Tag Archives: Water Wheel

Tyrone Mill

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Tyrone mill is the last surviving, commercially operated, water powered mill in the GTA, and one of very few in all of Ontario. The village was founded around 1828 although records of it’s beginning are unclear. At one time the settlement was split with the English living on the eastern end in a community named Mount Hope while Irish settled on the western end in Tyrone. In 1840 the two ends decided to have a cricket match to see what the town would be called. The western side won and the town became known as Tyrone. The county atlas below shows the narrow town stretched out along the side road with no side streets. The road no longer goes around the mill pond and continues north and although it has been closed for decades it can still be traced on Google Earth.

The mill dates back to 1846 when James McFeeters and John Gray built a dam on Bowmanville Creek and erected a grist mill. The mill operated under different owners until 1908 when milling grain became unprofitable and the mill was converted to preparing feed stock. Even this operation didn’t last and by the late 1970’s the mill was once again in danger of closing permanently. It was purchased by Bob Shafer who decided to operate it as a water powered saw and grist mill and cater to those with a sense of the historic. It has now become a popular destination in the GTA where a short drive that can take you back into the pioneer lifestyle of the past.

Today the mill operates on the power supplied by a water wheel but in the past it has been supplied by a turbine. Parts of that turbine are now on display outside the mill.

The entrance to the mill still has an old bell which was once operated by a string that runs into the building to alert the owners that someone was entering. They could have been anywhere around the mill but would come to take care of their customers.

It also has its own small blacksmith shop and in the early days Abraham Younie operated a barrel shop that served the export trade of the grist mill. Younie owned property on the east end of town and later opened a stave factory to make the wooden parts for his cooper shop to turn into flour barrels.

Inside the mill there is a store tucked around all of the original mill structure. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions I was unable to see the full extent of the mill and its workings. The side of the store with the baker in it was closed off but baked goods could still be purchased, including fresh baked bread. One of the specialties of the mill bakery is home-made doughnuts and I was able to get some that were still slightly warm. Rolled in cinnamon and sugar these were the closest thing to the ones my great-grandmother used to make for us when we visited as children.

The blacksmith shop in Tryone was erected by a local mason named Richard Treneuth who is credited with several other stone buildings in the area. The blacksmith shop was built in 1860 for George Emmerson. The shop then passed to his apprentice Robert McCullough who operated it from 1895 to 1950.

Byam’s General Store stands across the street from the blacksmith shop. It occupies the site of a former hotel. The previous hotel was complete with a number of horse sheds in the back that have been replaced with lawn and trees.

Prior to 1860 the children in town had to walk two miles to get to their classes in either school section 10 or 13. Then a school was erected in town that took in parts of each of these school sections and created a new one. Then in 1892 the town built a beautiful brick school house, complete with a bell tower, on the site of the earlier school.

Across the street from the Methodist Church stands Tyrone Community Hall which was erected in 1925.

Methodist preachers traveled throughout the communities in Upper Canada and founded churches in almost every one of them. A small church had been built in the 1830’s but within a decade it was too small and was replaced with a new building in 1844. By 1868 this was also too small and was replaced with the present building which now houses the United Church.

John Gray owned the only stone house in the early town. He was one of the original settlers in the area, having arrived in 1810.

This house is a surviving example of the Georgian Style which was popular for many of the earliest homes in Upper Canada. This house was built by Samuel Bingham but was occupied by Samuel Younie for many years.

Tyrone Mill is a place that I will be visiting again to get a better look around when I can go upstairs to see the saw mill in operation and perhaps enjoy the added bonus of the excellent bakery.

Google Maps Link: Tyrone

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The Old Mill

Sunday May 10, 2015

It was 20 degrees with rain in the forecast and the Japanese Cherry Trees in High Park were in full bloom.  Unfortunately, several thousand other people went to view them as well and there was simply no parking.  (This would have been a good time to use the subway). Fortunately, the Old Mill is very close and has some interesting things to explore.  Parking in the parking lot on the east side of the Humber River we chose to walk as far north as the old dam and then from there back to the mill.

False Solomon’s Seal is growing in the woods along the east bank of the river.  This plant can be eaten in the spring when the stems are still tender.  The native peoples used it for it’s strong laxative properties.  When it is a young plant is strongly resembles another highly toxic plant so please make sure that it is positively identified.

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Robins lay their eggs in clutches of 3 to 5 eggs.  They hatch about two weeks after they’re laid and the bald babies with their eyes closed are protected by both male and female birds.  A couple of weeks later and the young birds are already proficient fliers.  A mating pair will raise two or three broods in a season.  Only about 25% of the young will survive the first year with the longest known life span being 14 years.  Robins take the egg shells and throw them at some distance from the nest.  This is to keep predators from robbing the nest.

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The Humber was dammed just north of the Old Mill.  Today, most of this has been removed for flood control following Hurricane Hazel in 1954.  An egret stands fishing in the waters just below the water falls.

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In the 19th century people had a love for the plumage of the egret and this led to their demise. Egrets are monogamous with both male and female protecting the young in the nest. The little ones are fiercely aggressive with the stronger ones often killing the weaker so that they don’t all reach the fledgling stage. Over hunting lead to their near extinction and the implementation of some of the first conservation laws protecting birds.

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The cormorant in the picture below looked like he was having fun.  He rode the river straight toward the fastest part of the water falls.  He did his last second launch and landed gracefully to score a perfect ten.

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An earlier mill bridge over Catherine Street was made of steel truss with a wooden decking and it was lost in the spring ice break up of 1916. The picture below shows the bridge on Mar. 29th in the ice field.  Two days later it was gone.

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The bridge was replaced the same year by this three arch stone structure.  Stone arch bridges date back to Roman times and the frequent loss of bridges on the Humber led to the decision to construct this more substantial one.  Frank Barber had pioneered the use of concrete in Canadian bridge construction in 1909 and by 1913 had designed all nine that had been built in Upper Canada.  His design for the bridge at the old mill has survived 99 spring ice break ups and Hurricane Hazel while others up and down the river have been lost.  The Humber River divided York County and the Township of Etobicoke at the time of construction and their crests are carved in stone on either side of the centre arch.

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Water from the dam on the river was brought under Catherine Street via the head race which flowed through this passage.

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From here it was dropped onto the water wheel.  This type of water wheel is known as over-shot because the water comes from above.  Close examination of the wall in front of the wheel shows that the tail race used to pass through here but has been closed off with new stone. There is a straight line up the wall that marks the old passageway.

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The first mill in York (Toronto) was constructed in 1793 at the request of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe and this was the first industrial site in Toronto.  It was known as the King’s Mill after King George III of England who was the reigning monarch at the time.  The mill went into operation the following year when the mill wheels and gear systems arrived from England where they had been forgotten the year before.  The government elected to lease the mill and ended up with a long series of mill operators.  The first mill was a  saw mill but while Thomas Fisher was the miller he replaced it with a grist mill in 1834.  William Gamble bought the mill and replaced it with a new larger mill.  This mill was destroyed by fire in 1849. The fourth mill was built on the same location by Gamble.  During this time it was known as Gamble’s Mill and the upper story was used to store apples.  During the winter a wood burning stove was kept going to keep the apples from freezing.  This practice ended badly when the stove overheated in the winter of 1881 and burned the mill down.  It sat abandoned until 1914 when Robert Home Smith, who was instrumental in developing the Port Lands, bought 3000 acres in the area of the mill to create a subdivision.  He converted part of the site into the Old Mill Tea Garden.  Various additions were made over the next 80 years as the area became a focal point in the community. In the  1990’s significant restoration and reconstruction of the original grist mill was undertaken and in 2001 the Old Mill Inn was opened with 57 luxurious suites.  The picture below shows some of the original stonework from the 1849 mill with the new English Tudor style hotel on top.

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The stone on the lower portion of the mill is darker and may represent the foundations of Fisher’s mill.  The cover photo shows the abandoned mill as it looked in 1913 just prior to the start of redevelopment.

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I close with this majestic tree simply because it’s nice after months of brown and white photo’s to have a vibrant green one.

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Google Maps Link: The Old Mill

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