As the 1700s gave way to the 1800s, James MacKay operated a grist mill in Rogart (Sutherland, Scotland). By 1830, his son John had built a grist mill in Earltown, Nova Scotia (Canada); by 1875 his grandson Alexander had built a grist mill at Balmoral Mills. Today, more than a century later, the Balmoral mill is still a working mill.
In Scotland and in Nova Scotia, these and other grist mills relieved the tedious grinding of oats and wheat with heavy hand mills. One hand mill has been retained in the Balmoral grist mill, showing contrast in ease of grinding grain.
Archie MacDonald, the last owner of the Balmoral mill, retired in 1954. The province, realizing the value of grist mills in the early development of Nova Scotia, acquired the mill as part of its museum complex. Operated by local millers, the mill continues to grind oat, wheat and other grains. Electricity, rather than water pouring over the dam, drives the water wheel but little else is changed. Visitors are invited to view the complete process, on the three floors of the original mill, and are transported back to life in an earlier era in the Scottish hills of Colchester County.
Since the Scots arrived in Nova Scotia, mothers have fortified their families with porridge of oats from this and other grist mills, and with bread made from the flour ground there. A small interpretive centre adjacent to the Balmoral Grist Mill, offers small bags of oats and flour ground in the mill, at reasonable prices. Fudge and oatcakes are found there too.
View of the water wheel at the Balmoral Grist Mill, from the Matheson Brook below the dam: Click to enlarge [jpeg:31K] [Janet MacKay photo: 1978]
Across the Matheson Brook is a park area, with steps leading down to the walkway across the dam to the mill. Other than a parking lot and picnic tables, the woods are untouched. "Archie's well" offers hands-on experience in operating the pump to bring fresh, cool drinking water to a cup under its spout.
The admission price is right -- it's free! A pleasant afternoon or entire day can be spent at this oft-photographed mill, nestled down by the bank of the Matheson Brook in Balmoral Mills. It's found, two miles off highway #311; further south, and only a few millstones along highway #326 at Earltown, is a white bridge, the site of the grist mill built in the 1820s by John MacKay 'Miller,' father of Alexander MacKay of Balmoral Mills. History remains alive here, offering experiences the entire family will enjoy.
(Copyright) 1993; Janet MacKay Published in "Autumn Adventures," 1993
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