The volunteers who helped restore Watson's Mill in Manotick have earned national kudos for their efforts at the 147-year-old structure, the only working industrial heritage site in the City of Ottawa.
A multi-year campaign that required more than $500,000 in donations and grants led the Heritage Canada Foundation and the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills to issue a 2007 National Achievement Award to Watson's Mill Manotick Inc., the non-profit group that operates the grist mill for the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.
The repair efforts between 2000 and 2002 centred on the five-storey mill's walls, foundation, chimney, windows, and doors, plus a new drainage system and a restoration of its rare tin roof. Other historic mills have since come calling for tips, including the Harison-Morley Grist Mill in upstate New York.
"This shows what a small community museum can do if it works really hard," said Ted Ross, chairman of the MILLennium Campaign Restoration Committee that organized the project.
"It's been hundreds and hundreds of hours by volunteers to not only raise the money, but to supervise the restoration."
The 1998 ice storm, which did major damage to the mill's limestone walls, provided the impetus for the campaign. The MILLennium committee was soon formed among community leaders and mill volunteers, who had a long list of needed repairs.
"It took us about two years to raise the money, and two months to spend it," Mr. Ross joked.
Deteriorating and damaged mortar on the walls was removed and replaced. A drainage system was installed to direct street water away from the building, built by Moss Kent Dickinson and partner Joseph Currier in 1860. The surrounding grounds were freshly landscaped with gardens donated by the Manotick Horticultural Society. Inside, volunteers have continued to restore windows, the chimney, and the front and side doors.
"Dickinson wanted it to be a showcase," Mr. Ross said yesterday. "It's got high baseboards, unique door columns, (things) that are pretty rare for an industrial mill."
The original grinding equipment, which continues to produce stone-ground whole wheat flour, was overhauled for the first time since the 1970s. They still pay the federal government a token annual sum of $50 for water rights on the Rideau.
Watson's Mill has employed one full-time worker since 2005, a result of the city's Museum Sustainability Plan. But volunteers have been its backbone since the non-profit group took over management responsibility 10 years ago.
"We are absolutely thrilled with the award," said Bonnie Gray, chairwoman of the mill's board of directors.
The award will be presented tomorrow at 1 p.m. during the opening ceremony of Manotick's Dickinson Days celebration. The Heritage Canada Foundation promotes the preservation of the country's historic buildings and places. The site attracts more than 18,000 visitors a year at its Dickinson Square location on the Rideau River.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007
In December 2007, the City of Ottawa announced it would purchase the
buildings vacated by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.