History of the Alton Mill

Settled in the mid-1800s on the banks of Shaw’s Creek (a tributary of the Credit River), the village of Alton was once a thriving industrial centre. Now part of the Town of Caledon, Alton still boasts many historic buildings. The two remaining 19th century stone mills in Alton are the Millcroft Inn and Spa, and the Alton Mill. A provincially designed heritage industrial complex, the Alton Mill is also listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

Early history

In 1857 the provincial land surveyor (Charles Wheelock) surveyed Shaw’s Creek and identified nine mill privileges (eight of which were eventually developed).

William Algie purchased mill privileges #5 and 6 from Kenneth Chisholm in 1880, and privilege #4 from Alexander Dick in 1893. The existing mill complex and dam are situated on privilege #5, and the mill pond is situated on privilege #6 (as well as part of #5). Privilege #4 is located in Shaw’s Creek, directly west of Amelia Street.

Beaver Knitting Mill

Local industrialist and philanthropist William Algie built the complex in 1881 and established the Beaver Knitting Mill. The Beaver Knitting Mill was renowned across Canada for the production of fleece-lined long underwear.

Great Alton Flood of 1889

During the great Alton Flood of 1889, the weir and damn built by Algie held significantly longer than others along Shaw’s Creek, resulting in a much lower loss of life than could otherwise have been expected by a disaster of such magnitude. The Mill was flooded and its foundations damaged, but otherwise miraculously survived the Great Alton Flood relatively unscathed.

The Fire of 1908

Although the Mill survived the great Alton Flood of 1889, it wasn’t so lucky in 1908 when the Mill was struck by a disastrous fire. The fire reduced the original three-and-a-half storey limestone building to its present two stories and shed roof. The fourth storey of the water tower was also destroyed and rebuilt in poured concrete with a hip roof clad in cedar shake. Prior to 1913 and possibly associated with the reconstruction of the mill after the fire, a new two-storey stone addition was built on the east end of the old mill.

Dods Knitting Company

Following William Algie’s death in 1915, the Beaver Knitting Mill was acquired by the Dods Knitting Company, which also owned Alton’s “Upper Mill” (the current location of the Millcroft Inn & Spa). The Great Depression and changing textile trends resulted in the closure of the Beaver Knitting Mill in 1932, with all machinery moved to the Dods’ Orangeville textile mill.

Western Rubber Company

In 1935 the Mill was sold to Frederick N. Stubbs, owner of the Western Rubber Company. Stubbs converted the Mill to manufacture rubber products, including balloons for Disney, rubber gloves and condoms for Canadian servicemen during the Second World War. The Mill remained in operation until 1982 and was the longest-running water-powered mill on the upper Credit River system.

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