Thoburn Mill rooted in Almonte’s heritage

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Sheppard’s Falls – Shipman’s Mills – Ramsayville – Victoriaville – Waterford- Almonte. Tracing the heritage of the Thoburn Mill is akin to tracing the successive names of Almonte particularly as they emerged in the early 1800’s.

According to early accounts, David Sheppard, a young Scotsman, was given a 200 acre grant of lands on the Mississippi River now occupied by the Thoburn Mill, the Almonte Old Town Hall and much of upper Mill Street. The grant was conditional on the location being improved by the erection of a mill. By 1819 Sheppard had built the frame of his sawmill but before construction could be completed, it was destroyed by fire. It seems that lack of funds forced Sheppard to abandon the project.

In 1821 another Scotsman, Daniel Shipman, was granted a new patent on the lands. Using the power of the upper falls, which became known as Shipman’s Falls, he constructed the first water-powered sawmill on the Thoburn site and added a gristmill in 1822. The channel at that site remains a picturesque attraction to townsfolk and visitors as they enjoy the Riverwalk today.

Meanwhile, Scottish Highlanders were being offered land in the newly surveyed Ramsay and Lanark areas but finding much of the land to be “rough”, many settled around Shipman’s Mills. They were soon joined by Peter Robinson’s Irish settlers who emigrated from Ireland due to the failure of the potato crops and eventual famine.

By the 1850’s, the towns of Ramsayville and Victoriaville had developed on either side of the Mississippi River and industrial growth was significant with the arrival of the Ottawa and Brockville Railway. The new interest in woollen manufacturing emerged combining the skills of the immigrants with the natural water power. In his book “Pioneer Sketches in the District of Bathurst”, June 1925, Andrew Haydon suggested that the change of name to Waterford in 1853 came about because the only way to cross the river between the two towns had been by“fording the river a few rods above the upper falls.” In 1856, Almonte finally became the name the town is known by today.

Woollen manufacturing took place on the Thoburn site from 1862 under a number of different owners/occupants and in 1880, Messrs. Sheard and Thoburn acquired the operation. Mr. Sheard disappeared mysteriously in May, 1881; one local myth suggests that he might be found somewhere in the cement work of the Thoburn Mill! In any event, a Chancery Sale was held in April,1882 resulting in William Thoburn acquiring full and sole ownership of all assets including “The uninterrupted use and flow of the water of the South Branch of the Mississippi River’”.

Fire again destroyed the mill in 1918 but Thoburn rebuilt, still relying on the Mississippi’s waterpower to continue to drive the turbines and machinery. The Mill continued to operate as a woollen manufacturer until 1956. It was particularly well-known for its grey flannel. While the turbines and other mechanisms for driving the machinery were removed from the mill in the 1950’s, some parts remain on view in the gardens of the Thoburn Mill building.

After its close as a woollen mill in 1956, the Thoburn building saw many incarnations from business centre to antique dealership to computer manufacture. Then in 2000, a group of local entrepreneurs recognized the opportunity to create a new, exciting and unique space and began the redevelopment of what is now the spectacular Thoburn Mill Condominium. The condominium was registered in 2009 and is now home to 23 apartment residences and small businesses.