The earliest written record about the plot of land Watson’s Mill sits on dates to a 1794 British land survey. The surveyor, John Stegman, was the Deputy Surveyor for the Province of Upper Canada. He originally surveyed the townships of Nepean, North Gower, Osgoode and Gloucester. While surveying Stegman identified the location of present-day Watson’s Mill as the ideal site for a mill along the Rideau River system.
The British had exclusive use of the land until 1840, but it would take another 16 years before public interest would be shown in leasing it. In 1856 Richard Tighe received a Crown Patent for the land, though he did not proceed with development.
Then in steps
Moss Kent Dickinson and Joseph Merrill Currier
Moss Kent Dickinson
Moss Kent Dickinson was born in Denmark, Lewis Co., New York in 1822. His family moved to Cornwall, Ontario in 1824 after his father and uncle established a successful stagecoach and postal service between Montreal and Kingston.
For his 10th birthday, Dickinson’s father took him to the opening of the Rideau Canal in Kingston. This trip would inspire his future career.
By age 22, Dickinson had moved to Kingston, purchased a barge, his first steamboat, the Rob Roy, and established himself as “M.K. Dickinson Forwarding and Commission Merchant.” From Kingston Dickinson’s shipping business expanded. He moved his base of operation to Montreal in 1848 and then to Ottawa in 1858. By this time his fleet included 16 steamers and 60 barges.
While Dickinson’s business grew so did his family. He married Elizabeth Trigg in 1846. They had 6 children together: George, Charlotte, William, Alpheus, Lydia, and Elizabeth. Alpheus lived for only a year and Lydia died at the age of 15 from tuberculosis.
Joseph Merrill Currier
Joseph Merrill Currier was born in North Troy, Vermont, in 1820.
At the age of 17, Currier moved to Buckingham, Ontario securing the position of labourer at Bigelow’s Mill. This was the beginning of his career in the lumber milling industry.
Currier married his first wife, Christina Stenhouse Wilson in 1846. Together they had four children: William, James, George, and Ida. Currier moved his family to New Edinburgh, Ontario in 1847 where he managed the lumber mills owned by Thomas McKay. During this time Dickinson and Currier formed a formidable business partnership. By 1853 Dickinson and Currier were renting McKay’s Lumber Mill and would take ownership in 1855 after McKay’s death.
In the same year three of Currier’s children died from scarlet fever. Their untimely deaths came within weeks of one another, leaving James as an only child. His wife Christina died three years later. Currier decided to move to Ottawa in 1858 to pursue new business ventures with Dickinson.
The Rise of the Long Island milling complex
In 1858 a water control dam was constructed at the site that John Stegman picked for the perfect place for a mill in 1794. A control dam had previously been built downstream at the Long Island Locks but had failed in the 1830’s due to harsh winters and high spring runoff. Moss Kent Dickinson and Joseph Currier leased the water rights at this new dam site from the federal government in 1859 for $50 a year, as well as thirty acres of the surrounding land. Their idea was to establish a milling complex.
The water control dam was completed in August 1858, followed by the construction of a sawmill (1859), a flour & grist mill (1860, Watson’s Mill), a wool carding mill (1861), and a bung, plug and spile mill (1875, 1888).
To grow the Long Island milling complex Dickinson and Currier entered a partnership with two additional businessmen, Blasdell and Merrill. Dickinson owned 1/3 of the enterprise with Currier, Blasdell and Merrill sharing the other 2/3.
Drag the names of the buildings to their place in the Long Island Milling Complex…
Tragedy at the Flour Mill
One of the main personalities that has shaped present day Watson’s Mill is Ann Crosby Currier. Ann Crosby married Joseph Currier in 1861 at the age of 20. Originally form Lake George, New York, Crosby moved to Ottawa in the same year.
At a celebration of Dickinson and Currier’s achievements Crosby toured the flour mill. While descended the stairs from the attic to the second floor. Her skirt caught in a revolving drive shaft. She was pulled from her feet and thrown against a nearby support pillar. Crosby was killed instantly. At this time Ann Crosby and Joseph Currier had only been married for 6 weeks.
Currier was heartbroken after the death of his second wife. He left the milling complex at Long Island and sold all his shares to Dickinson. Blasdell and Merrill, the additional partners in the enterprise, also sold their shares to Dickinson.
The story of Ann Crosby Currier remains present at Watson’s Mill today. From the time of her death claims have been made that Crosby’s spirit remains attached to the site. Some claim they have seen her staring out the second-floor windows or coming down the attic stairs. Others claim they have heard lady-like footsteps on the second floor despite no one being around or have even been touched by unseen hands on the stairs.
In 1863 Moss Kent Dickinson and Joseph Merrill Currier
go their separate ways…
Moss Kent Dickinson
As the milling complex continued to flourish at Long Island, a new village began to grow around it. Dickinson dubbed this new village “Manotick” from the Algonquin-Anishinabe word meaning “island.” Dickinson’s plan for the “Village of Manotick” was registered with the County of Carleton in 1862.
In 1867 Dickinson built a clapboard structure across from his milling complex attached to a cottage Joseph Currier had previously erected around 1859. Dickinson’s new building served as the mills’ office, as well as a general store and post office for the village. The Dickinson Family would eventually make this building their home in 1870. The family’s arrival in Manotick also brought about the construction of two carriage sheds beside the home. While the Dickinson Family lived in the Manotick house it continued to operate as the post office and general store.
The Dickinson Family thrived in Manotick during the early 1870’s owning 160 village lots, 14 commercial lots, and 18 river front lots. Dickinson’s children were also deeply involved in the village’s economy, religion, and society.
Dickinson continued to increase his enterprise in Manotick with the expansion of the water control dam in the early 1870’s. This required Dickinson to demolish the original sawmill and rebuild it. The new structure was 3 stories, had diamond windows, and an added 20 feet to accommodate a bung, plug, and spile mill.
By the mid 1870’s the Dickinson Family fortunes began to decline. The milling complex suffered a loss in 1879 when the carding mill was destroyed by fire, Dickinson did not re-build as he had a hard time re-paying his existing debts and mortgage payments.
With his finances in disarray Dickinson entered politics in 1882. He was elected to the riding of Russell. He was then elected Mayor of Ottawa from 1864 – 1866. Dickinson served for three terms and stood for the Municipal Reform Association of Ottawa, an organization made up of business interests such as the Board of Trade and the Ottawa Association of Lumber Manufacturers. Under his leadership, the Ottawa City Passenger Railway was incorporated. It was the first public transit system in the city consisting of horse-drawn tramcars on iron rails. Dickinson also had the satisfaction of seeing Confederation accomplished and Ottawa confirmed as the capital of the new dominion of Canada.
In 1887 the sawmill was also destroyed by fire and Dickinson could not afford to rebuild. He did however rebuild the bung, plug, and spile mill as a separate building in 1888 which was powered by a turbine located across the river in the flour mill.
Moss Kent Dickinson died in 1897 at home in Manotick. By this death Dickinson was deeply in debt and did not own any property in addition his family’s home in Manotick and what was left of the milling complex. These properties were left to his 4 surviving children. Dickinson is buried in Beachwood Cemetery beside his wife Elizabeth who died in 1861.
Joseph Merrill Currier
Joseph Currier tried to move on from the tragedy at the mill. In 1863 he was elected as a representative for Ottawa in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. He supported Confederation and continued to represent Ottawa in the Parliament of Canada.
He also re-married in 1868 to Hannah Wright. Together with Wright’s family and business associates the Wright, Batson and Currier Company was established. The company built a very successful sawmill in Hull.
Wright and Currier built a grand home for their family in Ottawa 1868 known as Gorffwysfa, which is Welsh for ‘place of rest’. The address for this stately home was 24 Sussex Drive. This house would eventually go on to be the official residence for the Canadian Prime Minister.
From 1872 to 1877, Currier was the president of the Citizen Printing and Publishing Company, which produced the Ottawa Daily Citizen, and was also the president of two railway companies, the Ottawa and Gatineau Valley Railway and the Ontario and Quebec Railway.
By 1878, the sawmill in Hull had burned down. Despite his diverse range of business ventures, it left Currier bankrupt. After leaving politics in 1882 Currier was appointed postmaster of Ottawa. He died in 1884 in New York City at the age of 64 of “cerebral softening” (encephalomalacia). He is buried beside Hannah Wright and Ann Crosby Currier in Beechwood Cemetery.