From Our Collection: Allan’s Mill Flour Barrel

Here on the blog we like to occasionally feature an artefact that isn’t on display in our gallery, but which is in our permanent collection. Consider it a behind the scenes peak into our collection.

Winter has returned to Guelph with a vengeance. There is snow on the ground, the roads are a mess, and the air is icy cold. I have to remember my winter toque and mitts as I rush out the door in the morning on my way to the museum. (But where did I put them? They’re never where I expect them to be – in my coat pocket or on the table by the door. They seem to have a life of their own. I’m half expecting to get a postcard from some tropical destination, like the Bahamas. “Wish you were here! Love, hat and mitts.”)

Yes, winter is definitely upon us. But winter isn’t all bad. There are many benefits to this season. For one, Guelph Civic Museum looks stately with a light dusting of snow on its roof:

museum in winter

Plus, who doesn’t enjoy hearty winter eating. There is nothing better on a cold day than a generous bowl of warm soup and a few slices of crusty bread.

I like to imagine Guelph’s earliest settlers sitting down to a similar meal. Bread, after all, was a staple of wintertime eating in those days.

This brings me to our artefact of the day – this beautiful flour barrel from Alan’s Mill, which is part of our permanent collection:

Flour Barrel

For a fledgling town, a mill is incredibly important. Yet, Guelph didn’t have one until 1830, when the Canada Company chose to builtd one on the west banks of the Eramosa River. Prior to this, Guelph farmers had no other option but to travel to mills in Dundas, Galt and Waterloo to have their grain ground into flour.

In 1832, the mill was bought by William Allan, a wealthy Scottish immigrant to Canada, and henceforth named, Allan’s Mill.

On account of the new mill and an influx of wealthy immigrants, Guelph experienced an economic boom in the 1830s. New buildings and stores sprung up around town. In 1836, Thomas Rolph gave this account of Guelph’s sudden growth:

During the past year no less than 16 frame and two brick houses made their appearance in our streets, and there are at present two large taverns in progress, a chapel, and seven or eight frame houses building or contracted for in the town, and building of all sorts and descriptions daily rising out of the wood, if I may use the expression, in the country. [. . .] Stores, seven or eight in number , hotels, taverns, watchmaker, saddler, chairmaker, and mechanics of every description. This vicinity is greatly celebrated for the quantity and quality of Barley grown—and sleighs well laden with it, are brought during the winter months to the respective breweries for sale.*

Another superb use of grain in the winter months – beer! But that’s a post for another time.

In honour of Allan’s Mill, I decided to bake a loaf of bread:


* Qtd. In James Innes, “. . .History of Guelph. . .” Published in instalments in the Guelph Weekly Mercury, starting January 11, 1866. March 8, 1866 (Instalment XV)

Posted by Dawn Owen on November 21, 2014