The Early Mill Streams of Cobourg, Ont.

Remember as children how we loved to follow streams ? We would sail ‘boats’ in them, we would dam them for our own private swimming pools…until the first rain storm would flood them out! We could catch fish and frogs, we could wade and swim and get the sunburns of our life. This story might revive some fond memories for some, like the kind recalled by George Bradbeer of Los Angeles, who spent his boyhood in Cramahe Township and then lived for several years in Cobourg. The following verse is from “Cobourg, 1798 – 1948” (by Edwin C. Guillet).

“I’d like to be a boy again, a carefree prince of joy again,

I’d like to hike up Factory Creek the way I used to do;

I’d like to tramp the track again, to Baltimore and back again,

The tired, but happy days again that long ago I knew

I’d like to go to school again, where Johnny Orr would rule again,

I’d like to visit Covert’s Wood’s when summer skies are blue;

I’d like to follow Brook Road Creek, to walk the lake shore once a week,

To gather flowers and watch the ships the way I used to do”.

George Bradbeer.

The original names of these creeks might bring back memories for the older residents, the old mills of early Cobourg. At the eastern town boundary was Covert’s Creek which once had a sufficient volume of water to power a grist and oatmeal mill. Half a mile west was a small creek that once ran all year but now dries up in the summer months. It was once called Boswell’s after the Boswell distillery and tannery on its bank near the Kingston Road. A mile west again was Macdonald’s Creek (Brook Creek) located near Brook Road. Captain Macdonald was an early settler with a home near the mouth of this creek and he ran an early tannery there. The infamous Midtown Creek started south of Hwy. 401 and now flows mostly underground from Station Street just north of the railroad tracks, through the centre of town and occasionally still floods basements in the downtown area. In earlier days the water of Lake Ontario was much higher and the shoreline was further north than now. Before the harbor was built, there was a large bay at the mouth of the creek covering much of the land between Division and George Streets south of Albert. It is said that in the spring season boats could be rowed almost as far north as James Street. It was noted that salmon from Lake Ontario were so plentiful here that they could be caught with a pitchfork or bare hands.

Several small branches converged upon this creek at various points. One of these was the origin of the name Spring Street and ran from William St southeastward. Another small stream took its rise near the old Fair Grounds and ran in the ditch on the west side of Walton, the north side of James, through “Bobby” George’s vegetable farm and flower gardens to Chapel Street and then either side of that street, past Meehans “pop” factory to the rear of George Thompson’s store Division Street. Here it was carried in an underground sewer to the lake.

North of the railway tracks (Grand Trunk) this central creek was once dammed up to form Cann’s Pond, the major source of ice in Cobourg and south of the pond it crossed Division St. and wound through the cedar woods to the lake. The largest stream in Hamilton Township has long been called Factory Creek, though called Cobourg Brook on most maps. There are many branches rising in Haldimand Township and entering Hamilton Township near the front of the 4th Concession and drains a large part of the Township. It has had many severe floods over the years were dams and bridges were swept away. This stream has been known over the years as Jones’, Henry’s, Ham’s and Harris Creek. Walter Riddell, father of the late historian Mr. Justice Riddell (Ranger’s grandmother’s uncle) should be thanked for his forethought in recording his great knowledge of early mills along the creeks.


Upon entering the township from Halimand it once powered Williams’ saw mill, shingle and carding mill. It also provided power for many mills in the Baltimore area i.e. the McDougal mill (Ball’s Mill/Baltimore Flour Mill). See post Ball’s Mill/Lime Kiln Trail Review. Near the rear of the 2nd Concession this branch is joined by Solomon’s Creek, which rises near the rear of the 6th Concession and once powered Roberts’ grist mill; Fisher’s; Burnett’s and Cochrane’s saw mills; Dawson’s oatmeal mill and Solomon’s saw mill. Another branch of this creek once drove Lent’s grist and saw mills and McKeyes’ grist mill.

Cobourg Creek (west) originating in Upper Coldsprings and flowing through Camborne once powered Wm. Hore’s grist mill, saw mill and a pail and tub factory. For the complete history of these mills, see post, Camborne Ontario Ghost Mills. The two branches in Camborne unite southwest with another branch at what was the site of the McKeyes’ old grist mill, likely located on Danforth Road immediately south of Dale road. Again turning eastward it powered a saw mill; pail factory and a distillery formerly located near the old Court House, near the present day Burnham St/Hwy 401 bridge.  Cobourg Creek (east) once powered the Leaderbough planning, carding, and shoddy machine, White’s grist mill (present day White Street & Mill St.) and Perry’s mill (Pratt’s Mill). See post, Pratt’s Grist Mill. After Cobourg Creek east & west combined in the Cobourg Conservation Area other mills further south were: Ham’s mill; a carding and fulling mill; an axe factory; a distillery and a large woolen factory before the creek entered Lake Ontario. Another creek, near the boundary of Hamilton and Hope Townships (Hamilton Road) had several branches and was best known as Gage’s Creek. This creek was earlier known as Bouskill’s or Dean’s from their saw mills along its course.

Regards, Ranger.


  1. jclucier · · Reply

    I love these stories about old mills and their streams. My grandmother worked in one that produced wool for Hudson Bay blankets. I have a painting of an old mill from around Kingston area that was tore down about 30 to 35 years ago. Photo on Flickr:
    maybe you recognize it!


    1. Hey Jacy, the Ranger was born and raised in an old millhouse in Camborne (see Camborne Ghost Mills). Love a good challenge…will try to find out more about that attractive mill from the Kingston area. Stay tuned. I am currently working on another challenge, a request from a reader (Sara) about the old Northumberland Ski Club in Baltimore Ont. With no written info available, I am slowly making some progress from personal memories from some locals.


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