Reviews / Comptes Rendus - Mills of Canada. Carol Priamo -

Reviews / Comptes Rendus
Mills of Canada. Carol Priamo

Felicity Leung
Parks Canada

Mills of Canada. Carol Priamo. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1976. 192 p., illus. (some col.) includes index. ISBN 0-07-082402-9. $19.95

The Mill. Produced and designed by William Fox. Photography by Bill Brooks. Written by Janice Tyrwhitt. Illustrated by Helen Fox. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976. 224 p., chiefly illustrated (part col.), index. ISBN 0-7710-3193-9. $29.50

1 Mills of Canada and The Mill are the first large picture books written by Canadians on the general subject of mills. These pioneer ventures are recorded in terms that will appeal to the layman: both are artistically illustrated in colour and black and white, and both, rather than being analytical, evoke an emotional and romantic response. As a student of grist and flour mills for the past few years, I found useful the handsome collection of recent photographs and historical illustrations which the books display — each has well over two hundred. Although the dates of the machinery illustrated are not sufficiently documented, the photos themselves constitute an important collection for historians of material culture, architecture, and industrial technology. The texts are derived largely from secondary sources, including research done on preserved mills in Canada and the United States, as well as from first-hand accounts of historical and living individuals involved in the milling industry. The authors give a very general account of the main events in the history of different types of milling, a task not completely satisfactory when only one-third of some two hundred pages is allotted for text. The result is anecdotal rather than compact history. Both books include a list of illustrated mills which survived to the time of writing, an aid to researchers and others who enjoy their work and holidays travelling along historic routes.

Mills of Canada

2 Using art, poetry, photography, and her University of Toronto M.A. thesis, Carol Priamo has attempted "to convey the essence of the old mill in central and eastern Canada: its history, its operation, its humble beauty, and its significance to both the early growth and the continuing heritage of our country." She begins with a brief outline of grist and flour milling history starting with the French mill at Port Royal in 1607, traversing time and space to Quebec, Ontario, the Atlantic provinces, and reaching the 1880s when roller milling became accepted. Her second chapter, "Waterpower and the Gristmill," is a brief description of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century methods of milling and waterwheel developments; it ends with Oliver Evans' mill improvements of the late eighteenth century which are still evident in today's mills. Following chapters concern "Gristmill Architecture," "Surviving Grist-mills," "The Miller," "Canadian Windmills," and "The Sawmill." "The Old Mill Today" deals with mills existing as museums, restaurants, and historic sites. The last chapter, "The Spirit of the Old Mill," is poetic — "The Old Humber Mill, " written by John Campbell in 1907, is appropriately illustrated to end the text on a romantic note. A bibliography, an index, and a list of 82 surviving mills (65 gristmills, 11 sawmills, and 6 windmills) complete a total of 192 pages.

3 Most of the 226 illustrations, including 61 in colour, are Priamo's own photographs. Some are purposefully hazy to create atmosphere and a few appear to have suffered in the course of printing. They show approximately 108 grist, flour, and saw mills, most of them in Ontario where, by the 1850s, the number of mills exceeded that in all the other provinces. Of the 108 mills illustrated, 64 are in Ontario, 26 in Quebec, 7 in Nova Scotia, 6 in New Brunswick, 4 in Prince Edward Island, and 1 in Newfoundland. Several are little-known mills searched out by the author at remote mill sites.

4 The author wisely restricted her subject to grist, flour, and saw mills operated by wind and water and this restriction has resulted in a more integrated text than that in The Mill. It might have been even better had she been permitted by her publisher to limit it further. As in The Mill, the broad scope of the subject and the small space allowed for text results in generalizations. Priamo achieves her aim of conveying the essence of the old mill (presumably the old mills which remain today), but by emphasizing the picturesque and humble, she may mislead readers interested in industrial history. The juxtaposition of an engraving of a mill in its heyday with a photograph of the surviving mill best illustrates what the mill really represented -- a hard-headed, heavily capitalized, economic venture in a busy industrial centre, not a romantic setting by a quiet country stream.

The Mill

5 The Mill is an artistically compiled "celebration of mills" which begins with an "acknowledgment of their beauty." It was produced and designed by William Fox, photographed by Bill Brooks, written by Janice Tyrwhitt, and illustrated by Helen Fox. On the one hand this division of labour allowed each contributor to concentrate on what he or she knew best; on the other hand the book understandably lacks the unity of Priamo's Mills of Canada. Dividing the work also permitted a production of wider scope. It begins in time with the caveman and continues to the present. Every type of mill (grist, flour, saw, textile, paper, powder, snuff, and oil) in northeastern North America is mentioned, if not illustrated, and even the Saugus iron works in Massachusetts is included.

6 The organization of Tyrwhitt's text suffers because of the diversity and complexity of the subject matter in such a broad approach to mills. The details within each chapter jump from place to place, mill to mill, and time to time, though the chapters are arranged chronologically. The first, "Power of the New World," touches on water, wind, and electricity in addition to other information. "The Heritage They Brought" mentions some European milling techniques of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. "Settlements on the Seacoast," "The Discovery of Independence," and "Patriots and Loyalists" record information about milling against the background of historical events in North America from 1607 to the 1830s. Chapter 6, "Two Revolutionaries," concentrates on two important Americans — Oliver Evans, who automated flour milling, and Samuel Slater, who brought mass production to textile milling in the late eighteenth century. "Men with New Power" deals with nineteenth century technical and economic changes; two Canadian milling enterprises are mentioned in detail: a venture undertaken at Gros-Sault by the Sulpician fathers and the Ogilvie Milling Company. The last chapter, "Voices of the Past, Visions of the Future," acknowledges the growth of the large mill and the decline of the small mill and recounts interviews with living members of milling families. The book includes approximately 280 illustrations and ends with a bibliography, acknowledgments, and an index of the 121 surviving mills which are illustrated. Bill Brooks' well-focused and clearly printed photographs, 96 of them in colour, are inserted throughout the book, often unrelated to Tyrwhitt's text but forming a separate stream of information on mills. Helen Fox's instructive sketches are placed to clarify the subject matter.

7 The authors of The Mill have taken advantage of the major historic mill sites which have been reconstructed in the United States: the textile mills of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Harrisville, New Hampshire; the Saugus iron works in Massachusetts; the Brandywine powder mills in Delaware; the corn mill at Phillipsburg Manor, New York, and others. They also make use of Canadian historic mill sites. Of the approximately 121 surviving mills illustrated in The Mill, 33 are in Ontario, 14 in Quebec, 10 in Massachusetts, 7 each in Nova Scotia and New York, 5 each in Prince Edward Island and Virginia, 4 each in Rhode Island and Maine, 3 each in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and 2 each in New Brunswick, Delaware, and Maryland. The remaining 8 are distributed throughout other eastern states.

8 Janice Tyrwhitt's "celebration of mills" at times seems to verge on poetry and ecstatic utterances. Her account is too broad and her treatment of technology too superficial for it to be a truly valuable reference tool for historians of technology.

9 Mills of Canada and The Mill serve as attractive introductions to the history of milling in North America. I hope they will inspire students of milling to serious research concentrated on the history of a single mill site since that, properly done, would easily yield as many pages and form a meaningful, necessary, in-depth study on mills — of all subjects, the least romantic.

Felicity Leung
Historian
Material History Research
Parks Canada
Ottawa, Ont.