Tag Archives: grist mill

Working in the Grist Mill

Working in the Grist Mill



A shingle mill also began business here in Carleton Place in 1866, managed by John Craigie. He was the builder of the town’s first two steamboats, the Mississippi and the Enterprise. The local grist and oatmeal mills were bought by Henry Bredin from Hugh Boulton Jr. They continued to be operated by James Greig (1806-1884), who ran these mills from 1862 to 1868 after the death of Hugh Boulton Sr., founder of this first industry of the community.

Peter McCallum was born in the township of Goulburn in 1859, a son of James McCallum and Esther MacKay, Scottish pioneer settlers. After serving an apprenticeship with the Brown Flour Mills of Carleton Place he moved on to Almonte. So what was it like being in the Boulton Mill?

Back in the days when it was a farming society, hundreds of such gristmills dotted this part of the country. Some were small custom mills where local farmers would bring their wheat to be ground into flour for making bread. Others were merchant mills that bought large quantities of corn and grain, ground them and then shipped their milled products to whomever that needed it.

In those days before electricity, large and small mills operated the same way, by using water (or sometimes wind) to power the workings that ground grist into flour or meal. As the waterwheel turned, it engaged the teeth of wooden gears inside the mill, which in turn caused the main shaft that powered the grindstones (also known as buhrstones) to revolve. Grain was dropped from a chute into a hole on the upper stone where it would be split and ground between the grooves of the two grindstones. As the process continued, the ground flour would fall through a chute, go through a sifter, and be ready for bagging. In many ways, the gear-driven process is similar to the complex workings of a 20th-century car transmission.

It was hard work to run a grist mill.

The water wheel was connected through gears to turn the upper millstone (the “runner”) at about 120 rpm. The lower millstone was fixed to the floor of the mill.

The upper millstone could be uncoupled from the main drive shaft to allow power from the water wheel to be used for other purposes, mostly to power a hoist to haul bags of grain up to the top of the mill, and also to power a mechanical sieve to refine the flour.

Farmers would bring their grain to the mill to be ground into flour. The fee for the miller was traditionally, in Medieval times. one 12th or one 16th of the flour produced (depending on the quality).

Often the miller did not own his mill, he rented it so some of the miller’s share would go to pay the rent on the mill. (“Rent” is close, but might not be exactly the right word. The miller often paid a percentage of the flour milled, (just like he charged) rather than a fixed rent to the mill owner.)

Grain would be brought to the mill in sacks, generally by wagon or cart. The miller would connect the chain hoist to the drive shaft and use it to hoist the sacks of flour to the top floor of the mill (the “sack floor”) where he would tip the sacks into the bins. When he had hoisted all the grain, or the bins were full, the miller would disconnect the chain hoist and connect the runner wheel to the drive shaft. He would adjust the spacing between the runner and the lower millstone according to the grade of flour to be produced (and possibly re-adjust it several times once running). He would then open the hopper from the bins to allow gravity to feed the grain into a sloping trough called the “slipper”.

The miller would stand alongside the slipper and gently shake it to regulate the flow of grain and direct it into a hole in the middle of the runner stone. The ground flour would come out through the grooves in the runner to the outside rim of the mill stones where it would feed into a chute to take it down to the lower floor of the mill where it would either go into bins, prior to going through a sieve powered from the water wheel, which would refine the flour into uniform grades before it was sent down another chute into sacks, or the flour would be sent directly into sacks, if lower quality unrefined flour was being produced.

A helper would usually be required to direct the flour from the chute into the sacks.

The sacks would then be loaded into wagons or carts to go home with the farmers, except for the miller’s share.

Besides milling there was a lot of work to do to maintain the mill. Mill machinery got clogged with flour dust, and it was necessary to clean all the machinery at least once a week, and more like once a day in the hotter and busier summer months.

The miller also had to maintain his power system, the mill dam, the mill pond, the mill race, all had to be kept clear of floating debris and their structures maintained. The mill wheel had to be maintained, as did the gears, drive shaft, couplings, and other machinery (all made of wood, which wore out fairly quickly).


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Some of the most important maintenance involved the millstones. These needed to be periodically dressed (as often as every four weeks if the mill was running continuously – though usually much less frequently). Dressing meant reshaping (and re-sharpening) the grooves on the millstone which did the actual work of grinding the grain. Often the miller would dress his own millstones, though sometimes a specialist millwright would travel among all the mills in an area dressing the millstones.

Millstones eventually wore out and needed to be replaced. New millstones were expensive. All the best millstones in Medieval England came from France, where the best stone for the purpose was found. There were millstones made from Peak District grit stone, but this was an inferior stone, mostly used for course milling of animal feed.

Moving the millstones, to dress them or replace them, was a difficult and dangerous job. The millstones were very heavy, and there were no cranes in Medieval mills strong enough to hoist the millstones. The job had to be done with wedges, pry bars, and muscle power.

If you dropped a millstone, it would crash through into the basement of the mill destroying everything in its path. There was a superstition that a millstone which hurt or killed a man was forever unlucky and evil. It was thought to want to drink more blood. If a perfectly good millstone hurt someone, it was retired and never used to mill grain again. It often ended up as the headstone of the man it killed, or as a door step (so people would step on the stone and little by little carry the evil away with their footprints).

Worn out millstones which were got out of the mill without injuries were often used as bridge abutments, or as material to patch or re-enforce the mill dam.

Millers also had to maintain the mill building and the bakery (if they ran one).

Milling was a skilled job. A master miller was said to have “the miller’s touch”. He knew by feeling the flour how to adjust the speed of the turn, the feed of the grain, and the spacing between the mill stones to get the right quality of flour. He knew by the sound of his mill running if there was wear developing, or a problem brewing.

It took years of apprenticeship to become a master miller. Most millers would have one or two apprentices whom they were training up, as well as possibly other family members as helpers (more so if they were running the village bakery as well).

The miller was one of the more prosperous members of the village. Certainly more prosperous than the farmers, though less prosperous than the local landowner. Perhaps the local blacksmith might rival the miller as a sort of “middle class” villager.

Millers were sometimes resented by folks, as they were better off, and were sometimes suspected of taking more than their fair share.

Caroline Boulton — Boulton Mill Genealogy

Down by the Old Mill Stream — Carleton Place

The Brown Flour Mill Stories

One of the Many Hauntings of Mill Street

Coleman Family History–Just for Your Records

Jumpin’ Around in Carleton Place — Local Urban Acrobats

Young Girl Nearly Swept into Appleton Flume — Mahon

Young Girl Nearly Swept into Appleton Flume — Mahon



The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
20 Jul 1935, Sat  •  Page 2



The Grist Mill- North Lanark Regional Museum

The Teskeys, harnessed the river’s water power, building a sawmill and a gristmill at the falls–The sawmill and gristmill have disappeared completely while the woollen mills have been reduced to decaying ruins and a charred field.


Mississippi Woollen Mills, J.A. Teskey–North Lanark Regional Museum


What You Didn’t Know about Harvey’s Mills — Pakenham

The Story of the Almonte Flour Mill

Minute to Minute– The Almonte Flour Mill Explosion

Explosion at the Almonte Flour Mill–Rob Armstrong‎

Memories of Ashton Station Road –Ashton Feed Mill –Jennifer Fenwick Irwin Photos

Caldwell’s Roller Mills and Sawmill Burnt to the Ground –$30,000 Damage


Revolutions of Death at Caldwell & Son’s


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Clyde Forks- Caldwell Lumber Mill 1891

Perth Courier, November 13, 1868

One of those terrible accidents which so often happens in connection with machinery occurred in the village of Lanark on Wednesday evening last.  The miller in charge of Messrs. Alexander Caldwell & Son’s grist mill left the building for a short time, leaving an assistant, a young man named Love in temporary charge of affairs.

Returning about half an hour later he was surprised to find the lower room deserted and the hoppers empty.  On going upstairs the miller was horror struck to see the body of young Love revolving around on one of the shafts.  The works were at once stopped but it was too late for any assistance; the young man was quite dead and had probably been so for half an hour.

It was obvious that he, in working round the mill, had come too close to this shaft, which, entangling his clothes in a deadly hold, carried him round in revolutions until the mill was stopped.  We have no further particulars at present save that an inquest was being held when our informant left.


Lanark County Genealogical Society Website

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News

Related Reading

Sandy Caldwell King of the River Boys

Before The Carleton Place Mews?



Photo and files from Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

Charles Burgess “Grist Mill” at CPR siding (between The “Mews” and Wool Growers – 2005). Photograph circa 1900-1920.  A grain silo can be seen in the background and there are two wagons being drawn by horses. This photo loaned to museum by AB. Hurdis. Taken 1900-1920. The Mill was sold to to Russell Munro and torn down about 1950.




Kenneth Jackson== yes long before the Mews ,a Mr. Munro had a feed store there and a Mr.Stontan Stanzel delivered freight out of the freight shed that used to be there.

Related BURGESS reading:

The Crazy Town World of Mr. George Arthur Burgess of Carleton Place

Who Was John Boland? Chatterton House/Queen’s Hotel Registry — The Burgess Family Dynasty

The Auction of the Year in Carleton Place

The Wall Mysteries of Lake Ave East -Residential Artists

The Brick Houses of Carleton Place

If Historical Stories Conflict Should We go Back to Sword Fighting?



                                                                       1946- Ottawa Citizen



Once upon a time the railroad never stopped at Carleton Place. In fact in 1860 an Otawa Valley train bearing the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) breezed its way right through town without even blowing the train whistle or slowing down. Yes, much like we do when we travel through Innisville these days. One enthusiast on the station platform fired a small cannon in salute of the Prince as the carriages rolled by.

“You’re wasting your powder,” shouted a grizzled old Scottish settler of the village. “Them trains will never notice us.”
However, years later the train did indeed stop in Carleton Place and rafts of fine quartered timber drifted down the Mississippi River river on its way to market.


                                                      Mayor Coleman 1946- Ottawa Citizen


In 1946 George Coleman was Carleton Place’s mayor and the population was just a tad over 4,300. Coleman’s  Grandfather operated one of the first grist mills and almost won free land and water for the mill by entering in a competition which required the grinding of one bushel of grain in a given length of time. His Grandfather was unsuccessful and according to the mayor, he was the first Coleman to ever fail, so George said his Grandfather ended up buying the land and water rights.

Now if you read the Carleton Place Canadian Letter to the Editor by Mr. C Taber in 1953-there is a slight different version to the story. What has been recorded at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum is that Mr. Coleman indeed did purchase the mill from the Morphy family in 1820. In 1822 Hugh Bolton purchased the mill to finish construction and the rest is history.


Photo from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

Once upon a time an elderly Scotsman by the name of John Fraser who used to walk around our fair town brandishing a large sword. When asked if sword play was one of the off season sports of Carleton Place he answered,

“Not at all,” John said, “I’ve got this sword from England. The other one I recieved a short time ago I made into tow fine butcher knives, and this one will go the same way.”


                                                                                1946- Ottawa Citizen



Mayor Coleman said the town could use a couple of more industries and one of the main deterrents to immediate expansion was the acute shortages of homes. The population of working people could easily expand another 100 right now he said if the housing situation  improved.


  1946- Ottawa Citizen-The house with the Ivy looks like the Galbraith house on High and Joseph corner (hanks Joann.



Coleman said Carleton Place was an important market town with Bridge Street sees a parade of farm vehicles and animals on their way to market. Cattle had a hard enough time moving down to the CPR station in those days–I can’t even imagine if that happened now.



Photo- Google Image- thanks Creekend UK!



Down by the Old Mill Stream — Carleton Place


Have you ever really looked at Mill Street? There is so much history you take for granted on this street. Next time you drive down Mill Street– stop the car, and go for a walk. Did you know people never really walked down Mill Street? That’s because it was filled with mills and factory workers. Noises were loud, and the scents of the area were not pleasant. Everywhere bustled with hundreds of mill workers. Can you imagine?

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The Oatmeal Mill

Slackoni’s is the oldest stone building in Carleton Place dating back to the 1820’s and was once the Oatmeal Mill. There is a ghost in here that Rob from Slackonis has told me a few stories about.  For many years it was used as a garage and repair ship called McGregors.  In the late 1800’s a local public option vote in front of this particular building closed the public bars of Carleton Place. Seems fitting that it is a bar restaurant now.


Hugh Bolton

The Morphys at first didn’t care that where they settled—they had a room with a view of  thewater falls — with water privileges added. Not one of them tried to utilize it. In 1820 Mr. Coleman bought one of their privileges with the thoughts of building a mill here on the Mississippi banks- but he had such difficulties he didn’t carry through. Coleman however sold his rights to Hugh Bolton. Bolton erected what was the only grist mill between Perth and Bytown for many a day. In 1820 Hugh Boton ground out the first bushel of wheat in the first grist mill between Perth and Bytown. Jayne Henry from the Museum has heard stories of women walking from Perth to buy flour. In those days the trees were roughly cut down to clear roads. Some stumps were neck high and the women would rest the flour on their backs on top of the tree stumps.

The Hugh Bolton Grist Mill at 35 Mill street and the Brown Flour Mill next door date from the late 1823. The five story addition was added in 1885 to accommodate a roller press mill. This mill actually operated until the 1960’s until a fire destroyed the interior. In the 1980’s it was converted into condominiums. The origiinal millstone was found during the renovations and put across the street.  Hugh had ordered one from Scotland but it never arrived. (wonder what the shipping was on that one) So Hugh went up the river and got some made granite from up the river and carved his own.


The McDonald and Brown Woollen mill, previously leased, was bought by the Bates and Innes company from H. Brown and Sons, and its machines were removed to other local mills.

John F. Cram and Sons bought over eight thousand muskrat pelts in one week from district trappers and collectors and sold them at their Mill Street tannery. To make way for the building of a new flour mill the John F. Cram tannery and wool plant was removed to Campbell Street at the corner of Lisgar ( which later became Hastie’s) after fourteen years of operation on Mill Street.


The Boulton Brown Family Home

Built in the 1820’s this house served as the mill owners home for over 150 years. If you look at it closely it was built on an angle. Any reason why?  Of course! They just didn’t want to see the mill across the street where their business went on.  If you look closely at the back yard the limestone structure basement door opens to a sunken area in the back. The empty parking lot next to Spartan Pizza was once there front yard. The second storey porch and kitchen wing were added in 1878. Bill Bagg once owned this house before he moved into the old blacksmith shop next to the Gillies Mill. He sold antiques out of his barn and I bought a tiffany style lamp from him.


Historical note from Howard Brown

Guaranteed Flour

The subscribers having leased the Carleton Mills for a term of years are prepared to do custom grinding on the shortest notice.  Flour, Bran, Hash, etc. for sale.  Wanted, a large quantity of Wheat, also Oats, Peas, Corn, etc., highest prices paid.  Orders delivered free of charge.  We guarantee our flour to give entire satisfaction.  Caldwell & Brown.  April 16, 1871.


Clipped from The Ottawa Journal,  27 Jun 1952, Fri,  Page 28

Buy Linda Secaspina’s Books— Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac– Tilting the Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place and 4 others on Amazon or Amazon Canada or Wisteria at 62 Bridge Street in Carleton Place