‘The Beaver Woollen Mill’ Complex – 1402 Queen Street W, Alton

Built Heritage | Heritage Properties | Historic Walking Tour - Alton Village (Queen Street West to Millcroft Inn)

Entrance to the Alton Mill Arts Centre and Shaw’s Creek – Now restricted to pedestrians, this bridge over Shaw’s Creek was the original entrance into the woollen mill for wagons, carriages, carts and later automobiles. In 1857, Provincial Land Surveyor Charles Wheelock surveyed Shaw’s Creek and identified nine mill privileges, eight of which were eventually developed. In October 1880, William Algie purchased mill privileges #5 and #6 from Kenneth Chisholm. Algie’s mill and dam were built on #5, while the mill pond sits on #6. During the flood of 1889, Algie’s dam held longer than others which allowed those living downstream time to reach safety.

‘The Beaver Knitting Mill’ circa 1881 – This stone mill complex, constructed by William Algie and operated as ‘The Beaver Knitting Mill,’ was known nationwide for its fleecelined long underwear. The mill complex was also referred to as the Algie Woollen Mill or the Lower Mill. The mill was enlarged twice, sustained massive damage in the disastrous 1889 flood and later survived a 1905 fire. By 1908, 60 employees worked as reelers, twisters, carders, spinners, knitters, dyers etc. A 1913 addition is commemorated with a date stone on the east side by the pedestrian entrance. After William Algie’s death in 1914, the mill was acquired by his brother-in-law, John M. Dods. James B. Dods inherited the mill operations from his late father in 1923, and by 1932, in the midst of the depression and faced with changing textile trends he closed the mill and moved the machinery to his Orangeville knitting mill. In 1935, the property was sold to the ‘Western Rubber Co.’ owned by Fredrick N. Stubbs and Sons who converted the mill for rubber production. It operated from 1935 until 1982 manufacturing items ranging from WW2 government contracted condoms and latex gloves to balloons for Disney. It was the longest-running water-powered mill on the Upper Credit River system.

Stone Drive Shed – This stone garage is built into the base of the hill and sits opposite the mill entrance and bridge across Shaw’s Creek. It was likely originally used as a drive shed or livery. ‘The Country Forge’ now occupies the building. Walking Trail A marked walking trail starts almost directly above the stone drive shed. It branches into two trails: one heads to the Millcroft Inn and the other heads to the top of the Pinnacle.

Wool Warehouse circa 1880s –  To the north of the mill are the remnant stone walls of what was originally a large, rectangular single-storey wool warehouse. While under ownership of the ’Western Rubber Co.,’ the building was used for making balloons. In 2008, the walls were stabilized and the structure, now referred to as the ‘Annex’, provides a venue for outdoor programming such as the Fire and Ice Winter Festival.

Mill pond and Millrace circa 1881 – West of the mill complex is its mill pond which is held back by a concrete dam. The millrace remains intact under the mill building where water from the mill pond was channeled to power the mill machinery. The mill’s turbine was upgraded in 1918 by John M. Dods who installed a 50 horsepower hydraulic turbine, the first of its kind in the region. The mill pond was popular for leisure activities such as boating and swimming in summer and skating in winter. It is the site of the Alton Millpond Hockey Classic, an annual hockey tournament which raises funds for the rehabilitation of the pond.

‘The Drummers Snack’ Fair – By the early 1900s, William Algie and his wife Phebe had set up a community trade fair. Held on the last weekend of July, the event started with a procession of salesmen or ‘drummers’, led by the village band, who walked from the train station to the Algie mill
property. While the salesmen sold their wares, village folk and farmers from the area came for the weekend to buy, be entertained with concerts, races etc and be fed from a makeshift outdoor kitchen on the grounds of the Algie’s home.