Grist mills turned by water have been around for many centuries, some as early as 19 B.C. Although the terms "gristmill" or "corn mill" can refer to any mill that grind grain, the terms were used historically for a local mill where farmers brought their own grain and received back ground meal or flour, minus a percentage called the "miller's toll".

Millers had a pretty fair living by charging a portion of the grain as payout for their labours. Cuthbert Grant took 10% of the grain as payment for his services alone.

There are three major parts to a gristmill: the raceway, the water wheel, and the grinding stone. The raceway channels the flowing water to the wheel. The water then forces the wheel to turn. The turning wheel powers the grinding stones by a series of shafts and pulleys, or gears and shafts. The grinding action of the stones then breaks the grain into smaller, useable pieces such as flour, cornmeal, and grits.

Types of Water Mills ...


There are many types of water wheels that were used. The first and least efficient (bottom left) looked like a great paddle wheel and was called “undershot”. It was simply propelled by the flowing water pushing on its blades. Grant’s Old Mill is considered an undershot.

The “overshot” wheel (bottom middle) was much more effective and took more careful planning and placement. Water was directed to the top of it and it had blades that were more like buckets or troughs to catch and hold water. at the very least, its blades were slanted rather than set perpendicular to the wheel. The weight of the water was the driving force and it built up momentum as it turned. It needed to be placed in such a way, so that it was never in the stream as the motion of flowing water would slow its momentum.

“Breast wheels” were another type that had the water directed at about half the way towards the top of the wheel. It did a much better job than an overshot wheel if water levels rose — as it would be drastically slowed by the water flow and was often used where it would be too difficult to use the more efficient wheel. It was the half way between the two previous wheel types.

Parts of a Water Mill ...

Sluice gates controlled the flow of water going to the wheels. The gear mechanism that caused the grinding stones to turn varied greatly. Mostly there was a gear attached to a shaft turned by the water wheel. The diagram to your left shows and “undershot” arrangement, which in comparison to Grant’s Old Mill is similar  — but not the exact same arrangement. This image showcases the generalized parts of a water mill.

The grinding stones were mostly granite and purchased from afar. The best ones came from Europe at great expense, but could last for a hundred years. Each stone weighed between half a ton to two tons, and had to be lifted each year to be refaced. The water grooves must also be carefully repaired so that grains could be ground to the correct size. Uneven runner stones would also damage the underlying or “bed” stone.

So, stones were arranged so that the miller could raise them up or let them down in order to control the fineness of the product. Roughly cracked corn may have been required for animal feed while fine meal was used for baking. And intermediate corn particles were used for making grits.

The millstones themselves turned at around 120 rpm. They are laid one on top of the other. The bottom stone is called the “bed” and is fixed to the floor. While the top stone (the “runner”) is mounted on a separate spindle, driven by the main shaft. The distance between the stones can be varied to the product grade of flour required; moving stones closer together produces finer flour.

Dressing a millstone ...

The surface of a millstone is divided by deep grooves called “furrows” into separate flat areas called “lands”. Spreading away from the furrows are smaller grooves called “feathering” or “cracking”. The grooves provide a cutting edge and help to channel the ground flour out from the stones.

The furrows and lands are arranged in repeating patterns called “harps”. A typical millstone will have six, eight, or ten harps. The pattern of the harps is repeated on the face of each individual stone, and when they are laid face-to-face, the patterns mesh in a kind of “scissoring” motion creating the cutting or grinding function of the stones. When in regular use, stones need to be dressed periodically, that is, re-cut to keep the cutting surfaces sharp.

Millstones need to also be evenly balance and achieving the correct separation of the stones is crucial to producing good flour. The experienced miller will be able to adjust their separation very accurately.


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Grant's Old Mill Museum is located at 2777 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg Manitoba on the banks of Sturgeon Creek (kiddy corner to Booth Drive).

Our hours of operation are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Wednesday through Sunday, and closed Monday’s and Tuesdays (admission by donation). But our inbox is always open to our community.

*Tours can be booked or brochures requested by calling us at 204-986-5613 (seasonal Summer hours only), or by clicking the button below to drop us a quick email.


Grant’s Old Mill is located on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota Peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.