Still Standing

Old foundation wall on a grassy slope

The remnants of Thomas Jull’s Mill, built 1857, at Little York and Mill Street in Orangeville

Looking at the old mill wall – or what’s left of it – I can picture farmers bringing burlap sacks of grain to the mill to Little York and Mill Street, a block south of Broadway.  They’d arrive by horse and wagon.  If the wagon was full and heavy maybe the horses would be a little winded, huffing and rattling their traces as the farmer unloaded the grain.  Perhaps there’d be a trough with water, like the one in front of Town Hall… and maybe the farmer would remember to stop at the grocery store to pick up a bag of flour to take home.

a brief history of the millAccording to the historical plaque on the grounds, the mill in fact operated from the time of horse drawn carts to pick-up trucks – 1857 to the late 70s – producing flour, then livestock feed.   There was another mill on the same site before this.  Orange Lawrence built the first.  He was a major landholder in the area and gave the town its name.  His mill was wood frame and burned down.

Thomas Jull and John Walker Reid built the stone mill.  They were sons-in-law of Orange Lawrence.  At first, the mill was powered by an overshot wheel, which means a flume or mill race must have started upstream to bring the water to the top of the wheel (Also there must have been a lot more water).  At some time a turbine replaced the wheel, and it, in turn gave way to electricity in 1913, when the mill produced 75 barrels a day of Pride of Dufferin and Gold Anchor flour.  The building operated until 1977, stood vacant for eight years, while various ideas were put forth for its use, but in 1985, it came down… and this little bit of wall is all that’s left still standing.

Running In the Mud

Some things are irresistible.  Wet concrete, for instance.  Not many can resist setting a penny or writing initials in a wet sidewalk once the workers pack up their shovels and drive off.  Forty years ago or so, someone gave into this urge (According to the Orangeville Works Department, this sidewalk was poured in the late 70’s or early 80’s).  I was out for a walk late last summer (2013) and found where someone had left his mark in the sidewalk on the south side of Church Street in Orangeville, just east of the train tracks.

A footprint in the sidewalk

Footprints in the sidewalk… way more fun than initials.

Footprints have got to be free… in spite of attempted repairs it still shows through.

Footprints have got to be free… in spite of attempted repairs it still shows through.

I have a picture of a summer’s evening, warm and bright.  The Works Department crew has left and the concrete in the new sidewalk is curing.  A young man sees the caution barrier and the wet concrete and gets an idea. He takes off his shoes and socks and runs down the sidewalk, his arms waving wildly and his feet barely staying under him.  The wet concrete squishes a bit underfoot and leaves a white rime on his soles.  As he runs, he shouts at the top of his voice, nothing intelligible, just exuberance.  Someone reading the paper on this front porch looks up, shakes his head and mutters, “Kids”.  Maybe there were other boys there – buddies who dared him to do it – but I think he’d have done it anyway. It looks like they have tried a couple of times over the years to repair the footprints, but they’re still there and will be at least until the time comes to replace the concrete.  Sidewalks have a life of 50 or 60 years, so they’ll be there for a few more years at least.

The Coming of Spring 2014

Winter came early, like a guest too eager, and has stayed without respite… more snow, lower sustained temperatures, and no two- or three-day thaw since late November.  In fact the total span of above-freezing temperatures can be more easily measured in hours than days.  It’s not all bad.  The Great Lakes anticipate a really big gulp from the Spring freshet.  Already their levels have risen to near normal and above in many cases… and because their ice cover is larger than it has been for many years, they haven’t lost as much to the lake effect snow machine as in past years.

Now it’s Spring, and Winter Still Won’t Leave.

We keep looking at the calendar and standing up, in anticipation of showing the cold the door but it’s not paying attention, blathering on with cold winds and snow drifts, polar vortexes and closed highways.  Snow drifts by the side of the road are still three and four meters high.  Rivers are still solid ice.  But the sun is doing its best.  Now there’s more light than dark in a day.  Beside the roads, below the drifts, there are puddles and occasional wisps of steam where the sun has warmed the asphalt and melted the snow.

Also the robins are back.  At least one is.  I knowImage that people have been reporting robin sightings for weeks now, but I saw my first for 2014 yesterday… along Station Street in Waldemar (just east of Grand Valley).  It was on the shoulder of the road, and must have been trying to remember the last line of that old saw about the early bird… no worm this year, just a frozen tail.

This one had its back to me and dashed off without turning around but it is definitely a robin.

Maple trees are also showing signs of life.  The ice storm just before Christmas wreaked havoc (Incidentally, I typed “wrought” before “wreaked” but looked it up.  Wrought is the archaic past tense of “work” – as in “wrought – or worked – iron”.  So while it’s not incorrect to say “wrought” havoc, “wreaked” is what i meant).

Back to the maples.  The weight of the ice brought down thousands of trees and broke many more branches, large and small.  The broken branches on the maple trees, are showing that the sun’s warmth is penetrating the ice and snow and digging deep into the earth, stirring the roots.

Well, OK, maybe it’s not.  That sounds nice but it’s the daytime/nighttime alternating expansion and contraction of the trees above ground that draws the sap.  When it gets to the broken ends of the branches, it forms icicles – sapsicles – and I can’t help but think that it was one of these that inspired whoever it was to make maple syrup.

Image This tree is just north of 5 and 5 – on the 5th line north of number 5 side road north and east of Orangeville.  You can see a bunch of sapsicles on the small branches to the left, and one very large one in front of one of the main branches to the right.  Here’s another tree on the same line:Image

The sapsicle is very large but unfortunately out of reach.  But next time you see one that you can reach, break it off and taste.  There’s an interesting atmospheric dustiness at first but then a unmistakeable sweetness.  A few years ago, the father of a friend of ours had the fire blazing in the sugar shack and the evaporator full of sap.  We had tea made with the hot sap.  That’s a treat the rivals the maple toffee made by pouring hot syrup onto the snow, where it turns to sticky toffee.

Maple syrup producers in the Hills of Headwaters have been hard at work for a while now… drilling holes and setting spiles running the lines between the bush and the sugar shack.  After the winter we’ve endured sugaring off is as welcome as the smell of lilacs that’ll come later.  We sure make the most of it.

The Maple Syrup Festival at Island Lake Conservation area is going on this weekend.

The Headwaters Taste of Maple starts March 28 and runs through April 13 at various locations throughout the Headwaters Region.  There are breakfasts, cooking classes, maple themed art, and many other offerings.  You can even share your favourite maple recipe here.

Obviously there are also many producers throughout the hills who offer farm gate sales, and stock the shelves in local stores.

Look at the names on the maple syrup bottles to make sure you’re buying from someone down the road.  Or call the producers directly to see what’s available. Some producers allow a guests to check out the process. Just be sure you’re welcome and that the sap is running. And next time you see an icicle on the end of a broken maple twig, have a taste and you’ll know how this process started so many years ago.

Some Local Producers

John & Nancy Kidd, Kidd Farms, 438162 4th Line, Melancthon, 519 925-6453

Bill & Wendy Masters, Knollbrook Farms, 142239 Dufferin County Road 5, Grand Valley, 519 928-3354

Clare Booker & Jay Mowat, Willow Creek Farm, Erin, 519 362-3383

Putney Heath, Caledon East, 519 584-9328