Carleton Place Herald, March 27, 1906
DISASTROUS FIRE THIS MORNING
The Gillies Machine Shops Sadly Damaged—Loss Very Heavy
One of the most disastrous fires we have had in Carleton Place for some time occurred this morning this morning in the machine works of the John Gillies Estate Co., Ltd., when the two upper flats were destroyed, with a number of the new launches—some finished and some in course of construction—all the wood working machinery and all the patterns and stock carried on the third floor were destroyed. The loss is inestimable at this writing but it will not be less than $10,000 and is probably greater and is complete as the Company carried their own risk. At least twenty men will be out of employment for a time and those of them working on the second flat have lost their tools as well.
The fire started about 8:35 and was caused by an explosion of gasoline in a launch that was about complete. Master George Dougherty was operating the engine with a view to testing it, when a spark somehow got to the gasoline tank, causing an explosion that blew the end out of the boat and scattered the fire instantly amongst the flammable material in the shop. Dougherty was badly scorched about the hands and arms and his face and neck were singed. How he escaped worse injury is marvelous. He also has a foot badly bruised. The spread of the fire was so rapid that the man had to flee at once and it was no time until the third flat, where was stored the valuable patterns, finished in oil and varnish, was all ablaze.
The alarm was sounded at once and in a remarkably short time the fire brigade responded. Two lines of hose were attached to the hydrant in front of the Canada Woolen Mills and water was soon playing; a third line of hose was attached from Brown’s pump and a little later two additional streams were thrown from the fire engine on the river bank. A third stream was run from the factory later, making six in all but the fire being in the upper part of the high building and with so much material to feed the flames, made it difficult to handle and before the last spark was extinguished the best part of the roof of the building and the floor between the second and third flats were destroyed.
There were five complete launches in the shop—one was valued at $1,200—besides other boats partly built. Whilst these are not completely destroyed, the loss is very considerable and the damage by water to the valuable machinery on the lower floors will also be heavy.
Mr. James Gillies, who is president of the company, has been in poor health for a week or two and is not in a position to give an explanation as to the loss or what action the company may take to restore the establishment. Messrs. William and David Gillies are also at home, and witnessed the heroic work of the firemen and others as they struggled with the devouring elements.
Meanwhile the employees will devote their energies to protecting the plant and doing what they can to save the perishable material.
The disaster could scarce have come at a worse season, when the Company were busy with orders and everything was humming in the expectation of a busy season in the launch and engine business.
Much regret is expressed throughout the town, as the loss will be felt in more ways than one and it is hoped the company will see their way to rebuilding without delay.
Gillies Mill and Blacksmith shop ( used to be Bill Baggs home)– read The Curious World of Bill Bagg — The Gillies Blacksmith Shop
John Gillies was born in 1811 on Scotland. In 1822 he came to Canada with his father, brother, and sister settling on a bush farm in Lanark. His mother and remaining family came a year later. It was a hard existence for them, with the lay of the land making them struggle for existence. However,the frugality of a Scotsman, and the perseverance, overcame all obstacles. In 1836 Gillies struck out for himself and created a bush farm. In 1838 Gillies engaged in a lumbering operation and also wool carding and cloth dressing machines.
In 1875, John Gillies built a machine shop for his 20-year-old son, Alexander, on Rosamond Street in Carleton Place, right on the bank of the Mississippi River. Next door was the Blacksmith shop that was used for the machine shop.
In 1872 he disposed of his mill property and moved to Carleton Place. He still owned the lumbering enterprise with Peter McLaren. Gillies ended up retiring—sold his share to McLaren and established a foundry for the manufacture of mill machinery and steam engines. He erected this building in 1875 for that purpose. The building was originally 4 stories and they also used the blacksmith shop next door. He was also a senior member of Gillies Son & Co Manufacturers of woolen fabrics. At 77, he was like our local Mr. Tom Cavanagah and still running the show. Gillies made a specialty manufacture of Shipman and Acme automatic steam engines using coal for fuel. They had exclusive control of the patents on these engines in the Dominion of Canada.
The Mississippi River flows around McArthur Island and a man made channel for the Mississippi River was built and re-directed for the McArthur mill. The shocking part was realizing that another channel once lapped the back doors of the old Gillies Mill. Yup–right by the back door and through the late Bill Bagg’s adjacent property that was once the blacksmith shop for the Gillies Mill.
The company was known for their neatness, simplicity and cleanliness. They were also beloved for their many company “pleasure parties” so they would not have the annoyance a of labour disruption. They had many catalogues and circulars — none of which have been seen by the Carleton Place and Beckwith Museum. It was also added that their firms engines and boilers were exempt from government inspection.
In 1908 the town of Carleton Place loaned Messrs Bates and Innes ten thousand dollars extending over a ten year period of time and exemption from taxation except for school purposes to start the manufacture of knitted felt goods in what was known as gillies mills. After it closed it served purpose to many companies and no word if the town got their money back. Working hours for the winter season at the woollen mill of Gillies & Son & Company were from 7 a.m. to 6.15 p.m. with closing time one hour earlier on Saturdays.
When Bill Bagg bought that house (blacksmith shop) he found an open cistern/well inside his home and it had to be boarded up so no one would get hurt. That made me shiver and think of the film Silence of the Lambs.
The Pengor was also built in this building The Pengor Penguin presented to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip during their visit to Ottawa in 1964.–Kevin Percy said–They had less than a week to prep this for the presentation ! Photo- Kevin Percy–The Pengor company set up their assembly factory by the town yard in Carleton Place in the former Bates and Innes Mill on McArthur Island between the bridges. They initially planned to produce 100 Penguins a day and the maiden voyage of a red and white Penguin went into the mighty Mississippi River. Penguin being presented to Queen Elizabeth during visit to Canada and in front of the town hall.
Then it turned to Digital and Bluebell ( wrangler jeans)
They tried to turn it into condos and ran out of money.
Photo and text from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum