The Mills and Millers of Puslinch

(from the Guelph Mercury newspaper, Wednesday July 20th, 1927, The Centennial Edition)



Morriston Mill


In the year 1856, Messrs. George McLean and Peter Clark, both natives of Puslinch, built a mill for the manufacture of flour and oatmeal.  It was of stone construction and stood on the northeast side of the Brock Road on a site at the lower end of the village.  No waterpower being available, steam was used and an adjacent spring creek supplied water for the boiler.  James Little, a miller from Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was in charge.  He had followed the trade in the Old Land, as did his father before him.  In after years, Mr. Little came to Guelph, and here, his son, David, is living today.  He was an expert miller, especially on oatmeal.  In 1859, the mill was destroyed by fire, and thus ended the milling industry in Morriston, for there has never been a mill built since.  A frame warehouse, which stood on the same lot, fortunately escaped the blaze, and was afterwards moved to a site opposite the Aberfoyle mill and is now used as a stable.






Aberfoyle Mill


After his mill at Morriston was burnt in 1859, George McLean moved to Aberfoyle and bought a property on which a steam sawmill owned by a Mr. Fraser, already stood.  Here he built a mill of brick for the manufacture of both flour and oatmeal.  He put up a dam and dug out raceways to make use of the flow of two or three creeks which ran through his land.  A kiln for drying the oats was also built, separate from the main mill.  Four run of stones were installed, two of these for oatmeal, one for flour, and the fourth for chopping feed for farmers.   The business soon grew to be a prosperous one, twelve to fifteen men being employed.  Five teams were on the road constantly, some drawing oatmeal to Guelph for rail shipment or for local use, and some travelling to Hamilton with flour and oatmeal.  The return loads from the latter place were usually groceries or other freight for storekeepers along the road.  From Guelph, large quantities of oats were brought, some bought from grain buyers here, and some from outside points, that had been shipped in.  James Little, who had been Mr. McLean’s miller at Morriston, came with him to Aberfoyle.  In 1867, oatmeal, ground by Mr. Little, was sent to the Paris exhibition and gained a gold medal and diploma for the best in show.  This, of course, was in competition with the world and was a great compliment to Mr. Little.


Mr. Little, like all millers who used good wheat and took great pains in the making of flour, had little patience with complaints about the quality of it.  One day an irate farmer came to the mill with a bag of flour, declaring that it was utterly unfit for baking into bread, and asking that it be changed for a better article.  Mr. Little indignantly refused to do any such thing.  Mr. McLean, who was standing by, said to him, “Jimmie, you had better do as he wishes.”  But Mr. Little more firmly declined, saying, “I’ll no change it for you, Mac, or ony ither mon.”   McLean then told the farmer to take a walk up to the village and come back and the matter would be attended to.  When the farmer returned, the flour had been changed, but the only change made was in moving the bag from one side of the door to the other.  In a few days, the farmer appeared at the mill again with a happier countenance, declaring that the changed flour was most excellent, the bread superb, and that if he would only be more careful and make flour like that always, there would never be any further trouble.






About 1868 or 1869, fire again visited Mr. McLean and destroyed his mill, but still undismayed, he quickly rebuilt.  He did not install any oatmeal machinery, but confined the mill to making flour only.  Not enough oats could be got locally to keep going, and the extra expense of teaming oats from Guelph decided him to discontinue manufacturing oatmeal.


He carried on for some three or four years and then sold out to William McDonald and Company.  Mr. McDonald had been in the sawmill business previously.  As the water supply was falling, they put in steam power, to help out.  After a few years’ occupancy, the firm leased the mill to Howson Brothers, two young men and good millers.  They remained but a short time and are now in the same business at Wingham.


Mrs. William McDonald, in the absence of her husband, kept the plant going.  R. B. Morrison, general merchant of Morriston, was the next one to own the place, having taken it over in 1889.  His son Charles was put in charge.  In 1892, John Hammersley, a well-known farmer of Puslinch, bought it and later passed it on to his son, H. T. Hammersley, who ran it alone for a short period, subsequently taking a partner, T. D. Day, a practical miller. 


The mill heretofore was using stone, but to keep up with the age, the roller system was adopted.  About 1896, Mr. Day retired and Mr. Hammersley became once more the sole owner, but only until the end of 1912, when he disposed of it.  Some prominent fishermen of Guelph had met to organize a club and buy a preserve.  They named it the Good Times Fishing Club and bought the Aberfoyle mill property in 1913.  Mr. J. F. Murphy, a miller from Hespeler, ran the mill under a lease for a year and then bought the property from the club, who retained all the fishing rights.  Mr. Murphy did not operate the flour making part but confined himself to the chopping of feed only.  He is still running the mill and deals in feed and flour, which he buys.  Last year, 1926, the hydro-electric was installed and he is now independent of both steam and water power, although he makes use of the latter whenever possible.  And so has passed away another old-time grist mill.







Puslinch Mills



When the flour and oatmeal mill at Aberfoyle, owned by George McLean was burned in about 1868, he rebuilt it, but only as a flour mill.  Having a fine oatmeal trade, he wanted to retain it, but Aberfoyle was unsuitable for such a business.  Not enough oats came from the local farmers to keep his mill fully employed, and teaming expenses between Guelph and Aberfoyle brought the cost up too high.  So he decided to start up in Guelph.  In September 1869, he leased from Peter Gow, for ten years, a vacant building formerly occupied by Messrs. Davidson, woollen manufacturers.  This lease included the water privilege.  The building stood on the south side of Gow’s bridge, as it is called yet, although the Gow family has been away for years. 


In 1830, The Canada Company sold this site to one Andrew McVenn, who built a distillery there.  Mr. McLean now fitted up the old woollen mill for the manufacture of pot and pearl barley, cornmeal, and oatmeal.  Four run of stones for the meal and one special barley mill were used.  Since his oatmeal had won the gold medal and diploma at Paris in 1867 against all comers, it was in great demand, much of it going to the United States.  He called his plant “Puslinch Mills” and his meal bore the same name on the packages.  James Little, who had been Mr. McLean’s miller at Morriston and Aberfoyle, took the same position in Guelph.  Mr. Little used the best white oats for the meal that won in France and continued to use the same for U.S. shipments.  When the oats were being kiln dried, sulphur was put on the fire to improve the colour of the finished article.  In making the sale of the property to Mr. McLean, Mr. Gow had guaranteed that the waterwheels would produce a certain amount of power, which they failed to do.  The height of the dam was then raised 12 to 15 inches by spiking timbers on top of the structure.  This made the river higher and Mr. George Hood, who lived at the corner of Hood Street and the York Road, claimed that altering the height of the dam was illegal, that his property was damaged by the higher water, and entered an action against Mr. Gow.   The case dragged on for a long time and in the end, the verdict was given in Mr. Gow’s favour.






Big Oatmeal Trade



The firm of John F. Tyrell, of New York, handled all the oatmeal that was sent over the border, and as they required much of it put up in one-pound packages, Messrs. A. R. Davis and Harry Murton, under the name of Davis and Murton, took the contract for doing the packing.  They rented space in the building on Gordon Street, afterwards occupied by John McHardy in his business.  Here were employed one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five girls who put up the oatmeal in strong paper bags, holding one pound each.  Oatmeal was teamed up every day from the mill to this packing plant.  The pound packages were next put into boxes of three sizes, holding 10, 20, and 50, one-pound bags each.  The boxes, made by Robert Stewart, were models of joiner work, and attractively stencilled on four sides.  The packing plant was afterwards moved to a vacant building on the Gow property, but fewer girls were employed there, for as they became more expert in their work, a lesser number was required.


In 1872, George McLean gave up the business, and some time after was appointed manager of the Guelph Lumber Company, which was formed to operate a timber limit at Parry Harbour, near Parry Sound.  Several prominent citizens of Guelph were shareholders in the company, which later met with reverses and was disposed of to others.  McLean then went to the U.S. where he lived for some years.  He died in Seattle.


Mr. Harry Murton took over the lease here and ran the business until the winter of 1881-2, when he moved to a new plant.


The mill was later occupied by Mr. Murray and then by Messrs. Cartledge, but as a cereal mill its career ended when Mr. Murton left it.






Murton’s Mill


Mr. Harry Murton left the Puslinch Mills property in the winter of 1881-82.  Some time previously he had bought a piece of property near the present C. N. R. passenger station and erected a building of stone and fitted it up for manufacturing oatmeal and split peas.  Mr. Little, the miller, of course, came along too, and with him, his son David, who had entered the lower mill as an apprentice at the age of fifteen.  He soon became able to operate that plant alone, and usually had charge of it on the night runs.  He is now living retired on Arthur Street.


Mr. Murton did a thriving trade at his new plant, but found that in making the two cereals, it was inconvenient, for the arrangement of the mill did not permit of the making of both, side by side, and to do so alternately week about, on the one line, proved unsatisfactory.  Therefore the manufacture of oatmeal was discontinued.


Mr. Little died October 1st 1913, in his 85th year, having been upwards of sixty years engaged in milling.  Mr. Murton died in July 1919.  After this, the business was changed into a limited company, under the name of H. Murton Limited and was managed by Mrs. Murton and her son, Mr. A. Shepherd, and on the death of Mrs. Murton, he became the sole manager.  Mr. Shepherd died recently and the mill is now being conducted by his widow.








◄ End of file ►