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Watson’s Mill – The historic landmark of Manotick

October 2023

Since the early days of British North America, many towns and villages sprung up around rivers, where water-powered mills were built so that local farmers could easily transport their grain there to be milled. These communities were dependent on their local mill as bread was a staple part of the diet.

Watson’s Mill is a historic flour and gristmill, located along the Rideau River in Manotick, south of Ottawa, Ontario. Built in 1860, it was originally founded as the Long Island Milling Enterprise by Moss Kent Dickinson, a freight and passenger steamer owner and future mayor of Ottawa (1864-1866) and Joseph Currier, a lumber baron and a partner in the Victoria Foundry in Ottawa.

Dickinson developed the Village of Manotick, an Algonquin word meaning island, and built a house across from the mill.

The Mill remained in the Dickinson family until 1928 when Elizabeth, Moss Kent Dickinson’s youngest daughter, sold it to Alexander Spratt. Spratt operated the Mill until he died of brain cancer in 1936, after which his wife continued with the business until selling it in 1946 to Harry Watson, giving it’s current name. Watson was the last owner to operate the Mill at an industrial level.

When railway transportation made it cheaper to import wheat and flour from the West than to grow and mill wheat in Ontario, both Spratt and Watson gradually transformed the Mill into a feed and seed operation to keep it a viable operation and to accommodate the local dairy and livestock farmers. Watson also began distributing coal and cement.

The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority bought the Mill in 1972, turning it into a working museum. It’s one of the very few operating industrial grist mills left in North America. Visitors can buy the Mill’s own stone-ground whole wheat flour, which is made on site. The Mill is open to the public during the summer months and hosts a variety of events, including milling demonstrations every Sunday.

The Dickinson house, which also housed the subsequent owners of the Mill, still stands today and was also turned into a museum, the Dickinson House Museum. Also across the street is the Mill’s original carriage shed. The Carriage Shed houses the administrative office, the used book store and washroom facilities for visitors to both the Mill and the House.

Watson’s Mill is Manotick’s most recognized landmark and its image is used as a symbol for the village. It’s also thought to be haunted by the ghost of Annabelle Currier, the 20-year-old wife of Joseph, who in a tragic accident there in 1861.

Sources: Watson’s Mill – Wikipedia, Watson’s Mill & Dickinson House – A fully operational 1860’s water powered flour mill & the heritage home of the Mill’s past owners. (watsonsmill.com), Dickinson House Museum.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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