In the early days of Port Hope, obtaining flour was extremely difficult. Grains had to be sent by boat to the nearest grist mill located in Kingston. By 1794 the Myer’s Mill was operational in Belleville and shortened this boat trip by forty miles.
Around 1797, a crown land patent was granted to Elias Smith and Jonathon Walton on condition that with “all reasonable diligence erect a grist mill and a saw mill” in Port Hope. Around this time Smith’s Creek (Port Hope) lands were partially cleared and had begun to produce grain. It became imperative that a local grist mill be established. By 1795 an attempt was made to construct a mill on Mill Street, this attempt failed several times. Three years later the Salter’s Flouring mill was completed on the West side of Mill Street and a saw mill was established on the east side of the creek (Ganaraska River) near the lake. A bit later in time there were five or six large distilleries along the river and some of them had a high reputation country wide and overseas. By 1818, Johaida Boyce had built his mill on the Ganaraska River near Dale Road.
Port Hope was originally called Smith’s Creak and later Toronto. In 1819 a public meeting was called and it was voted to change the name Toronto to Port Hope. Thomas Molson bought the property in 1851. This purchase included a brewery, Crawford’s distillery, a flour mill capable of 300 barrels per day, a saw mill capable of turning out 6000 ft of lumber a day and a stave factory, producing 7000 staves per day (staves were used to produce flour barrels). Also included was a lath and picket (fence) factory, a planing machine and the mill pond and dam.
Thomas was the son of John Molson (a name we all know well) of the famous distillery, saw/grist mill, brewing, steamship, railroad and banking family of Montreal. The Molson Bank was later merged with The Bank of Montreal. This location was later a collection point for massive quantities of local barley that was exported from Port Hope, the largest harbor on Lake Ontario. This writer cannot find any record of a brewery at this mill after Thomas purchased it, likely because a permit could not be obtained from the town as there were so many already in business for a town this size!
In March 1885 James Walker Quinlan started the Port Hope Electric Light and Power Company (to replace gas powered street lights). From the workshop of W.J. Wallace (now 5 Cavan Street) and powered by steam this plant was soon doubled in size by a move to the Beamish dam thus utilizing hydro electricity from the Ganaraska River. This was the site where the Globe File Works later located and even later the Nicholson File Factory.
In 1889 Dr. Robert Corbett bought the system and the generating plant was moved to Lake Ganeraska (Corbett’s Pond) in 1893 and a larger dam was constructed. This dam has been plagued by at least two floods and a fire. Power from Corbett’s Dam continued until 1912 and the site was sold to private interests in 1943 . Ice continued to be harvested until the dam logs were removed and the water level lowered. By 1973 a local Conservation group had installed a fish ladder on the west side of the dam and the generating foundation was removed and replaced with a third (east side) sluiceway that replaced the waterwheel section of the old plant. Around this time, some of us old timers may remember the McKibbon Street bridge that ran along the south side of the dam but was deemed unsafe and unfortunately removed.
The Molson Mill ceased operations around 1924 and was sold to the artist J.W. Beatty, best known for his association with the Canadian “Group of Seven” artists.
The mill was used as an Ontario College of Art summer school until the death of Mr. Beatty in 1941. The large window on the north side of the mill was installed in the 1920’s and was considered optimum light for painting.
Another Molson family member Colin Molson bought this property in the 1960’s, likely saving the mill from demolition. A local resident Clay Benson purchased the mill property and Mill House in the mid 1970’s and has been instrumental in maintaining the mill which has been used for many years as a summer art, music and drama class venue. The Mill Pond is now part of the Port Hope Conservation Area and maintained by the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority.
Note: there is a great walking trail on the west side of the Ganaraska River (Port Hope Conservation Area) running north off Choate Road (under the 401 Hwy overpass).
The 2km interpretive Millennium Trail runs north along the east side of the river starting at the GRCA Head Office located at the north- west side of the Hwy 28/ 401 interchange. The Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association trail runs south (at the Jocelyn St bridge) on the east side of the river and passes by the former Beamish Mill/Globe File Works/Nicholson File building (still standing, but vacant for many years) on the way to it’s southern terminus at the Town Park across from the Town Hall.
The Molson Mill can be found by turning west on Molson Street just south of the 401/Hwy #28 (Ontario St) overpass a short distance and north on Hope Street North.
Note: The Mill is privately owned, so please respect the owner’s privacy. Enjoy the area and take lots of pictures from Hope Street, Molson Street or the Choate Road Fish Ladder parking lot on the other side of the river.