August 28, 2013

Descendants of pioneer glad to see original dam

As published in The Erin Advocate

The great great great great grandsons of Henry George Trout, the settler who built the dam and sawmill that made a starting point for the village of Erin in 1826, were pleased to see that the dam and pond are still a prominent feature of the downtown area.

George Trout and Edward Hicks of Austin, Texas visited Erin last week on a family vacation, to learn more about the place where their ancestors helped build a pioneer community.

While researching his roots on the internet, George had come across articles on local history that I wrote back in 2009, which mentioned Henry Trout. He contacted me and we arranged to meet for a history chat and tour.

“Learning about your ancestors brings you closer to them, and as you learn more, they begin to feel like your own immediate family,” he said. “Henry was the first ‘engineer’ in the family. I come from a long line of inventors. Of this I am very proud, and to actually see and touch one of the structures built by the man who started it all was very rewarding.”

Edward Hicks, Dana Mundell and George Trout inspect the Charles Street dam, which played a key role in their families’ histories. The 1898 staged portrait below was taken two years after Ben Mundell bought the dam. The power generated by Erin’s dams was a key part of the local economy for over 100 years. 

George and Edward, with spouses Kristen and Sissy, added to their historical experience by staying at the Devonshire House, which overlooks the dam. The original part of the house was built in 1856 by Charles McMillan, brother of Daniel McMillan who built several mills in Erin’s early years.

I introduced them to Dana Mundell who owns the Charles Street dam now – his great grandfather Ben bought it in 1896, along with the mill on the opposite side of Main Street, behind the Mundell store. It’s the last operable mill on the Credit River, which once had hundreds of them.

Dana Mundell (centre) gives Edward Hicks and George Trout
a tour of the historic mill behind his hardware store,
which is powered by the Charles Street dam.
“This is a walk back in time,” said Dana, as he showed them the old machinery and offices of the mill. It was built by Daniel McMillan in 1838 as an oat mill and converted to a planing mill by the Mundells, who still have the old grinding wheels. It is powered by water flowing from the dam, through a flume under Main Street, spinning a turbine that generates 30 horsepower for a mechanical system, operating a series of woodworking machines.

Henry Sr. was born in London, England in 1770 and sailed to the West Indies at the age of 17. He came to Canada as a soldier in 1792 as part of the Queen’s Rangers under John Graves Simcoe. Later he operated a farm, a hotel and a stage coach service in Fort Erie, and ran a ferry service across the Niagara River to Black Rock (Buffalo). He was a British officer during the War of 1812, fighting battles on the Niagara Peninsula.

After the war, with his buildings and businesses destroyed, he apprenticed himself to a millwright and carpenter. Eventually, for his service, the Crown granted him 800 acres of land in Erin Township, between the Eighth and Tenth Lines, at 22 Sideroad. He arrived in the fall of 1821, just a year after the first settlers George and Nathaniel Roszell, about the same time as the McMillans.

In 1826, he and his sons dammed the Credit River and built a sawmill just downstream. That provided the lumber for a comfortable house on the Ninth Line, where he is believed to have died in 1852.
The ruins of the Charles Street sawmill in 1880. It was built by Henry Trout and his sons in 1826, and taken over in 1829 by Daniel McMillan. The Credit River flows right to left in the foreground, and it appears from the scattered logs that the dam had suffered serious damage. Various names are handwritten on this copy of the photograph, including “Chas Trout”, seated on a log, holding what may be a fishing rod. Family members say this could be Charles E. Trout, great grandson of Henry Trout.
I also put George in touch with Alan Kirkwood, who knows a lot about Erin’s history and genealogy. The Kirkwoods were one of the early pioneer families, with Margaret Kirkwood marrying Henry Trout’s son, also named Henry, in 1827.

The family’s initial sawmill business, which included a store that traded in potash for soap making, did not last long. It was taken over by William Chisholm, who sold it to Daniel McMillan in 1829. But Trout family members remained active mill workers.

Henry Sr., known as Squire Trout, was appointed clerk and tax assessor at the first township council meeting in 1824. He was also appointed magistrate, since he was well educated and respected, and he later was captain of a militia company.

“He was a local magistrate out in the woods,” said Alan. “He didn’t farm much.”

Alan took our guests to the Trout lands, and to the Lang Cemetery and several other cemeteries. They were unable to locate Henry’s grave site, but they did see a McKee grave. About 1849, Henry sold his farm to Sam McKee, who had married his daughter Charlotte, and they cared for him there until his death.

The family line of eldest sons that leads to Texas includes millwrights and machinery designers working in the Norval area, Meaford, Collingwood, Peterborough and Milwaukee. George’s great grandfather Walter C. Trout moved to Lufkin, Texas to take over a foundry and machine shop, and later created the design for the counterbalanced oilfield pumpjack.

There are no known photos of Henry Trout Sr., but many details of his life and the society of early Erin are contained a book published in 1916 by one of his grandsons, William Henry Trout. This book is available as a free PDF download at In future columns, I will provide some excerpts, to give some flavour of the early times, and the adventures of this ambitious family.

August 21, 2013

Mayor faces reprimands at CVC board meeting

As published in The Erin Advocate

The simmering dispute between Erin Mayor Lou Maieron and fellow members of the Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) Board of Directors may come to a boil next month as they vote on penalizing him for refusing to sign their Code of Conduct.

The mayor has consistently opposed the idea of a code, arguing that the public interest is already well protected by various laws governing council members, and that a code complaint could be misused as a weapon among political opponents.

In this regard he is quite correct. The trend of adopting codes of conduct is well-intentioned, but any attempt to legislate courtesy, respect and common sense is bound to be difficult to enforce. With politicians sitting in judgment of each other, the average citizen is not likely to perceive much benefit from the process.

Maieron is making a stand as a matter of principle, but as a political strategy it could well backfire. With a widespread lack of confidence in the system, people are often skeptical, baffled or outright hostile when it comes to politicians.

Most taxpayers, even the few who actually vote, don’t care much about codes of conduct or the intricacies of endless arguments. By being opposed to a code that promotes good behaviour, the mayor risks creating a negative impression.

He has argued that the board has no authority to enact the Code of Conduct, but with the full board and their lawyer against him, it’s not an argument he can win.

The CVC situation is entirely separate from the one at the Town of Erin, where a Code of Ethics complaint has been made against a member of Town Council. The nature of that complaint and the identity of the member remain a secret while an integrity commissioner investigates, but Maieron has said he believes the complaint is against him.

The CVC code is less formal, with no confidentiality and no integrity commissioner. But unlike the Erin code, it requires each member to sign an agreement to adhere to it. That seems unnecessary and a bit petty. Although he opposed adoption of the code, Maieron agrees he is bound by its provisions – except that he won’t actually sign his agreement. That seems a bit petty as well.

After the mayor loses a political battle, he tends to look for opportunities to carry on the arguments. He has every right to do so, but others have the right to question his judgment.

The CVC complaint was made on April 12 by Halton Hills Councillor Joan Robson. A special committee of three other board members met to discuss the situation, and at the June 14 meeting, they brought two alternatives to the board for consideration. Maieron was not in attendance at that meeting, and there were no board meetings in July and August, so the vote on possible reprimands against him was deferred to the September 13 meeting.

One alternative would have the board apply a series of escalating reprimands, starting with a request for an apology. His board pay could be suspended for 90 days and the process could culminate in a request to the Town of Erin to appoint someone other than the mayor to represent Erin on the CVC board.

The committee suggests the board “grant a week between each successive reprimand to allow the member an opportunity to reconsider, sign and submit the signed form.”

They also said the board may want to consider changing the Code of Conduct, “to allow members of the board to swear that they verbally agree to adhere to the Code”, during the public portion of a meeting.

It would certainly be an anti-climax if he offered to “swear” allegiance to the Code after this long battle, and perhaps a disappointment to board members who have grown so weary of his tactics that they would be glad to see him replaced.

He has made his point about the Code, at great length and on many occasions, and it may be to his advantage to let the issue go.

August 14, 2013

Town must decide soon on Station Road project

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin is risking a fine of up to $1 million from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) if it does not act quickly to make a decision on rebuilding the Station Road bridge and repairing the dam.

The project itself would cost over $2 million, even if the Hillsburgh mill pond is allowed to drain and return to its natural state, according to a recent report to Town Council from Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck.

“The permanent solution will require the existing dam either be upgraded to current engineering standards or decommissioned,” he said.

The full upgrading is estimated to cost $2.44 million, while decommissioning (including environmental assessment of sediment issues), would cost $2.15 million.

The bulk of the cost in each case is to rebuild the narrow road, including water and sewer lines, and the 96-year-old bridge, which was identified as in need of replacement as early as 1973.

Rehabilitating the earthen dam, while continuing to ignore the bridge and road, was not one of the options analyzed.

Emergency work was done last year to shore up the deteriorating dam, to make the road safe for traffic, but the MNR gave council two years to come up with a long-term proposal:

“Application for the permanent works must be made immediately following completion of any required environmental assessment, and prior to June 1, 2014.”

Even if council decided right now what they want to do, they would still have to hire a consultant to do the environmental assessment and hold public meetings and have a final plan ready in 10 months. That is practically impossible, but they could get started.

Apart from a possible fine, the MNR could issue a mandatory order for repairs, or complete the work itself and collect the money from the Town.

The Town held a public meeting last winter, at which some residents were angry that the Town would consider getting rid of the pond. Others said it was not worth the cost to preserve it.

Last month, council appointed citizen members to the Mill Pond Ad Hoc Committee. This group may be able to provide knowledgeable advice to council, but it is only advice. Council must consider the financial impact on taxpayers throughout the Town.

It would be ideal to keep the mill pond in place if it can be done at reasonable cost, since it is part of our heritage and has a valuable ecosystem.

On the other hand, it is a man-made device, created for industrial purposes that have long ago disappeared. Can we afford to preserve it forever?

A better case for preservation could be made if the public could actually enjoy the pond, by means of parkland and trails in the area, but it is surrounded by private lands. Van Wyck warned that the Town could face legal problems if property owners claim that their rights have been violated by any changes.

One possibility that has been discussed is to lower the level of the pond, though this is also a potential legal problem since the control structure is privately owned. Lowering the water could reduce the risk of a dam failure and flood damage downstream during a storm, and reduce the engineering requirements and costs for upgrading.

If council elects to close the road and do nothing with the dam, abandoning the bridge and leaving dead end roadway on either side of it, the MNR would likely order repair work to be done, said Van Wyck. The “do nothing” option would not deal with the possibility of dam failure and would add significantly to the fire department’s response time to homes on the west side of the bridge.

Van Wyck’s full report, including photos, maps and cost charts, can be downloaded at as part of the July 16 agenda package, starting at page 67.

Mayor Lou Maieron has briefly suggested the possibility of closing off Station Road at the dam, and building a new alternative road from Trafalgar to the western portion of Station Road, along the route of the Elora-Cataract Trailway (owned by Credit Valley Conservation).

I will be interested in more details when the mayor has an opportunity to present them, but the idea does not look promising at this point. It would provide access to the west, but the Town would still have to deal with safety issues at the dam, and could be left with an unsightly abandoned bridge.

It would likely cost more than the other plans, since the Town would have to build an even longer section of new road running parallel to the trail. It would also have to build a brand new bridge just 350 metres downstream of the existing one, the site of the old railroad trestle bridge.

Council will have a difficult financial decision to make, since the cost of this project could force the deferral of various other important projects. The issue is not so much whether the pond is preserved, but whether replacement of the Station Road bridge will finally rise to the top of the priority list after being deferred for 40 years.

August 07, 2013

Fire protection boosted after Globe Hotel burned

As published in The Erin Advocate

The fire that destroyed the Queen’s Hotel and a block of businesses in downtown Erin 100 years ago sparked a furious debate over spending money on fire protection and a water works system.

In the end, the village council of 1913 listened to the people and did exactly what most of them were apparently content with – virtually nothing.

The village had suffered many fires, and Advocate Publisher Wellington Hull was fed up with seeing the buildings of his advertisers go up in smoke. He pushed for purchase of a gasoline-powered pump and 500 feet of hose to replace the bucket brigade method of firefighting.

“Such a purchase would be backed up by every sane person in the community,” said Hull, in a Page 1 editorial.  “Will they wake up from this lethargy and do so? A long-suffering community awaits to see.”

He said the council should be composed of “energetic business men who will not stubbornly and wilfully sit by and watch the place burn up.”

A letter to the editor said, “It seems a shame that our fine Village is fifty years or more behind the times. We must either go ahead or go back. It will take years to get things back to where they were before this fire.”

Council’s first response was to replace some broken buckets and ladders. Reeve Charles Overland said they had to study the possibility of installing a water works system, which Hull predicted the people would not support.

“The discussion of water works looks very much like a scheme to sidetrack the whole question of fire protection for an indefinite time,” said Hull.

A letter writer attacked the reeve: “He sits on his high horse and hurls defiance at those who would do something. The one idea with him is to keep the Taxes down. It looks as if it will be up to the citizens and business men to get behind the Council and push them up to the point of doing something; and failing in this, see that we elect men who have not such narrow and contracted ideas.”

Councillor J.H. Gibson proposed that a bylaw be submitted to the ratepayers for a $1,500 debenture to buy a fire pump and hose, but the reeve and his allies defeated that with an amendment to only research the costs.

Councillors went to the Canadian National Exhibition to price equipment, but at their next meeting they only voted to hire engineer Herbert Bowman of Berlin (now Kitchener) to report on a water works. That report was presented at a public meeting on November 20, 1913.

“The revenue from consumers would soon more than pay for the operating expenses,” said Bowman, outlining the need for a municipal well and pump house. “You are fortunate in having a high hill situated so close to the village that it makes an ideal location for a reservoir.”

The total cost was $10,000, which financed over 30 years would have added $650 per year to the village budget. Hull proclaimed that, “With a system of this kind, outsiders would easily be induced to locate here, manufacturers would come in and the place would take on new life.”

But it didn’t stand a chance. After council rejected demands to submit a fire protection bylaw to the electors, the Advocate editor lambasted them for their “flimsey twaddle and lame excuses” and urged that they be replaced.

He may have represented the views of some business people, but not of most voters. Councillor Gibson stepped down, but the reeve and other members were re-elected for 1914.

Council eventually decided to buy a second-hand chemical fire engine, designed only as a first response unit while hydrants were being hooked up. This type of unit had a tank with about 50 gallons of carbonated water, carried on a cart. In the event of a fire, sulphuric acid was mixed in, and the chemical reaction provided up to 15 minutes of water spray. (A reservoir and water main would have kept two hoses going for four hours.)

That was it for fire protection until the mid-1940s. The chemical engine was not of much use when the Globe Hotel (originally the luxury home of mill entrepreneur Daniel McMillan, and now the site of the Bell building and Credit River Motor Co.) was destroyed by fire in January 1945.

The Globe Hotel before and after the 1945 fire

“Public reaction to the blaze, not surprisingly, followed a similar line to that in the wake of the Queen's fire 32 years earlier, with proposals for better equipment, a properly trained volunteer force, and a municipal water system,” says historian Steve Thorning.

This time, council eventually heeded the calls for better protection. In the spring of 1946, they spent $300 for a second-hand gasoline-powered fire engine pump, on a two-wheel wagon, with 2,000 feet of hose. It was almost exactly what was expected to cost $1,500 in 1913.

In November of 1946, Erin finally established a proper volunteer fire department. It was the last village in the Wellington County to do so, and it would still be many years before a comprehensive water system would be in place.