An item in the January 11 edition of the Star and Times reported, “Mr. S. Gable of the Dauphin Milling Company was in town on business.”
Mr. Gable must have been encouraged by what he saw for in 1902, that same year, he was responsible for having a flour mill built in the village of Swan River.
Mr. Robert Bertram, a pioneer of the Minitonas area, installed the steam powered unit in 1902 having had considerable experience with steam engines while working in the early sawmills in the Renwer and Minitonas areas. After the completion of the mill, he was employed as engineer for some time.
Mr. Gable died suddenly, shortly after the mill began to operate, never really having had a chance to see it in full production and prospering. It was then purchased in 1902 by Cyrus and Alfred McFadden, two brothers from Ontario. They were both millers with previous experience who were anxious to operate a business of their own.
The McFadden brothers built houses in Swan River. Alfred built the cement block house directly north of the railroad bridge on Duncan Cresent. This house was built in 1903, the cement blocks made at the building site. Cyrus built on 7th Avenue, directly across the street from the Duncan School site.
The McFaddens stayed at the Commercial hotel while the houses were being built.
The family of Cyrus, which included three girls and two boys arrived by train in Swan River and were met by George Bradley, an uncle, who took them to Bowsman to stay until the home was completed.
The flour mill was a three story building located on 3rd Avenue North, where the vacated buildings of Shell Oil are now standing. The power unit was situated on the north side of the mill, that today would be on the lawn of a residence. The mill and elevator were serviced by a spur line of the CNR which ran between these two structures. Grain could be unloaded, stored and directed from the elevator to the mill as required by a long metal pipe, connecting the two buildings.
The mill operated as a custom business, processing wheat for local residents and commercial firms like bakeries and stores. An advertisement of April, 1908, from the Star and Times recommends two brands of flour; Lily of the Valley (a well chosen name) and Red Rose. They also state grain would be taken on payment.
Large quantities of wheat were processed for the Doukhobor Colonies before they built their own mills near Benito and later Veregin (see Doukhobor Flour Mill).
The mill generally operated with six employees, often running day and night when business was thriving. Mr. Bill Gordon, a farmer from east of Kenville, was employed because of his experience as a miller in Ontario. He walked the five and one half miles to work each day leaving at 6:30 A.M. Frank Bossons, who had experience at AshdownBossons lumber Company, was employed as steam engineer for a time. Wellington Gable, son of the first owner, was employed as bookkeeper.
The milling operation was very successful for four or five years, however a number of factors led to its eventual failure. Several years of frozen crops made the wheat unsuitable for milling. No doubt there was a great loss of business when the Doukhobors no longer used the mill. For various reasons,people began to buy flour at the stores a habit that may have started during the years of frozen wheat and continued because of convenience and elimination of one more job to do.
This deterioration of business soon found the McFaddens in financial trouble. After carrying the mill for several years, the bank finally took possesssion. The foreclosure caused the mill to stand idle for a number of years until around 1916 when it commenced operations to mill a few carloads for the war effort. Bill Beal was hired as steam engineer during this period. By the tone of reporting on the event in the Star and Times, hopes were the mill was on its way to prosperity, for we read, “There is a brisk business being done at the local flour mill. Farmers from miles around are bringing their wheat for gristing. The flour is reported to be giving excellent satisfaction.”
A man named McLelland operated the mill at this time making up orders for the war effort and local consumption. The story is told that he died shortly after coming here, so his father arrived to ship his belongings home to Owen Sound. He placed the furniture and other goods in the bottom of a box-car of grain to take advantage of the lower shipping rates. The car was slow in arriving at Owen Sound. It seems the grain inspectors had come to the conclusion something was wrong when they contacted the furniture while checking the grain. The grain was unloaded, the furniture then shipped double first class freight rate and they were also charged for underloading the box-car.
Once more the mill stood idle. Equipment was vandalized and stolen, the property left to deteriorate. It finally burned down around 1920. Some say the building had been resold just previous to the fire. A local man, with previous milling experience had been offered $500 a month to run the mill. This seems an overly generous wage for that time. However, the fire occured the day after the off er was made.
The elevator survived the fire and operated as such under different ownerships for a few years, ceasing business in the late 1920’s, finally being taken over by the town for back taxes. Watt Coulthart bought the elevator around 1932 for $450. He had bought a farm west of Swan River and intended to tear the building apart, to reuse the lumber on the farm. Mr. Coulthart was a grain buyer for the Great West Elevator Company, which later amalgamated with Searle Company. His Superior in Winnipeg heard of the purchase and offered the same price to Mr. Coulthart that he paid for the elevator, with a promise that an annex, very much desired by Mr. Coulthart, would be built at his elevator from the salvaged lumber.
Mr. Fred Wussow offered to demolish the old elevator for $350. It was to be dismantled, tin removed from the outside walls and bundled, nails removed from the lumber, all to be moved to the new site where it was to be used.
Jack Jones bought the mill lot of 150 feet footage at the town tax sale for $17 5. The office and power house was donated to R. G. Taylor for use as cabins connected with his work with Tuxis, a boys’ youth group.
While the Gable family were in Swan River, they lived at the comer of 2nd Street North and 4th Avenue on the North east corner of the intersection. They also owned section 31-35-28, which the sons attempted to farm. Wellington Gable farmed for a time until moving to a different location in the Kenville area.
John Shaw bought the cement McFadden house for $1000 along with other property at this location. It was later owned by Cooks and is still known today as the “Cook House.” After his death his sons Victor and Clarence operated the farm for a time.
Watt Coulthart and his wife spent many hours straightening the bent spikes salvaged from the demolished mill elevator – a handy supply for future projects.
Did you know . . .
Ernest Thompson Seton, the famous naturalist and writer, presented a talk at the Palace Theatre in Swan River on October 13, 1924. Admission 50¢ and 25¢.