The Grand River In Galt

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Grand River is one of our Heritage Rivers and has been a means of travel and a source of power for centuries. William Dickson came to the Grand River area in 1816 and bought 90,000 acres of land with the intention of establishing a town and developing his land holdings. He built a mill at the confluence of Mill Creek and The Grand River and established Shade’s Mills which would be renamed Galt by 1827. The river made it possible for the establishment of Galt as an industrial centre. The residents built their early community along Water Street, an aptly named roadway.

There’s lots to see in the old town of Galt but this post focusses on the buildings along Water Street. I parked in the parking lot near the Mill Restaurant and walked south along the river. The county atlas map below shows Galt in 1877. I’ve coloured the river blue and the section of Water Street that I explored is coloured green.

There has been a dam on the Grand River in Galt since 1837 when water was first harnessed for power in the Dickson Mill. This same dam would also provide power to the Turnbull Woolen Mill and several other downstream establishments.

The Dickson Mill was built in 1843 and named after Robert Dickson who was a son of Galt founder William Dickson. When its milling days were over it was converted into the Galt Gas and Light Company which generated electricity to light the streets and homes of town. They operated between 1889 and 1911 when power arrived in town from Niagara Falls. In 1980 it was converted into The Mill Restaurant.

In 1974 there was a severe flood which caused damage to the riverbank and several historical structures along Water Street. This led the city to form a riverbank development program which saw the creation of Mill Race Park along with other stabilization projects. Robert Turnbull and John Deans had operated a knitting mill in Galt since 1859 and had taken over the old Wardlaw Mill on this site and used it between 1890 and 1897 when it burned down. It was rebuilt and operated under various names until 1972. The ruins have been incorporated into an amphitheater and park area for use by everyone.

The mill race carried a flow of water from the dam and along the side of Water Street where it was used by a series of mills. The turbine still remains in the mill race beside the old Turnbull Woolen Mill. Water rushed through a penstock at the bottom of the mill race to turn the turbine. It turned the belts that ran on the smooth wheels and supplied power to the knitting mill.

Morris Lutz built this Georgian style limestone house in 1850. Lutz had arrived in Galt in 1844 and became part of the Dumfries Foundry where he was foreman in the machine shop. Morris was elected to the first town council and when Galt was incorporated as a city in 1857 he was the first mayor.

Galt got a new post office in 1936 which replaced the one that still stands a little farther down Water Street. This handsome stone building with clock tower has been home to the post office ever since.

The Bank of Toronto opened a branch on Water Street in 1912 and this Beaux-Arts style building is unique in town. It has white glazed tiles on the exterior that are similar to pottery, another example of bank buildings that were designed to stand out from their neighbours.

Andrew Carnegie donated $23,000 for the construction of a new library for the Town of Galt in 1905. Carnegie gave away 90% of his fortune which is roughly $5.2 Billion in 2021 value. He funded about 3,000 libraries in the belief that libraries should be free to the local community. This Beaux-Arts style building housed the library for over 60 years and has since been home to several businesses. It is currently available for lease.

The First Delta Baptist Church was built in 1887 and is a mixture of Romanesque and Italianate styles. In Ontario it is rare for a church to be built with river or waterfront property. Usually they are on side streets, often conveniently named Church Street. The Baptist congregation formed in Galt in 1851 and they met in houses until 1872 when they started using the Primitive Methodist building. Robert Scott donated the land for the church which was deconsecrated in 1980 and then sold to the city for use as a theatre.

This archive photo shows the Baptist Church in 1902. It is interesting to see how the building has changed over the years. The main alteration is the elimination of the two doors on either corner and the opening of a central doorway. The side doors have been bricked in to disguise the fact that they ever existed. The new central door has also been closed in during the intervening years. There appears to be a new small window in between the two buttresses beside the new doorway.

George Landreth arrived in Galt in 1831 and found work in one of the many mills in town. He had this Georgian Cottage built in 1858 and it still has its original doorway with the multipaned side lights and transom. Along with the Lutz home featured above, it is one of just two original homes that remain in the original core of Water Street.

The Imperial Block was built in 1887 and was almost like an early strip mall. This Romanesque Revival structure at one time was home to the Commercial Bank, a grocery store, a tailor shop, a dress maker, tobacco dealer, hairdresser, dentist and a music store.

Scott’s Block was built in 1890 in the Romanesque Revival style. It has a terra cotta tower on top and detailed brickwork on the front. A two story oriel window stands out from the crowd of historic buildings on Water Street.

The Galt Woolen Factory is the oldest surviving textile mill in the city. It was built in 1843 for Isaac Sours who operated it until 1852. During this time his employees worked an average of 64 hours per week. In 1881 it became the Tiger Brand Knitting Company and today has been converted into offices and apartments.

In 1885 the Federal Government commissioned a new post office for Galt which was also used for as a Customs and Inland Revenue Office. It has some of the most interesting masonry work of all the stone buildings in Cambridge which has been preserved in the restoration and expansion project that brought the glass section to the rear.

Partial ruins of old mills and factories line both sides of Water Street and there is a great deal of history being retained in creative ways. Plenty of communities could learn from this example. The Canada Machinery Corporation had a Pattern Works Shop and Stores building beside the river where it forged machinery parts. They operated until 1979 and in 1984 the remains of their building were incorporated into another public park with its history intact.

The Galt branch of the Great Western Railway opened in 1854. Some portions of the former right of way along Water Street can still be traced and the old stone abutments can be seen where it crosses a small creek.

This blog is focused on Water Street and really doesn’t get into Main Street and some of the other parts of town. If you explore these areas you will find the 1857 Town Hall, the 1838 Dumfries Township Hall and the old Galt Firehall among the many interesting buildings in town.

Other Grand River stories: The Shand Dam, The Elora Gorge, West Montrose Bridge (Kissing Bridge)

Google Maps Link: Mill Race Park Cambridge

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2 thoughts on “The Grand River In Galt

  1. Leslie M Kuretzky

    What a beautiful place. We were not too far from there today on one of our driving journeys. Will make it a point to visit this coming week

    Reply

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