Remembering the Rat Tannery

Today, little of Millgrove’s industrial past remains. One of the era’s last buildings is located at 328 5th Concession Road West, at the entrance to the village. The one-and-a-half storey stone barn was known by the strange name of the Rat Tannery.

During its history, the barn housed a number of village industries and was originally two storeys high and wider than at present, suggesting that alterations were necessary as its usage changed. An archival photograph, probably taken in the 1950s –and prior to the major renovations that have allowed the building to survive –shows that it had additional entrances, windows along two sides and a cedar shingle roof.

Constructed between 1850 and 1875, during the height of Millgrove’s brief period of industrial prosperity, the building is a reminder that at one time a number of small mills and factories, powered mainly by steam, operated in the core of the village.

No record of the builder’s identity exists, but the stone barn was erected on part of Shipman Cummins’s holdings during the period when small industries, such as shingle mills, flourished in the village. The barn was possibly erected originally to serve as an apple evaporator and packing house –one of several that existed at one time. They were used for the processing of apples that had been harvested from the surrounding orchards, transported on wagons and then winched into the building for processing.

Almost forgotten names, such as Baldwins, Greenings, Russets, Pippins and Snows were among the varieties of apples grown by East and West Flamborough farmers. In the early years, most of the apples stayed in the community and were preserved for use during the cold winter months by being dried over burning sulphur in the evaporators. Beginning in the late 1880s and continuing until the 1930s, apple production completely changed and hundreds and hundreds of wooden barrels packed with apples from the Millgrove area and farms across the highway on the 5th and 6th Concessions of East Flamborough were exported to England and Europe through Brown’s Wharf at the foot of Waterdown Road.

The strange name of Rat Tannery associated with the barn has existed ever since Millgrove resident, Edward Sawell, used the building to hang and tan pelts of local wildlife, especially muskrats that inhabited the swampy lands of the Grindstone Creek around the village.

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, 19 September 2008.


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