Saving the Spencerville Mill – Preserving community heritage

Parading into the Spencerville Mill grounds is the Glengarry Pipe Band (Photo: The Spencerville Mill Foundation)

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Louise Burchell

Buildings and architecture, Community

Published Date:07 Sep 2006

Photo: Parading into the Spencerville Mill grounds is the Glengarry Pipe Band (Photo: The Spencerville Mill Foundation)

The Spencerville Mill, a fine cut-stone flour and grist mill, is located on the bank of the South Nation River in the small rural village of Spencerville (population approximately 300), located off Highway 416 south of Ottawa.

In 1878, the Canadian Illustrated News described the mill as “producing as fine a grist and flour as any country mill in Canada.” Built by Mercy and Robert Fairbairn, the mill had been operating since 1864. A fire gutted the mill in 1884 and it took a couple years to rebuild the structure within the remaining stone walls. Soon afterwards, it was sold to Thomas Bennett, who installed a single roller mill in an attempt to meet the demand for more refined white flour. J.F. Barnard, a newcomer to the village, took over the mill in 1903 and replaced the millstones with up-to-date milling machinery. He developed “Grow or Bust” feeds, which became the first registered trademark in Canada for a line of balanced feeds for poultry and livestock.

In 1934, the overshot waterwheel was replaced with a rebuilt “Canadian” turbine that is being restored for demonstration purposes. In the early 1930s, the mill was a bustling centre of activity. Feeds, grains, seed and farm-related goods were sold to local farmers and dealers throughout southeastern Ontario. But, in 1972, after three generations, the Barnard family closed the mill.

For several years, the mill sat neglected and the elements took their toll. In 1980, a small group of local residents formed a committee to save the mill. In the late 1990s, with the help of the South Nation Conservation Authority and generous donations from three local families, the dam was rebuilt, the mill’s stone and timbers stabilized and a new roof installed – thereby preserving the last standing mill on the South Nation River.

The Spencerville Mill Foundation, a volunteer organization, now owns and operates the historic mill. With the assistance of some grants and the help of numerous volunteers, restoration work continues and new programs are being developed to make the mill a heritage and cultural centre for visitors and local residents. Volunteer and student tour guides welcome visitors to the mill. A summer heritage camp is a fun-filled week of history for area children. Self-guided walking tours highlight historic buildings in the village. Local artists, musicians and artisans are showcased at the Spencerville Mill through art and musical events. A park behind the mill makes a peaceful spot for a quiet break or a family gathering. In addition, the mill pond is a favourite place to launch canoes for a leisurely paddle.

Almost 150 years since the Spencerville Mill began operations, it is being restored and revitalized as a centre of community activity. The Spencerville Mill is once again becoming as fine a country mill as any in Canada and a symbol of our agricultural heritage. Villagers are justifiably proud of the Spencerville Mill.