KAGAWONG – The iconic Old Mill building in Kagawong celebrated its 95th anniversary in grand style on August 20.
“Its 95 years old and a little long in the tooth, but it still has a dance or two left in it,” stated Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum curator Rick Nelson. “And with the breakwall being built at the waterfront around the Old Mill it will hopefully extend the life of the Old Mill for another 95 years.”
Dianne Fraser, chair of the museum board said, “we are celebrating the Old Mill’s 95th anniversary today, with it having opened in 1925. It has a very interesting history having started from 1925-1930 as a pulp mill, then a hydro electrical power plant. The building has a very interesting history.”
The building at one point was abandoned for a number of years until community volunteers restored the building to become a community hall. Later, the township municipal offices were moved into the building and, about 12 years ago, one half of the downstairs part of the building was turned into a museum and a grand opening was held with the other half of the ground floor continuing as the Billings Township municipal office. The upstairs area of the Old Mill features Edward’s Art studio.
The museum was adorned with many pictures, artifacts and the written history of the Old Mill in one section of the building, in celebration of the 95th anniversary.
“Even with COVID-19 and everyone following proper face masking and social distancing protocols, we are still celebrating the history of the Old Mill,” stated Sabine Huege, a member of the museum board.
“I think this building is fabulous, just look at the place. It is a must see every summer,” stated Steve Paikin (Canadian journalist and host of the TVO television show The Agenda), who owns a cottage in Kagawong, at the anniversary celebration. “And Rick (Nelson) and the museum board have done a wonderful job of preserving the history of Billings township and the area. I have been to a lot of museums and I love this one for its wonderful charm, history and great displays.”
Mr. Paikin has been coming to Kagawong for the summer, for about 20 years. “My first trip here was about 50 years ago when my dad and I came up here for a fishing trip.”
“Construction for the two-storey pulp mill in Kagawong began in the spring of 1925. At that time, it would have been the only one on Manitoulin Island. By December of that year the first pulp was produced, ground from spruce and shipped by boat to Michigan to be made into paper for Sears-Roebuck catalogues. It diverted water power from the Kagawong River, via a canal. Water flowed from the upper village down the hill by way of a large wooden flume into the building, thus offering the necessary means to provide hydro. The pulp mill closed with the onset of the Depression around 1930.
In the early 1930s, the Old Mill was converted into a hydro-electric power plant and was the sole source of electricity for Manitoulin Island. Increased demand for hydro finally led to its closure in 1961.
Thirty years later local volunteers restored the building for community use. Today the Old Mill is a multi-functioning building housing the municipal office, Edward’s Art Studio and the museum known as the Old Mill Heritage Centre.
“Let’s hope on the 100th anniversary of the Old Mill we can all gather here to celebrate again,” added Ms. Huege.