The reconstruction of Grants Old Mill
J. H. Hind, the mid-19th century surveyor and map-maker, on a map dated 1858 noted a “Water Mill” just north of the Portage Trail on Sturgeon Creek not more than a mile from its confluence with the Assiniboine River.
It was on this evidence that the Pioneer Citizens’ Association of St. James-Assiniboia decided to reconstruct “Grant’s Water Mill” on the north side of Portage Avenue about 150 yards upstream from the point where it flows under that busy city thoroughfare. While some may question the authenticity of this spot as the exact location of Grant’s original mill, none have questioned the fact that it existed, albeit unsuccessfully, for about three years. Mention of the mill was made in Alexander Ross’ History of the Red River:
“The first mill was begun in September 1829. It failed again and again and was abandoned within three years ... a total failure.”
Perhaps the achievement for which Grant will be chiefly remembered was the construction of a water mill on Sturgeon Creek. The grist mill was an attempt to provide his people with ground wheat meal. He knew nothing about milling and it is said he lost £800 sterling through the venture—possibly the bulk of his personal fortune.
It remains an historic landmark in that it was the first watermill to be built west of the Great Lakes.
He salvaged the grind stones and transported them to Grantown (the present St. Francois Xavier), and built a windmill which served the needs of the Metis settlement there quite satisfactorily for many years.
The idea of the restoration of Grant's water mill on Sturgeon Creek was first consieved by a Senior Citizens grant in St James Assiniboia. The group organized under the New Horizon' s Program chose the restoration of the old
mill as their project. In June of 1973 they received a grant of $7,900 but the grant stipulated that the money could not be used for capital expenditure. However, research was undertaken and an architectural consultant retained. The
Community Committee of St. James Asiniboia had already approved the project and had offered assistance in the way of engineering advice by city engineers.
In September 1973 the project was accepted by the Winnipeg Centennial Committee as a recognized centennial project.
In January of 1974 the Rotary Clubs of Winnipeg expressed a desire to adopt the restoration of the Mill as their Centennial project with an estimated input of $50,000.
A co-ordinating committee was subsequently set up including the original New Horizon group of 12, with 6 representatives from Rotary. 4 councilors and two engineers from city administration. .The officers appointed were: Rev. F. W. Armstrong, General Chairman, Mr. Don McKenzie Vice Chairman, Mr. John Belows, and Mr. Dwight Johnson was retained as architect and project Manager. He was assisted by Mr. Ralph Crysler, an engineering consultant from Toronto, who was an acknowledged authority on mill restoration.
On March 27th a generous gift was pledged to the committee from the National Grain Company Limited. This money was earmarked for the landscaping and beautification of the area surrounding the mill.
Tamarac logs of required size for the log walls of the mill were secured in the Whiteshell area.
In addition the city of Winnipeg, through the Community Committee, was asked to construct a low level dam at the site of the mill. On November 18th the Department of Works and Operations approved the plan and accepted the responsibility for construction of the dam at an estimated cost to the city of $20,000.
Ogilvie Flour Mills provided the millstones and the working parts.
As much as possible the workers used tools that were known to be available in earlier times such as the "adze" and the "broadaxe", to give a rough hewn appearance to the beams.
The mill was officially opened July3rd 1975 by Premier Ed Schreyer.
While there are records of windmills having been constructed throughout the Red River settlement and as far west as Ft. Edmonton, there was no mention of any other water mill having been built at or about this date.
In about 1990 the wheel was reconstructed and installed by Peter Jackson and Alphair Ventilating Systems Inc. and the management and staff of St. James Assiniboia Parks and Recreation. see photo gallery
There are few if any monuments to honour the part played by the Metis people in the early days of the Red River settlement. In Grant's mill, originally designed by a famous Metis leader, we have perhaps the most appropriate form of memorial that could have been devised. It marks not only the initiative of a pioneer leader but might well be distinguished as the beginning of industrial enterprise in the colony.
The St. James-Assiniboia Pioneer Association was set up to operate and manage the mill. On May 18th 1978 the mill was officially turned over to the City of Winnipeg on the condition the Association could continue to operate the mill. Mayor Robert Steen accepted the mill on behalf of the City.
Visit the Photo Gallery to see pictures of the mill during construction.
New Horizons Committee Members
Mr. E. S. Russenholt
Mr. George Chapman
Mr. Tren Bourke
Mr. Dwight Johnson
Mr. D. Graham
Mrs. M. M. Ferguson
Miss Holly George
Mr. Will Rook
Mr. Reg. Wightman
Rev. F. W. Armstrong
Mr. W. J. Wallace
Rev. Les Taylor