McLane's Flour Mill

"Flour Milling Makes Winnipeg"

by George Siamandas



The first mills used water power and were like Grant's Mill at Sturgeon Creek in St. James. Grants Mill was built in 1829 and operated with a 240 foot dam. It operated for only three years as Grant had trouble with the engineering of the dam. Another early mill was built by Louis Riel senior on the Seine River. Riel had increased the flow into the Seine by dredging. The mill stones are displayed at the St Boniface Museum. By 1856 nine water mills operated in Winnipeg.


The other source of power was the windmill popularized by the one illustrated in Steinbach Mennonite Village. The first windmill in Manitoba was built in 1825 and its parts were sent out by Lord Selkirk. A man named Mitchell was dispatched from Scotland to assemble it after it sat in limbo for ten years. It was located at Point Douglas. Windmills were prominent in Manitoba till about 1870. It was the steam powered mill that moved things forward.


McLane's Flour Mill was actually built by the Hudson Bay Co. at the Forks in October 1876. It was built here because the HBC as a large land owner was trying to attract business closer to its holdings and away from city hall and the Point Douglas area. But shortly after completion, it was leased by JN McLane and it became known as McLane's Mill. The equipment came from Buffalo New York and the engine supplied 250 horsepower. it could grind 1350 bushels in 24 hours.

But the following year the HBC cancelled the lease and took back the mill. They put a Wrigley in charge and heavily invested in improvements. But the venture did not go well. Because of its location at teh Forks before the CN, the HBC Mill had no access to the railway as did the Ogilvie Mill. Even worse the HBC MIll was which was built in 1881 and it was not exempt from taxes. Ogilvie was saving 140,000 while McMillan saved 40,000 annually in the 1880s.


Ogilvie's did for Winnipeg what the railway and Eatons had done. When built in 1881 it was the state of the art. Ogilvie had been in business since 1801 in Montreal with their first mill on the La Chine rapids. They started to buy wheat directly in Manitoba in 1877 for their eastern mills. Ogilvie was eventually persuaded by Winnipeg City Council's offer of a 20 year tax holiday. But Winnipeg was also well located in relation to the US markets and the growing western markets. By June 1882 a six storey structure and smokestack with a base of 18 feet and a 101 foot high smokestack. Three boilers provided stream power for a 400 hp engine. coal became the fuel of choice. It went electric in 1906. The flour it produced was of the highest standard and it was very consistent.


Flour mills proliferated in many small communitites. At one time 98 communities in Manitoba had a flour mill. Only one real heritage value flour mill remains in Manitoba and it is at Holmfield south western Manitoba and it's operated by the Harrison brothers who were granted $2,000 by the local council in 1897. While electrical power replaced the original stream units in 1947, the mill's original processing and operating equipment remains intact. It served local needs and continues to be sustained by the local community and by the patience of its current generation of Harrisons. Its produce is labelled "Turtle Mountain Maid."

Harrison's Mill remains the oldest operating flour mill in western Canada. And considering its vintage of 1897, it is head and shoulders over everything else. The equipment is actually from 1881. A third generation of farmer and lawyer Bill Harrison brothers and brother Errick serve a small clientele during the summer months. Canada which once had 1,000 mills, had fewer than 33 (in 1994).


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