Category Archives: Mills

The Barrie Light Company

Saturday May 30, 2015

After visiting with my parents in Barrie there was an opportunity to make a short visit to a site near town.  A street with the name Finlay Mill Road pretty much needs to be investigated and we were only a km away.  Light rain was falling with the threat of a downpour.

Willow creek crosses Finlay Mill road where a half dozen mills, a soap factory, distillery and two power generating plants once stood.  This was the industrial core of Midhurst.  Preserved here are a set of mill stones and the school bell that was used in SS No. 6.  The original building dates to 1866 but a second building containing this bell was built in 1887 where it was used until 1962.


Charles Singleton Bell operated a bellfoundry in Hillsboro Ohio starting in 1875 under the name C.S. Bell.  In 1882 he changed the name to C.S. Bell & Co. when his son joined the company, a name he operated under until 1894. Starting in 1894 he changed the name again, this time to The C.S. Bell Company when the company was incorporated.  The name stamped on the bell below dates it to 1882-1894 which is correct for the 1887 date for the second school building. The number 20 on the stem identifies it as a 20″ bell.  C.S. Bell and Co. sold school bells in diameters ranging from 20 to 28 inches.  Farm bells were smaller than 20 inches while bells over 30 inches in diameter were made for churches and fire halls.


On April 15, 1878 the town of Barrie enacted legislation creating the Barrie Water Company and the Barrie Gas company.  Town by-law 345 in 1888 gave exclusive rights to James Burton, George Ball and Samuel Lount to provide electric power to the town.  They formed the Barrie Light Company.  They built two generating plants on Willow Creek.  On June 4 1888 they successfully transmitted power to a station on the end of Bayfield Street.  In August, with great fanfare, they lit 17 street lights in downtown Barrie.  At the same time the Barrie Gas Company’s 10 year contract for street lighting expired and was never renewed.  By the mid-1890’s people began to feel that the private companies were charging too much and public ownership was proposed.  The Barrie Light Company was sold to the city for $22,501.  Barrie’s population reached 6,500 by 1910 and the electrical consumption started to exceed production capacity at the two old generating stations.  The solution was to switch to Ontario Hydro which was completed by 1912.  The old production facility was abandoned and later demolished.

The foundations from the 1888 power generating station remain on the west side of Willow Creek.


Concrete pieces are strewn across the creek where the power facility once stood.


Remains of foundations can be seen in the trees on the other side of the creek.


Just beyond the first power mill Willow Creek flows through an area where erosion of the sandy hillside makes following the trail a very risky concept.


Dragonflies and Damselflies are two separate species which are often confused. The easiest way to tell them apart is in the rest position of the wings.  Dragon flies sit with their wings spread out while damselflies sit with them folded above the back.  The female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly has a small white spot on the tips of the wings while the male is all black.  The female is pictured below.


It began to rain harder and lacking a paddle we decided not to venture farther up the creek. The foundations of a second power station remain to be located on a future visit when hopefully the surrounding area will yield more of the secrets of historic Midhurst.


Nicolston Mill

Monday May 19, 2015

Victoria Day in Ontario and so I had the day off work.  The weatherman was calling for rain starting later in the morning so I decided to make a quick exploration before it started.  As it turns out there was no need to rush because it didn’t rain.

John Nicol arrived in 1828 and built a grist mill on this site.  As the farming community grew around the mill it was converted to also be a feed mill.  It provided flour to farmers and feed to their livestock until 1900 when it burned down.  The community was without a mill until 1907 when it was replaced with this current building.  The settlement came to be known as Nicolston when the post office arrived.  As the town grew it gained a post office, hotel, blacksmith shop, school, a woolen mill and general store.  The town slowly disappeared and the mill was closed in 1967.  It was the last water-powered mill to close in South Simcoe.  The mill area has been converted to an RV campground and it is posted as no trespassing unless you are registered as a camping guest.


The river above the mill dam was quiet and is marked as no fishing.


The mill dam at Nicolston has a series of steps to it as well as an overflow at the side (not pictured)


Many fish migrate between the sea or open lakes and fresh water streams and these fish are known as diadromous.  When settlers arrived and started to put dams up across the local rivers and streams they caused a major disturbance to the migration patterns of fish.  In 1837 Richard McFarlan built and patented a fish ladder to let fish get around his dam in Bathurst New Brunswick.  Nichols mill dam has a fish ladder as can be seen in the picture below.  I wonder if maybe Darwin had seen a fish climbing a set of stairs and that inspired his theory of evolution?


Various wheels transfered the power from the wheel or turbine to the grinding stones inside the mill.  The wooden ribs are slowly falling out of the largest wheel.


Nicolston’s Mill has a large water turbine on the side lawn. Water forced this wheel to turn and transfer energy to a series of wheels and drives like those pictured above.


The spiral casing held the turbine blades causing them to spin by the force of the water rushing through the chamber.


After visiting the mill I decided to take a drive into the countryside to see what I could see.  I found an old closed road that appeared to still have an accessible road allowance.  Along here I found the remnants of a shed which contained several interesting artifacts that appeared to need a good home.

The Calumet Baking Powder Company dates to 1889 when it was established in Chicago Illinois. The company is named after a local word for peace pipe and the area of Calumet City. The company adopted an Indian Head for a logo which later appears to have been copied for the Chicago Black Hawks logo. The baking powder was known as double acting because it started to work while it was being mixed but continued working in the oven as well. In 1929 when General Foods bought them out, Calumet became a brand name for General Foods to distribute under. This little tin was a free promotional sample which was distributed by General Foods Toronto.


I also found a Carruther’s Whole Milk Dairy bottle with a small chip in the lip.  Located at 1315 Davenport Road they marketed their milk with the slogan “Carruthers’ Milk – Stands for happiness and good health, and is essential to both.”  They are listed in the 1928 Department of Agriculture listing of Cheese Factories and Creameries.


In May 1868 Dr. Samuel Pitcher was granted a patent for a product known as Castoria.  It was sold as a laxative.  In 1871 Charles Henry Fletcher bought the rights and renamed the product Fletcher’s Castoria.  The bottle I found says Dr. S. Pitcher on it making it one of the first three year’s production.


Minard’s Liniment was invented in the 1860’s by Dr. Levi Minard in Nova Scotia.  Made with camphor it provided instant relief for sore muscles.  Minard’s liniment is still sold today but you have to travel to the back roads of Ontario to come up with a bottle from the 1880’s like the one pictured below.


The town of Nicolston isn’t much more than a mill and a new subdivision on the hill overlooking it.  This is the view of the mill as you drive up the hill and out of town on the 5th line.



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.