Tag Archives: Barber Paper Mill

The Credit River – Georgetown

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The section of the Credit River north of Georgetown is one of my favourite places to hike and I’ve returned here a few times over the past thirty years. We typically park on Maple Avenue near River Drive. Once you cross the Credit River on the bridge you can follow the Credit Valley Footpath north to Terra Cotta or south to the Barber Dynamo. This is a side trail to the Bruce Trail and is marked with blue blazes.

The first point of interest is the site of the Barber Paper Mills. These historic Victorian era industrial buildings have sat vacant for over four decades. Several proposals for redevelopment and preservation have been left unfulfilled over the years and the fate of one of Heritage Canada’s 2015 top 10 most endangered sites remains unknown.

The roof on the former paper rolling building, built in 1852, is deteriorating quickly. When we released the feature story Barber Paper Mills in June of 2015 the roof was largely intact on the river side. The side of the roof facing the road was already collapsing at that time. An updated picture was featured in March of 2018 in our story Credit Valley Footpath at which time there were two small holes in the roof on the side facing the river. Today, the roof is collapsing and at least one beam has fallen in as well. Nature is relentless.

The dam that served the Barber Paper mills was replaced with a concrete one that still spans the river below the River Drive bridge. We initially followed the small trail close to the river but it doesn’t go very far past the remains of the old paper mill. You are forced to return to the formal trail and make your way into the forest that lines the sides of the ravine.

The trail follows the river and climbs the ravine three times between the road and the Barber Dynamo. There is one section that climbs a few steps and then follows the root system of the trees along the edge of the ravine. That part of the trail could be challenging in wet or snowy conditions.

The DeKay’s Snake is also known simply as a Brown Snake and has two distinct rows of black black spots running down each side of the back. With the colder weather coming on we may not see anymore snakes this year, but we’re always watching. I should have been watching a little closer because I almost stepped on this one before it slithered off the trail.

The Common Earthball is also known as Pigskin Poison Puffball. However, unlike other puffballs, earthballs do not have a single opening at the top but rather split open to release their spores.

The Grand Trunk Railway Bridge was built in 1855 and earned the nick-name the Iron Bridge. It crosses the 2000 foot wide river valley using 8 spans of 96 feet each and extensive berms on either side. The bridge rises 115 feet above the river. It was expanded in 2010 to accommodate a double track as part of GO Transit’s expansion of services.  Provision has been made for a third track in the future. 

Part of the trail runs through a forest of red oak trees. The weight of nuts or fruit in a forest is known as its “mast” and this year would be known as a big mast year because of the high volume of acorns produced. To have a big mast requires three factors, the first of which is sufficient rain in the fall to prepare the tree for a good spring flowering. Secondly, there can’t be a frost during the week that the female flowers are open in the spring. Lastly, once the acorns are growing they need to avoid summer droughts that can cause fungal problems. The acorns were dropping almost continually in the forest as we passed through, making it the first time we had to hike in acorn rain.

Positive identification of mushrooms can be difficult sometimes and these bright yellow mushrooms were not featured in my field guide or clearly singled out on line. The scales on the caps may indicate that they are poisonous. We don’t harvest mushrooms on our hikes, and recommend you don’t either, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if they are edible or not.

The Barber Dynamo is one of our favourite places to visit in the GTA and we have previously told the story of the building. Each time we take a new set of pictures there is some level of deterioration in the old stone building. Unfortunately it looks like we will eventually lose what remains of the first electrical generating plant to transmit power over wires for the operation of a mill. More details can be found in our feature story on the history of the Barber Dynamo.

The walls are starting to sag in various places and will collapse if steps are not taken to support them, perhaps in a manner similar to the work being done at Goldie Mill in Guelph.

Wolf’s Milk Slime is also known as Toothpaste Slime because of the consistency it has when it first comes out. If the balls are punctured before the spores are ready they will ooze a pink slime. Wolf’s Milk Slime grows between June and November on well rotted logs.

The Credit Valley Footpath continues out to the Tenth Line which could provide a less strenuous hike should you wish to visit the Dynamo. Perhaps we’ll use that end of the trail in the future as we continue to keep an eye on this heritage site over the coming years.

Google Maps Link : Barber Paper Mill

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The Barber Dynamo – Georgetown

Saturday June 6, 2015

After visiting the Barber Paper Mills we crossed the Credit River and made our way toward the Barber dynamo.  The walk back to the dynamo is about 3 km and will take you up and down the 100 foot sides of the ravine three times.  The former Grand Trunk Railway bridge is about half way back to the site.

The Grand Trunk Railway Bridge was built in 1855 and earned the nick-name the Iron Bridge. It crosses the 2000 foot wide river valley using 8 spans of 96 feet each and extensive berms on either side. The bridge rises 115 feet above the river. It was expanded in 2010 to accommodate a double track as part of GO Transit’s expansion of services.  Provision has been made for a third track in the future.  When you reach the rail bridge you will have the option of an upper or lower trail. Choose the upper trail as the climb is less severe here than further down the trail.


The paper mills were a growing business in the 1880’s when John Roaf Barber was running the company.  Born in Georgetown in 1841, John became the plant manager in 1861 and took over full control upon his father’s passing in 1880.  John was a visionary who had converted his mill to the use of paper pulp and was producing some of the finest paper in Canada.  The Barbers had already moved their mills once to get a better head of water to run the water wheels.  Now the water supply was proving to be inadequate again for the size of the business.

After you pass the train bridge you will descend back to the river level before climbing once more as you approach the dynamo.  The trail will split with one trail headed further downstream while the one to the right heads to the dynamo.  You will see a long earthen wall with a small bridge set into it.  This is the weir that was built to help retain the power mill pond.  The bridge sits above a former sluice gateway that has since disappeared.


When J.R. Barber was thinking about his shortage of power in the mill, the early uses of electricity were limited to a few street lighting applications.  No one had thought about generating it and transmitting it across wires for use in industry.  He contacted C. F. Brush, an early manufacturer of dynamo equipment, in Ohio and told him of his plans.  Originally it was deemed impossible but Barber persisted and convinced Brush to manufacture a 100 hp dynamo for him when Brush’s previous largest one had been 30 hp.  Barber selected a site downstream where he could dam the river and create a head of water 6.6 meters tall.  This height of drop was used to power the turbines that ran the dynamo.

The cover photo shows the ruins as you approach them from the west where the water entered.  Directly behind the dynamo building is a 3 meter deep intake channel.  The dynamo was a three story building.  Turbines were on the first floor, dynamo equipment on the second and living and eating quarters on the third.  The east wall in the picture below shows the remains of the second story windows which were the same as those on the first floor.  At water level a pair of stone arches were the outlets for the water after it was used to turn the turbines that powered the mill.  The water flowing out of these arches formed the tail race and was returned to the river downstream.


Water from the inlet was fed into a “Y’ branch penstock, the two ends of which can be seen below.  These in turn were connected to the turbines that were mounted in pairs in front of the water inlet ducts.  The turbines were 1.5 meters in diameter and may be the very ones pictured in the Barber Paper Mills post.


This view is from the south side of the dynamo looking across to the power house (now gone) on the north side.  When I was last here there was a pair of beautiful stone arches in that square hole.  Shafts ran through these arches to connect the dynamo to the turbines in the main room on the lower floor.  The arches are now only so many stone blocks smashed on the floor inside.


The larger of the two dynamos operated here was the 100 hp one that was mounted in the power house, a small extension on the north side of the building.  A smaller 60 hp unit was mounted inside on the second floor.  The 100 hp unit supplied power to the machinery at the mill while the smaller unit provided lighting.  Each was connected to the mill by one of two wires strung on telegraph poles installed for the purpose.  The larger unit was bolted down to rail ties. The remnants of the rail ties and mounting bolts can be seen in the picture below.


The weir can be seen in this picture as a the dark line running across the middle of the photo. The wall of the crumbling building can be seen at the left side of the weir.


By following the line of the old earthen berm toward the river it is possible to locate some of the original wooden crib that was the main part of the dam.  Several flat rows of wood are stacked up just near the water line in the picture below.  They would have been under water 127 years ago when they were installed.


The paper mill is under attack from developers.  The dynamo building is under attack from beavers.  John Roaf Barber chose this site because it was a suitable place to dam the river to create the pond he wanted to use to power his mill.  The local beavers also think it is a great place for a pond.  They are chewing down trees to make their dam and lodge out of.  Several of the trees they have chewed through have fallen onto the old dynamo building.  The same factors that led to the dynamo being constructed here are also speeding up the destruction of this historic building.


The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on the plant in the picture below is a female.  The female can be identified by the band of blue spots along the hind wing.


When public power came to Georgetown it was under the persuasion of J. R. Barber.  He closed the dynamo in 1913 and let the Alexander family live there.  Tragedy struck in 1918 when their young son fell off of the railway bridge and died.  The dynamo was closed and left to the mercy of the weather, vandals and the beavers.

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Barber Paper Mills – Georgetown

Saturday June 6, 2015

The Barber Paper Mill ruins are comprised of several Victorian era industrial buildings that are slowly decaying in Georgetown.  It was sunny and 11 degrees with enough breeze to blow the bugs away.  The next stop up the Credit River north of Norval is the Barber Dynamo.    We decided to access it from the north side which meant parking on Maple Ave. in Georgetown right beside the ruins of the Barber Paper Mills.  An exploration of the Dynamo pretty much requires a look at the paper mill that led to it’s creation.

The Barber family came to Upper Canada in 1822 and settled in the Niagara Peninsula.  In 1825 they helped James Crooks win a $500 bounty from the government for establishing the first paper mill in the colony.  In 1837 they decided to go into business for themselves and moved to Hungry Hollow (now Georgetown) and bought the woolen mill that belonged to George Kennedy who, in 1820,  was the founding father of Georgetown.  As the business expanded they started a second woolen mill just south of Streetsville in what would be known as Barbertown. By 1852 their woolen industry outgrew both buildings and a new larger one was built in Streetsville.  It was at this time that the new paper rolling building was completed.  This allowed the mill to expand from a 91 cm cylinder to a 122 cm paper rolling machine.  Wallpaper was added to their list of products and by 1862 it is said that they had the largest wallpaper factory in North America.


Beside the Paper Mill building stood the machine and maintenance shop.  It has lost all of it’s roof and can be seen in the foreground of this picture.


The archive photo below from 1910 shows the paper mills as they looked in their prime.  The paper machine building and maintenance shops can be seen near the bridge.  The little brown building behind the bridge was the offices, now demolished.  A horse barn and wood storage lot stand where Maple Avenue now runs.  The two smoke stacks were on boiler and digester rooms where the paper pulp was made.

Barber paper Mill 1910

The dam across the Credit River for the paper mill was replaced with the current concrete one some time between the picture above from 1910 and a subsequent one from 1930.  This picture is taken from the modern bridge which was built in 1973.


In 1869 John Roaf Barber took over the mill operation at the age of 30.  By 1886 the business was growing and the mill ran into an old problem.  Insufficient water power to keep the machines running.  At the mill site the head of water (height which it could be made to drop to do work) was only 4.5 meters.  A spot was found about 3 km downstream where a head of 6.6 meters could be obtained. The solution was to build the Barber dynamo which will be explored in a companion post.  The mill was using two sets of turbines like the one pictured below.  It appears that there may be at least 3 of these sets of turbines in the grass behind the sorting building which means the old ones from the dynamo may have been brought here as well. When the dynamo was brought into service in 1888 it made the paper mill the first industry in North America to generate and transmit electricity to operate it’s machines.


This is the river view of the paper machine building.  Paper had been made out of cotton and linen rags until 1869 when a pulp mill was added so that paper could be made from oat, wheat and rye straw.  By 1879 wood pulp was replacing straw and John Roaf Barber was on the leading edge of the new process.  The building below produced some of the countries finest wood based papers and ironically today there is a small tree growing on the roof above the first window.


The power connection station on the river side of the building is a later addition as is testified to by the red bricks inset into the field stone construction of the rest of the building.  There were originally two lines running from the dynamo to the mill.  One was used for lighting and one to power the machines.  After 1913 the mill was converted to Ontario Hydro.


This shot is taken from Maple Avenue and shows the south end of the property.  The incoming sorting and storage building is in the rear while the foundations for the incinerator building or the shipping building can be seen in the foreground.


We crossed the bridge to a blue marked side trail that is part of the Bruce Trail. Forget me nots grow along the north side of the Credit.  Legend has it that when God was naming the plants, this little one called out “forget me not” and God chose that for it’s name.  Prior to joining Canada in 1949 the Dominion of Newfoundland used the forget me not flower for their Remembrance Day flower. The poppy has since been adopted but some still prefer the traditional blue flower instead.


Normally born between late May and early July white tail deer fawns weight 4 to 8 pounds at birth. Fawns are supposed to hide for the first week while their mother forages. After this they will be with the mother until weaned in the fall. They will lose their white spots within the first year but they help camouflage them when they’re infants.  This little one is barely taller than the log it stands in front of and at first I thought it was a dog.


The paper mill was sold by the Barbers to Provincial Papers in 1913 who operated it until it closed in Nov. 1948.  Various tenants occupied the buildings until the mid-1970’s when it was closed and left to rot.  As for the fate of paper mill ruins?  That remains undetermined but in 2008 the site was named as a cultural heritage property.  In 2015 it made Heritage Canada’s top 10 list of most endangered heritage sites.  The current owners proposed a 14 story condo with much of the remaining heritage buildings retained.  Problems with clean-up of soil contaminated by years of heavy industry have left the project on hold and the property is on the market again for a cool 5 million dollars.  Leaving it behind we continued along the river toward the site of the Barber Dynamo.

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