I was playing a golf game with Betty McMahon when we saw Jody Paget, who asked if she could drive her cart past us to go to the Dakota Mill. Betty asked me where that was and I briefly explained.
The Dakota Mill once stood right across from the Pegg Property on Cedar Springs Road. Until the 1970’s the mill was still in operation. If you look carefully, you can still see remnants of the iron water wheel. It’s behind where the pump house is on the 1st fairway.
Cedar Springs, led by Al Brash, formed an investment club (with other club members) to buy the Pegg property. It included the Dakota Mill. I remembered an article in the CSCC Weekly Bulletin that was at that time written by The Scribe (Peter Campbell: Maryse Wilcox and Simon Campbell’s father). I found the article, dated August 1, 1980. Below are some highlights from that it.
“We can applaud the massive effort that went into the very successful garage and bake sale at the Dakota Mill site on Saturday. Some of the newer Members might not be familiar with the dramatic history of that ground. You would have been standing in the foreground of what was once the Dakota grist mill. Dakota was the commonly used name for a thriving village, originally planned and named Willbrook.
In 1850 Charles Kelly & Company purchased a site along from where the garage sale was, for the purpose of setting up a mill to produce black powder. Mr. Kelly was in business by June 1851. This was one of the first black powder mills in Canada. The mill blew up in 1853. Mr. Kelly formed a new company, the Canada Powder Company, and was back in business at the same site in 1855. Sulphur from Turkey and saltpetre from Chile were teamed in from Aldershot. Charcoal was made at the mill. There were seven large frame buildings about 200 to 300 yards apart. The buildings were linked by a narrow-gauge railway system. The mill was the largest employer in the entire Nelson Township. Its workforce was drawn from Dakota, Cumminsville and Kilbride. In 1862 it changed hands and became the Hamilton Powder Company.
Powder from this mill blasted the right-of-way for the Canadian Pacific Railway, fuelled the Yankee guns at Gettysburg, cleared settlers’ fields as Canada pushed west.
To compete with Dr. Alfred Nobel (discoverer of nitroglycerine), the mill was forced to refine its coarse blasting powder into a finer grade, which was a tricky process. On a beautiful autumn day, October 9, 1884, at 12:35 p.m., tragedy struck. The entire mill blew up (most of the workforce was at lunch).
The mills were not rebuilt. They were relocated to Montreal and eventually became Canadian Industries Limited. Dakota soon vanished.
The site eventually became a saw mill and it was purchased in 1911 by William Pegg. It remained with the Pegg family until it was put up for sale in 1978.
So when you wander around Cedar Springs on a misty autumn day and let your thoughts roam, think about the navvies blasting their way through the Rockies to get Sir John A Macdonald’s impossible dream built; think about the horrible battles of the American Civil War; think about the conversion of a wild land into lush farms; think about thriving villages that no longer exist. All these are part of our vital heritage at Cedar Springs.”
Kathy Kingsmill Marsale