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Mill Stones at Fairford

by Rev. Canon M. Sanderson

Manitoba Pageant, January 1958, Volume 3, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

When I was a boy, a good many years ago now, there stood on the bank of the river at Fairford, Manitoba and on a piece of ground a little higher than the rest, a grist mill.

When the early missionaries of the Anglican Church began the Mission among the Indians at Fairford, they not only looked after the spiritual welfare of the people, but also encouraged them to work for themselves, to help out their meager way of living by hunting and trapping. They got them to clear land and break the ground to plant gardens. The only tools the Indians had were the grub hoe, or matlock, and the spade. As they cleared more land, a plough was brought in and their missionary showed them how to use it to break up more land, then how to sow grain. In those days, and in what was then remote country, they didn’t have the machinery farmers have now. The grain was scattered by hand. When the grain was ripe, it was cut with a sickle, and threshed it with a flail. Many a time I watched my father use these tools.

It wasn’t easy to get flour at Fairford in those days. When the Indians grew enough wheat to warrant it, the missionary got a man who knew how to build a grist mill, and a mill to grind wheat into flour was built on the mission grounds. It had two large flat rounded granite stones, between which the grain was ground, and it was driven by the wind. Near the top it had what we called sails to catch the wind, and these sails were adjustable. If the wind was light, the sails could be opened out to catch all the wind there was; or if it was strong, they could be adjusted so that they wouldn’t catch the full force of the wind. This was to regulate the speed of the grinding stones. An old man once told me that when he was a boy, as he passed by the mill one day, he saw that the sails were not turning as fast as they might be in the high wind that was then blowing, so he opened them out to full capacity, and away they went at full speed. Of course, that turned the stones at high speed, which caused much friction and heat and when the man whose grain was then being ground came to get his flour, he found - not flour, but something like dough.

As transportation became easier and supplies could be brought in without too great a cost, there was not the same need for the mill. Better flour could be bought than could be ground in the old mill, and gradually it went out of use. And there the old mill stood, abandoned, but still a great land mark.

When I was a boy, it was still standing intact. I went off to school and when my schooling was over, I took up work elsewhere. When I went back to Fairford after fifty-five years, there was nothing left of the old mill, except the two stones lying half-buried in the ground.

Quite a large number of men and a few women from Fairford had enlisted in the two great wars, some never to come back. Other places had built memorials to their honoured dead but as yet Fairford had none, so we determined that we must not be behind others. After much consideration we decided on a stone cairn, and what was better or more appropriate for this purpose than the old mill stones. At first we tried to think of a way to use them just as they were, but no satisfactory way occurred to us. We had an old country stone mason, who was living in the district, break them up and build them into a cairn.

It was a great day for us at the unveiling. The veterans paraded to church, and Lieutenant-Colonel Alex Cairns, Secretary of the Manitoba and North Western Ontario Command, Canadian Legion, B.E.S.L., gave the address. The Honourable Stuart Garson, who was then Premier of Manitoba, did the unveiling, and William Bryce, Member of Parliament in the Federal House, Fairford being then in his constituency, laid the wreath. It bears a bronze plaque kindly donated by Mr. Garson.

And there, on the bank of the Fairford River, the cairn stands, just inside the cemetery gate in front of the church, on a solid concrete base, and built of stone that ground flour a hundred years ago for the people at Fairford.

There is history, as well as sentiment, built into that cairn.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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