. The mill dam has been rebuilt, but water through the flume not longer turns machinery. Rudy Meeks bought it a few years ago and has converted it into a beautiful and charming house. Rudy must now be close to 90; he was three times old-time fiddler champion of Canada. He still plays. He makes violins, and some great musicians own a Meeks violin. Last time I was in his house there were six or eight of them lined up on his dining room table.

    1. hikingthegta Post author

      Thanks Roger! I’ll be able to correct my story plus you’ve added a lot of additional information. That’s so cool. My father, William Cook, pastored at Marchmont Baptist Church and lived for awhile in the house next door.


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