This is the heart of Manotick - a community gathering place that incudes Watson's Mill, Dickinson House, and the Carriage shed on Dickinson Street on the banks of the Rideau Canal. The square is used for community events, festivals, and concerts, outdoor theatre, garden shows, day camps, a farmers market, Dickinson Days festival in June, and Remembrance Day ceremonies in November.
Dickinson House - 1127 Mill St.
Carriage House - 5524 Dickinson St.
Weavers House - 1131 Mill St. Owner: Peppermint Spa.
Ayers Building - 1128 Mill St. Owner: Rural Ottawa South Support Services
Watson's Mill & Museum
Watson's Mill Heritage Site [5525 Dickinson St.], is Ottawa's only heritage site and is one of the few industrial grist mills still operating in North America. The Mill was built in 1860, and the village of Manotick grew up around it. It was located on the banks of the Rideau River.
Watson's Mill operates as a living museum daily from May to October including holidays, with free admission (donations box) and parking. It offers pioneer demonstrations, bilingual exhibitions and guided tours. Grain milling usually occurs on Sundays producing stone-milled whole wheat flour. Stone-milling retains all the nutrients in the grain, unlike commercial flours. It's quite amazing to be able to buy fresh flour and bread as healthy as our ancestors ate. In the store you can also buy books, videos, gifts - and even a bag of feed for the local ducks. The Mill can also be rented for private parties and special events. There is a variety of programs and children's camps offered in summer.
Dickinson Square Buildings and Parks
Across the street from Watson's Mill is Dickinson House at 1127 Mill Street. The building is now operated as a museum showing how the Dickinson family lived when the mill was built.
Next door at 5524 is the Carriage Shed, you can buy used books in the summer (a fundraiser for the Mill Square). In winter it is used for art shows and other events. Behind Dickinson House is the Weavers House at 1131 Mill St. currently owned by Peppermint Spa. The Ayers Building across the street at 1128 Mill St. was originally a bank, and is now owned by Rural Ottawa South Support Services.
Picnic tables and benches are placed around the Mill. North of the Mill, is the Cenotaph and a walk of honor for local people who served in Canada's wars.
Behind the mill is one of the original dams on the Rideau Canal, a National Historic Site of Canada, a Canadian Heritage River and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The dam behind the Mill is part of the Canal, but the actual navigation channel runs east of Manotick's Long Island. The manually operated equipment raises and lowers the huge square timbers. This dam is operated by Parks Canada to control water levels in "Long Reach", a 45-km section of Rideau Waterway from Long Island Locks just north of Manotick to Burritts Rapids Lock. Most of the 200-km Rideau Canal is natural rivers and lakes, but its locks, dams and weirs were an engineering marvel when it opened in 1832.
Walk across the dam to a small park where you can fish or have a picnic. If you buy a small bag of feed at the Mill, the ducks will swim over as soon as they see you! From this small park, take a short walk to the street then left to A.Y. Jackson park and the "Gazebo" with a great view of the mill across the river - and yet another great fishing spot. From there it's a short walk across the bridge back to the Square. (See links to walking tours.)
Watson's Mill is a unique working flour mill, one of the best-preserved examples of 19th century mill architecture. The building showcases a symmetrical, unornamented stone building, the original tin plated roof in the tôle de la canadienne or Quebec style. The limestone was quarried from the river banks, and the wood was cut locally and milled at the Long Island Sawmill.
Inside you will find ionic columns, high baseboards, plastered walls, and the original working machinery. The turbines in the basement operate from the power of the river diverted into them. Through a series of gears this power is transferred to the upper two floors to transfer grain, remove the bran, and turn the large stones that grind grain into flour.
Set in the picturesque Dickinson Square, Watson's Mill has a remarkable history linked to local politics, the building of a country, and a tragic love story. The gristmill was built in 1860 as the Long Island Flouring Mills by two prominent Ottawa businessmen Moss Kent Dickinson and Joseph Merrill Currier. A saw mill was built a year earlier on the opposite bank of the river, and a woolen carding mill the following year. The Canada Bung, Plug and Spile Factory was constructed in 1875, completing the Long Island Milling Enterprise, later called "Manotick Mills". Dickinson shipped his bungs all over the world. The village that grew up around the various operations was named "Manotick". One theory was that it was named after an Ojibwe word meaning island in the river, but their word for island is "minis" and for river is "ziibi". A better match is an Algonquin Indian word for island which is "minitig" - more likely becoming "manotick".
In 1861, Joseph's wife Annie Currier died in a tragic accident in the mill just after they had returned from their honeymoon. She was killed when her dress became caught in one of the turbine shafts. There have been numerous unconfirmed sightings of Annie's ghost in Watson's Mill.
Dickinson House was built in 1867, the year of Canada's Confederation, by Moss Kent Dickinso, the founder of Manotick village. From 1870 to 1972, the house was the residence of the Dickinsons, and the Spratt and Watson families, the owner/operators of the grist mill across the square. The house was visited by Sir John A. Macdonald during Canada's general election of 1887.
In 1928, Elizabeth Dickinson sold the mill to Alec Spratt. When the mill was purchased by Harry Watson in 1946, the name changed to Watson's Mill. In 1963, the National Capital Commission (NCC) entered into a lease agreement with Watson to open the Mill as a heritage attraction. It remained a working mill until 1972, when the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority purchased Watson's Mill, Dickinson House and the Carriage Shed. The RVCA restored the mill and turned it into a working grist mill, museum, and gift shop. Read about Dickinson Square Management.
"Dickinson Days" - Manotick's June Festival
Every spring Dickinson Square becomes the centre of an outdoor village festival called "Dickinson Days". It's held on the first Saturday in June, the preceding Friday, and sometimes on Sunday too. The village of Manotick celebrates their history and Moss Kent Dickinson's birthday (the founder of the village and mill) with a parade, fireworks, entertainment in Dickinson Square, Pioneer Day at Watson's Mill, pie-eating contests, local politicians, a farmer's market, booths for craft sales and local organizations, food from pancakes to BBQ, wagon rides, and "Doors Open Ottawa" - something for everyone!
- Related Information:
- Dickinson Square Management
- Tour the Manotick Area
- Manotick Walking Tour #1 : : Walking Tour #2
- Photos of Watson's Mill
- Rideau Canal & Waterway
- "Dickinson Days" - Manotick's June festival
- Links of interest:
- Watson's Mill website
- Dickinson House (Rideau Township Historical Society)
- Mahogany Harbour Dock Project (Video 2017)