The village of Waterdown was developed upon land that was originally granted to Alexander McDonnell in 1796. In 1805 ownership was transferred to Alexander Brown who built a sawmill at the falls of Grindstone Creek. This creek provided power for the endeavours of the early pioneers and thus the Village of Waterdown was established. The enterprises of Brown, and later of Ebenezer Griffin accounted for substantial industrial growth in the Grindstone Creek Valley. This valley was fueled by dams and raceways and was the site of saw, grist and flour mills, a woollen mill, brass foundry, tanneries , rake, snaith, cradle, and basket factories. Waterdown was incorporated as a Village in 1878 but a series of fires and a decrease in the water power of Grindstone Creek heralded the decline of the settlement’s importance.
Today the Grindstone Creek swiftly flows into Smokey Hollow and over the Great Falls. Little evidence remains to suggest that this stream was once so large and powerful that it supplied numerous mills with the power needed to operate heavy machinery. As late as 1890 Smokey Hollow was the site of two large mills, fourteen buildings, three houses and nine outbuildings.
The valley was filled with so much industrial activity that it indeed was a Smokey Hollow. By the late 1880s when the water power of the Grindstone Creek began to decrease the use of steam power in the mills became necessary because it required much less water. Unfortunately, it was also more hazardous and the explosion of the steam boilers often resulted in disastrous fires. By 1912, all of the mills in the valley had ceased production. A large scale transformation of Smokey Hollow was completed in 1994. An area once the heartland of Waterdown’s industrial prosperity is now a public park where people may enjoy both the beauty and history of the area.
This two storey stone house has been owned by several prominent Waterdown residents, including John Cummer, Oliver Aiken Howland, and Francis Farwell. John Cummer was the owner of a flour mill and an iron foundry during the 1850s. Oliver Aiken Howland was the son of Sir William Pearce Howland, the only American born ‘Father of Confederation’. Oliver was a former mayor of Toronto and proprietor of the Waterdown Flouring Mill in Smokey Hollow, using the house as his summer residence. Francis Farwell was the Administrator of Canada Coach Lines from 1931 to 1961.
From this area of Mill Street, a lane went past Howland’s Waterdown Flouring Mill and continued along the creek. Howland’s Mill, also known as The Torrid Zone Mill and the Waterdown Flouring Mill was built for Sir William Pearce Howland or Toronto c.1860. This large three storey stone building was the largest mill at the Head-of-the-Lake, producing one hundred and fifty 300-pound barrels of flour a day, most of which were shipped to the Maritime provinces. By 1897, the property had been sold to Alexander Robertson who operated the mill until it burnt to the ground February 1910.
Built c.1850 upon land purchased by Henry Graham in 1837, this stone house was bought by Peter Creen, a lumberman, for $5,000 in 1875. “Maplebank”, remained in the possession of the Creen family until 1974.
Leather Street once passed along the south side of the house and led to a sawmill and a tannery built by Graham in 1831. The tannery, sold to Reid Baker in 1856, was converted into a rake snaith and cradle factory. By 1890 the entire site had been abandoned.
Lockman A. Cummer erected these stone row houses probably in the late 1850s. In 1871 the property was acquired by Sir William Pearce Howland, owner of the Waterdown flouring mills, who rented the houses to mill workers.
Running south from the Dundas Street bridge, and parallel to the Grindstone Creek was Spring Street which led to a mill owned by D. Cummings between 1841 and 1860. Further south on the street was a turning mill and dam constructed by Levi Hawk. There are no visible remains of the mills, the dam or of Spring Street.
The property north of the Dundas Street bridge and east of the Grindstone Creek was once populated with several mills. These included an ashery to make potash c.1825, a sawmill built by D. Cummings that operated 1840-1880, and the Cooper-Reid dam and turning mill. Henry Slater, who owned a mill on the opposite side of the creek in the early 1900s, was known to shout across the stream at Reid, “My mill will be turning out lumber when yours is housing pigeons”. Ironically, that is exactly what happened. By 1912, when the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in Waterdown, there were no mills operating from the east bank of Grindstone Creek.
One of the finest houses in the village, the architectural style of the house suggests a construction date c.1865 when the property was purchased by lumber merchant John Creen, described in a publication of the time as “Proprietor of the Upper Mill.” During the 1870s the house was owned by George Washington Rymal who succeeded Creen in the mill business. When sold in 1883 the listing described the house as “boasting a view of Lake Ontario from its second floor”.
The area surrounding Slater’s Lumber Yard was once referred to as the Upper Mill Site. From 1832 to 1901 this stretch of Grindstone Creek was lined with a cloth and carpet factory, an iron foundry, flour mills and sawmills. Slater’s Mill, the last of all mills once powered by Grindstone Creek, was built by John Forstner in 1875. It was owned and operated by the Slaters from 1901 to 1939. In 1926, employees of Slater’s Mill worked a ten hour day for twenty cents an hour, six days a week. Located on the west bank of Grindstone Creek where the Grindstone Mill Condominiums are now located, the buildings were destroyed by fire in the 1980s.
Since the tiny cottages along Nelson Street are located close to the banks of Grindstone Creek they were often occupied by mill workers. There is no evidence of the sawmill that was situated on the creek directly below the east end of the street that operated from 1832 to 1905. This area is known locally as “Dutchtown”, a corruption of the word Deutschtown from the early families of German origin who found work in the mills and settled on the street.
The small, milk chocolate coloured, one storey cottage is built of stone with a painted cement rendering. Built during the 1850s, local tradition has it associated with mills along the Grindstone Creek, notably as the office for Forstner’s sawmill c.1875 to 1901.
The Regency stone cottage, known locally as the Griffin Cottage, is regarded as one of the oldest buildings in the village. Built c.1844-45 on property owned by Ebenezer Culver Griffin, the ‘Father of Waterdown’ who established an industrial empire along the Grindstone Creek between 1824 and 1847, it passed to Thomas Fretwell, a wagon maker when Griffin’s estate was finalized in 1856.
This two storey was home constructed c.1850 by Mr. Carson as a wooden frame building. The building has been re-clad with blue-grey siding and sports a coral front door. Set close to the road it has a delightful rock garden that separates the house from the sidewalk.
The tiny stone building situated on this property, is all that remains of the large two storey, eight room Waterdown Public and High School that opened in 1853. The first Entrance Exams taken in Ontario were written in this building in 1873. When the building became over-crowded and in poor repair, a new Public School was erected on Mill Street North and the property was purchased by W. O. Sealey, Reeve of East Flamborough, who deeded it to the village as a park. Today the building is used by many community groups.
Union Street is lined with homes built in a variety of styles and materials. This street was part of Ebenezer Griffin’s holdings which were subdivided into individual parcels and allotted to the heirs of his estate in 1856. The frame houses on the street dating from the 1840s include numbers 2, 3, 14, 17, 24, and 36. The most unusual house is number 20, built of stone during the Edwardian period. Hill Street, which no longer exists, used to run from the corner of Union and Mill Street towards the City of Hamilton.
To reach the next site follow the wooden fence to the Bruce Trail. This trail is marked by white paint on trees. The walk to this site is not easy, please go carefully. The boulders are difficult to locate. If you have walked on the trail for more than half an hour you have probably passed them.
In 1987, while exploring the Grindstone Creek, two young students of Mary Hopkins School noticed several names etched into a large boulder on the banks of the stream. When the thick moss masking the majority of the rock was removed the names and initials of approximately fifty students from the high school classes of 1881, 1883, and 1894 were revealed. The names of several well known Waterdown families were engraved in the stone including Sealey, Burns, Morden and Baker.
The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society
Research and design by Lori Dodman
Photographs by Maurice Green
Layout by Robert Wray