Utopia Gristmill

On Bear Creek in Essa Township (halfway between Barrie and Anguish, Ontario), James Spink constructed the first gristmill and saw mill in 1864. In 1879, Richard Bell (an employee at the mill) and his two brothers, John and Manuel, took over the operation of the mill. On May 29, 1903, the gristmill, now named Bell's Mill burnt down, but the community of Utopia organised and a new mill was constructed and in operation in five months. The new mill featured 3 stories, and a solid 4 ½ foot thick foundation. Materials for construction were collected in the area and were horse-drawn to the site from up to 8 kilometers away.

The north side of the mill, appearing somewhat naked without its wheel.

The drive wheels initially powered by the water from Bear Creek and latter from diesel engines.

The mill could be a dangerous place to work in with no machine guarding on the gears and the lack of safety standards.

Here, the main shaft, called the 'pit wheel' in the basement leads out to where the water wheel powered all the equipment.

The first floor contained the bulk of the equipment such as sieves, grinding stone, slipper, etc.

This piece of equipment contained a very interesting wood auger which would push the product along to the filler.

The lid opened to show the beautiful craftsmanship employed to create the wooden auger.

The hallway on the second floor. Scattered throughout the building were large-calibre critter $hit and Tim Horton's coffee cups. It wouldn't be Urban Exploration without these ingredients!

One of the control handles which are needed to engage / disengage equipment from the drive wheels.

A handle on a hopper on the meal floor where sacks of flour are filled. Think of a snow-globe if one forgot to close the valve or loose grip on the sack.

A beautifully constructed wooden hopper on the 'stone floor' where the grain would meet its demise on the face of the grinding stone.

Stair-way leading up to the 'sack floor' at the top of the mill, where grain was loaded into the hoppers to be ground.

Some of the original equipment sits still intact and in decent condition.

The critter-cam showing another piece of equipment which I suspect still had the original manufacturer's paint.

Restoration Efforts:

The mill now sits derelict, a mechanical jungle of belts, shafts, chutes and pulleys, but this could change soon.

The NVCA is moving to enter into a lease arrangement with the community group, Friends of the Utopia Gristmill and Park. This is being driven by herculian community spirit and hope that they can work towards both restoring our gristmill and turning their park into a property worthy of the name, Utopia. Currently, the group's efforts are funded only through community goodwill as well as Visions of Utopia.

Hockey legend, Guy Lafleur centre (in tie), stands in front of the Utopia gristmill with members and supporters of the Friends of the Utopia Mill and Park Association. The former National Hockey League star is lending his support in the effort to restore the mill and surrounding park. - Brian Lockhart photo

To support this worthy restoration project:
Utopia Gristmill Project, PO Box 10, Angus, ON L0M 1BO.

sign the petition: Petition

Additional Details on the History:

A key industry in the early development of any Ontario town was the local gristmill and often became it became the nucleus of the community. Grist refers to the grain that is ground into flour. These mills were built and oftne supported by farming communities and in some few cases a percentage of each farmer's grain called a "miller's toll" (or one minot in fourteen in Lower Canada) was set aside for the miller in lieu of wages. William Cattermole, in his guide 'The Advantages of Emmigration to Canada' (London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1838), advised settlers to endeavour to settle near a saw and gristmill.

Image drawn by Colin Brown © by Brian Sothcott

The mill produced feed for the farmers and flour which was distributed to the surrounding communities under the brand names Gold Coin (for bread), Snowflake (for pastry), Paracon xxx, and Bell's Best. Due to the mill's strategic location by the railway, it was feasible for grain from the western prairie provinces to be shipped by train to be milled and distributed.

With competition from the larger mills, and the wide availablility of fresh bread from grocery stores, the survival of the smaller local mills were being threatened. In the late 1930s or early 1940s, the Bell Mill quit
milling flour, providing only gristmill services of chopping and mixing grain.

The Bell Mill sustained some damage when Hurricane Hazel which raged through south and central Ontario on October 14, 1954. The hurricane washed the dam away which altered the course of Bear Creek to make the water wheel useless. To rebuild the dam was prohibitively expensive, so Harold Bell had a diesel engine installed to power the mill.

After a year, the gristmill re-opened and now fertilizer was also sold. In 1965, the mill closed, having served the community for a century. Soon after that, the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority obtaine
d the mill and land for a water conservation project and recreational area. In 1969, a new dam was complete.


Anonymous said...

I didn't realize it was professional to swear on a website outlining Utopia's history.

CopySix said...

Frack You you Melon Farmer ! !