All Photos by Stace Bottema
Balaclava is a near ghost town today, a come-down from the bustling lumber town of its heyday. It started as a small community named for battle in the Crimean war. Shortly after its founding a dam and sawmill were built and by the 1860s the small hamlet had acquired a blacksmith shop and hotel to go with its permanent residents. In 1903 a sawdust burner was built so that sawdust from the mill would not be dumped in the local river, thereby polluting it. The water-powered sawmill was rebuilt in 1939 after a fire destroyed the mill that had previously occupied the space and continued to  operate until 1959. At that time the depletion of available timber had reduced production to uneconomically small amounts. With the loss of the mill the viability of Balaclava as a residential town was also lost. The sawmill was the last water-powered mill to operate in the Province of Ontario.
Balaclava was listed in a book on ghost towns by Ron Brown. Although it makes Balaclava sound like a pristine, deserted ghost town, actually it still has a few residents
Balaclava fits the Hollywood version of the ‘picture perfect’ ghost town; a row of ramshackle buildings with sagging roofs, huddled along a narrow road, while doors and windows creak in the wind. The only thing missing are the tumbleweeds rolling down the middle of the road.
The remains of Balaclava also include an impressive old water powered sawmill, one of the last to operate in Ontario. If you look closely, you can still see pieces of machinery and wagon wheels inside the building.
The sawmill was built in 1855 and purchased by the Richards family in 1868. Interestingly, the Richards were taken to court in 1903, on an early piece of anti-pollution legislation. Apparently, they found the stream to be a handy and convenient place to dispose of all their sawdust. After the stream became clogged, another mill, further downstream, complained. The Richards had their day in court and lost. Shortly after that, they added the huge burner, which still stands today. The Richards family operated the mill until 1957, when they sold it to Donald (aka Dave) Dick.
Although Balaclava had been a busy industrial and farming centre throughout the latter part of the 19th century, for some reason it was bypassed by the railways. That, along with failing farms and dwindling lumber supplies, signalled it’s demise. Stubbornly, the mill continued to operate on water power until 1967. When it shut down, Balaclava became a ghost town. The store, also owned by Mr. Dick, operated until the mid 1970s. A few of farms in the area remain occupied.