This old mill started its life around 1806 on land purchased from Augusta Barber and was built on Barber’s Creek, later called Bowmanville Creek. The mill started out as a saw mill and was later converted to a grist mill built and operated by Leonard Soper and his son Timothy for many years. In later years the mill was also operated by a number of owners. Some name changes over the years were “The Ontario Mill”; “The Soper Mill”; “The Caledonia Mill”; “The John MacKay Milling Company” and to the name best known today “The Cream of Barley Mill”.
A Scottish immigrant John MacKay, known as “The Barley King of Canada” bought the existing Caledonia Mill around 1884. For some time the mill produced barley goods, flour, animal feed and processed split peas.
The Caledonia Mill was to become the home of a new cereal called Hot Cream of Barley. MacKay formulated this new product, designed and built the equipment and installed it in the mill for barley milling under the name of The John MacKay Milling Co.
The Hot Cream of Barley cereal became an immediate success and was in demand all over Canada and shipped to the British Empire and East and West Indies. The mill was so busy it had to be operated 24 hours a day 6 days a week to keep up to the demand. As local farmers could not possibly grow enough barley, MacKay had to import most of the grain from Western Canada. It was said by the locals “that a train load of barley would arrive at the mill in the morning and leave that evening full of the Hot Cream of Barley cereal!
In 1904, the old mill fell to a bad habit of a lot of old wood frame mills, burned down and was replaced by the attractive brick building seen today in Rotary Park at 143 Simpson Ave in Bowmanville.
Around this time, a well- known campground with tourist cabins opened just north of the Mill House and circa 1922 a petting zoo was added and tennis courts in 1946.
By 1928 the Mill, tourist camp, park and cabins were owned by James Morden and operated by Alfred Shrubb a former renowned long distance runner.
In the 1950’s, the Hot Cream of Barley cereal after more than three decades, began to lose market share to the new and popular ‘cold breakfast’ cereals. These new cold cereals, were manufactured in the factories of Quaker Oats, Kellogg’s, Nestle and General Foods (Post).
The Mill was soon after sold. The Cream of Barley tourist park and campground were all absorbed into what is now the Bowmanville Zoo, the oldest private zoo in North America. Several of the tourist cabins now used for other uses can still be seen at the zoo.
In 1964 the Bowmanville Rotary Club purchased the mill property and began extensive restorations.
In 1973 the Mill was purchased by the Town of Bowmanville and now houses The Visual Arts Centre of Clarington. This facility is a not-for-profit artistic and cultural centre. The Mill has been designated as an architecturally protected, historical building under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Historical Information: Charles Taws/Clarington Museum and Archives.