Crooks’ Hollow, Part 2

Crooks’ settles

James Crooks, a prominent Niagara-on-the-Lake merchant, first visited West Flamborough in 1805 looking for property and suitable mill sites. Concerned about deteriorating relations with the United States and the proximity of his businesses to the American border, he purchased 400 acres on either side of the Flamboro’ Creek and west of the Morden holdings from the Hon. Peter Russell. By 1813, Crooks had a large gristmill, the Darnley Mill, in operation and was well paid by the British Army to supply flour to the troops during the War of 1812.

Hon. James Crooks

During the next 15 years, Crooks transformed the part of the valley that came to bear his name into the “industrial heartland of Upper Canada.” Once the war was over, Crooks’s energy sparked “a frenzy of development.” Between 1818 and 1830, the extent and variety of businesses that he had established formed “an industrial empire that was unrivalled during its time.”More than a dozen establishments were created to fill the needs of the early pioneer community, including a distillery, a mill for extracting linseed oil, a sawmill, an oatmeal mill, a cooperage, a carding cloth factory, a fulling and dyeing works, a tannery, a woolen mill, an ashery where black salts or crude potash were refined into pearl ash, an axe, hoe and scything factory, a plaster mill, a foundry, an ox-shoeing stall, a general store, an inn, a blacksmith shop and even housing for his workers.

But Crooks’s greatest fame came from the building and operation of Upper Canada’s first paper mill. Although paper had been produced in Lower Canada (Quebec) since 1804, there was no factory capable of making white paper in Upper Canada. On January 23, 1826, at a meeting of the Executive Council in Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie proposed that a bounty of £125 should be awarded to “the first person or persons who shall build a Mill and machinery for the purpose of making and manufacturing paper in this Province” – so the race was on!

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 9 October 2009.


Your Cart