Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Where there's a Mill there's a way

Carpenter's Shop, O'Hara Mill Homestead
 Carl Sagan is reported to have said "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe." Bread-making is an art taken for granted in our day. Even at our most virtuous when we get all 'back to the land' and bake up a few loaves, it's very likely that we start by opening bags of whole foods store flour.

As I learn more about the history of Hastings County my respect for our foremothers deepens - the appalling hardships of pioneering women have been described by Moodie and Traill, but our modern minds can but fail to capture the fear and despair of these tiny outposts of humanity along the colonization roads - and women's struggles to provide a basic meal for their family each day, to keep children well, to keep men fed for the brutal work they undertook.

Mill with working English Gate Upright Frame Saw
Creating a plumping mill or hominy block (beside the carpenter's shop above) to pound wild rice or wheat into meal was a first breakthrough.

With the development of a water-powered grist mill in an area, a whole new life became possible. Massive stone grinding wheels reduced stubborn grains to cooperative flour...a great convenience if we overlook the fact that men walked through barely passable bush roads, or dragged their meagre havest over (relatively) smoother winter hardened paths, over impossible distances. So many forgotten terrors and hardships, their daily bread.

Last weekend we paid an amazing visit today to O'Hara Mill Homestead near Madoc. We chatted with some outstanding people - with energy, vision, and passionate committment to maintaining and handing on the past.

The folks at O'Hara have recreated the mill (a saw-mill in this case) and rebuilt a dam to power it. This post is a tribute to those first entrepreneurs and altruists (maybe) who harnessed the power of the area's many waterways - for domestic convenience and  for industrial growth....and to the women working in log shanty kitchens, hoping for a brighter future. And a tribute to the people who work so hard to pass this history on.

Blacksmith's Shop

O'Hara House

Carriage House

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