Five Almonte buildings shortlisted for national heritage award

The National Trust for Canada has recently advised the Almonte Heritage Redevelopment Group that five buildings that they rehabilitated have been shortlisted for an Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Award for Resilient Places.

Look for an article in the September Humm to learn more about this national award and why it is so exciting that Almonte might be receiving it. In the meantime, we’re shining a spotlight on each of the buildings over the coming weeks. 

This week: The Thoburn Mill at 83 Little Bridge Street, Almonte.

Construction of the Thoburn Mill started in 1867 after William Thoburn (1847-1928) arrived in Almonte from Pakenham. By 1880 he was manufacturing flannels in the building on Little Bridge Street directly beside the railroad line constructed in 1864.  During its life as a factory powered by the Mississippi River, the building underwent many changes, with most of the present heritage structure dating from 1913 – 1919.

Thoburn is a significant figure in Almonte history, serving as a school trustee and councillor, as mayor of Almonte for seven years, and as MP for Lanark North from 1908 to 1917. It was during his time as an MP that he was credited with having the clock tower and bell added to the Old Post Office.

Closed as a fabric mill in 1956, the building served as a location of many light industrial uses throughout the rest of the 20th century. In 2014, the Town of Mississippi Mills identified it as a Designated Heritage Property.

When purchased in 2000 by Al and Barb Potvin, and Stephen Brathwaite (and later Johannes Hill, Inez Kettles, and Vicky Veenstra), the Thoburn Mill was a cobbled-together collection of ten structures.  The redevelopment was initially for commercial purposes, including the Rosewood Fine Woodworking School and the Almonte Academy of Dance but a residential component was always envisioned for the project.

The primary architect for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse, Peter Mansfield, outlines the changes as follows:

“Because of the structure’s additive growth (a joined chronology of styles and construction approaches) a distinctively contemporary new element was placed through the entire core of the mill. The building’s outer skin is triple width load-bearing masonry which, because there never existed insulation or a vapour barrier of any kind, allowed the building to ‘breathe’ and therefore not affect the structural integrity of the wall. However, in order to provide an acceptable interior environment, a continuous interior 2 ½” cocoon of polyurethane spray insulation was introduced. These walls were purposely under-insulated in order to allow enough heat transfer through the masonry and thereby allow any trapped water vapour to evaporate out (ie. not freeze and in turn damage the century-old clay brick).

The third level clerestory and stair tower is constructed of clear anodized aluminum framed windows within a steel structure over which spans a single continuous barrel-vaulted roof. This singular linear roof element constructed of exposed structural decking between arched laminated Douglas fir beams, together with clear lacquered steel with bolted wired mottled glass rails throughout, continue the established pallet of raw industrial materials. Exterior canopies and building signage are also constructed of a combination of reclaimed Douglas fir and galvanized steel. After over three years of construction, nearly 24 tenants work and live out of this one-time neglected warehouse.”

Rhys Phillips, architecture critic at the Ottawa Citizen, said in 2005 that there is “a strong adaptive re-use project in the multi-use redevelopment of Thoburn Mill.  Architect Peter Mansfield used careful interventions and gritty, quality detailing to preserve the factory’s original character”.

Thoburn Mill is now a condominium full of extraordinary residences and professional offices.  As an indication of the value of heritage redevelopment to the viability of Almonte, consider only its tax contributions:  when the building was purchased by Almonte Heritage Redevelopment Group it paid about $9,000 a year in municipal taxes; it now pays about $65,000.