The Old Flour Mill at Minnedosa
by Ed J. Brown
Manitoba Pageant, Spring 1976, Volume 21, Number 3
In the early days of settlement in the west one of the most important requisites for a village was a flour mill, as the lack of transportation facilities made it extremely difficult to secure flour or to market any wheat that might be grown in the community. During the first few years of existence Minnedosa had to get its flour from Portage la Prairie where, in 1876, the Marquette Flour Mill had been established by Robert Watson (later Senator Watson) and have it brought here by Red River carts.
J. S. Armitage was born in Newmarket, Ontario, on January 1st, 1849. His father was a miller for some time and his sons served their apprenticeship with him in that work. J. S. bought a flour mill at Port Colbourne, Ontario, in 1872 and operated it until the autumn of 1879 when he sold out and came with three brothers to the Little Saskatchewan at Tanner’s Crossing. Very soon after he reached here he decided to build a flour mill and, as there was a great demand for lumber, to operate a saw mill as well. He purchased his equipment from the firm of Goldie and McCulloch of Galt, Ontario and Wm. Herriot was sent by them to oversee the building of the mills, and to install the machinery. Mr. Herriot had been a boiler maker and had served his apprenticeship as a millwright with that company. He stayed here for two years and with J. S.’s brothers B. M. and Isaac operated the mill. In 1882 he moved to Souris where in partnership with George McCulloch, they carried on a very successful milling business.
The mill whistle at what was by now Minnedosa, was first blown on July 21st, 1880, the location later occupied by Orr Motors Garage on the east side of Main Street.
Early in 1882 J. S. Armitage sold the mill to Major J. W. Douglas, but as Major Douglas did not have sufficient cash to pay in full he gave J. S. a lien on his other property as well as the mills. Then he had to borrow money to run the business and he purchased logs brought down the river from the north and also a large amount of grain, some of which spoiled because it was stored in buildings that were not water tight. By 1885 the Major was in financial difficulties and the taxes on the property were not paid. About this time, John Lamont Sr., an experienced miller arrived in Minnedosa and was going to take over the mill and employ Major Douglas. Mr. Lamont got new millstones from the east, but in the meantime Jas. Jermyn got J. S. Armitage to sign over his rights to him and then purchased the property at a tax sale.
The millers made their money by buying wheat and after grinding it selling the flour, bran and shorts, and also by charging the farmers a fee for grinding their wheat, which was sometimes paid in cash but more often by a portion of the grist. In some cases the municipalities would give a grant or bonus to the mill and all farmers within the area would get a reduction in their milling rates.
In 1887 Mr. Jermyn decided to install rollers in place of the millstones and he asked the Municipality of Odanah for a bonus of $5,000.00. In spite of the strong opposition, headed by R. J. Mamby this was given. Mr. Jermyn then purchased the Johnston elevator and also built a large warehouse for the storage of grain. He secured the services of Wm. Mann as miller, Moses Stewart as head engineer and Frank Baker assistant or night engineer. These men were very competent. Wood drawn from the north country was used to fire the engine. However, well on in the 1890s Mr. Jermyn left here for Toronto to live.
In 1898 the mill was taken over by a syndicate and in 1899 it was rented by Atkinson and Son who operated until 1904. Mr. Mutton was employed there for some time. That year Mr. McIntyre bought the property, coming here with his family from Virden. Among his employees were Wm. Wilkinson, Mr. Punchard and Ed Turner. In March, 1909 the building was reduced to ashes by a spectacular fire in the night. The McIntyre family left shortly afterwards to reside in Edmonton.
Page revised: 16 July 2011