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.