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Travel ignites my imagination. Whether venturing off to a destination far away, or one closer to home, a change of scenery and a new experience leads me to a new writing idea. My recent weekend trip to a small town, a few hours drive from my own, was no exception.

One of our favourite weekend getaways is to visit a rustic locale so last weekend, my husband and I visited the Millcroft Inn, in Caledon, Ontario.  The building, once an operational mill, was abandoned then turned into an inn in the mid 1970’s.  We arrived at dusk to discover a historic structure of timber and stone. The roar of water enticed us to walk along the river to the millpond  while a bit of daylight remained.

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A light snow began to fall and darkness sifted through the pines.  As we walked past the ruins of old stone structures, I began to wonder who might have walked there before me. How many boots had stepped over the same gnarled tree roots I now stepped over? How many skirts had brushed over the rocks that protruded from the pathway?

I learned why the expression “still as a millpond” is apropos. The millpond above the falls lay motionless and a skim of ice had begun to form. The scene mesmerized us and we stood there in the semi darkness breathing in the history. If I were a woman of the 1800s, standing next to a millpond at dusk, who would I be? What would bring me there on such a cold night?

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In the still of the evening, I began to write. As fate would have it, the inn upgraded us to a premium room overlooking the water fall where the water wheel once turned. Because the stone walls of the mill are so thick, the window ledges are wide enough to qualify as benches. I nestled up in the window, with pen and paper, a glass of wine and a blanket. The falls thundered outside the window and the snow continued to fall. Moonlight reflected off the snow and mounds of soft pines hugged the edge of the millpond. I was in writer’s heaven.

Alton the night the dam broke
Photo source: Alton Lady’s Club (photo donated by the grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. Harris who drowned in the flood when the dam burst: Mrs Ada Redman & Mrs. Pansy)

My understanding of how a mill worked was restricted to a basics of water turning a wheel. But what about the specific mechanics? And so the research began. As per usual, I fell down a rabbit hole. This is the affectionate term I use to describe how I set off looking for one bit of information only to find myself researching a different but equally fascinating topic an hour later.

I discovered an archived page about the village of Alton, a neighbour to the town of Caledon .

“The town of Alton, Ontario, is located in the Township of Caledon, County of Peel, on a branch of the Credit River. This river helped Alton to become one of the most prosperous communities in Ontario. There was about a mile of rapids with a fall of about 108 feet. This was ideal for water power sites in the early years. At one Point, eight power dams were developed. Industries in the early years included a sawmill, grist mill, ax factory and woolen mills. John S. Meek was appointed postmaster in 1855. His son Thomas ran a flour mill at one point.”

“In 1889, the bursting of the McClellan dam caused a wall of water, sixteen feet high, to roar down the valley into the town. Some of the other dams along the river were wiped out. Two residents, Mr. & Mrs. Harris lost their lives.”

What absolute terror that people must have experienced in those early moments after the dams gave way. One account I read described a father, inside his home, holding his child against the ceiling in the hopes of saving her life.

In the end, I collected much more information about mill operations than was required for completing the poem that was to be the writing product of this weekend escape. Because my next novel will be historical in nature, I will explore the topic further. The intrigue that lay in the history of mills and their importance to our Canadian history has come as a bit of a surprise to me.  I look forward to milling about on the topic in future posts.

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Do you have a mill anecdote to share? Or perhaps a question?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

 

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