In 1963 the National Capital Commission (NCC) entered into a lease agreement with Harry Watson. Both the NCC and Watson wanted to preserve and restore the mill, house and the remaining carriage shed, all of which had significant historical importance to the area and the Village of Manotick. The main aim was to turn Watson’s Mill into a heritage attraction.
The NCC began to return Watson’s Mill to a functioning 1860’s water powered flour mill. At some point in the next 10 years the lease agreement between Harry Watson and the NCC would end, making way for a new group to take over the revival.
Then in steps the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority…
The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
Harry Watson sold the mill, house, and the remaining carriage ched on his Manotick property to the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) in 1972.
The RVCA required assistance from the federal and provincial governments to complete the purchase. The main condition of the sale was that the mill would remain known as “Watson’s Mill.” The RVCA took on many essential restoration projects to transform Watson’s Mill into an authentic heritage site and experience.
The RVCA completed the restoration work at Watson’s Mill in 1974. The Mill was opened to the public for the first time as a museum in September of that same year.
The community of Manotick celebrated the site and its history by holding the first annual Dickinson Days Festival in June of 1975. The flour grind held during the Festival was the first since 1963. The flour produced was auctioned off in celebration of the event.
The RVCA also converted the house and remaining carriage shed sold to them by Harry Watson into their office space in 1974. Watson’s Mill and the Dickinson’s historic home (officially named Dickinson House) were designated under the Ontario Heritage Act by the Rideau Township Council in 1979.
Harry Watson died in 1982, however many of his children and grandchildren remain in the Manotick area to this day. The family was in full support of Watson’s Mill becoming a historic site.
Then in steps Watson’s Mill Manotick Incorporated…
Watson’s Mill manotick Incorperated
In 1997 Watson’s Mill Manotick Incorporated (WMMI) was formed. This group included local volunteers who were passionate about the Mill. For ten years, WMMI maintained and operated Watson’s Mill under a long-term management agreement with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. WMMI not only kept the doors of Watson’s Mill open to the public, but also mounted fundraising campaigns that helped to pay for much needed restoration work.
In 2005, WMMI participated in a strategic planning exercise with other regional museums in the jurisdiction of the City of Ottawa. Together with the other museums WMMI helped create the City of Ottawa’s Museum Sustainability Plan which provided operational funding for 11 community museums. With this support WMMI was able to hire their very first staff members.
In 2006 the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority made the announcement that they were planning to leave their properties in Manotick. The fate of Watson’s Mill, Dickinson House, and the Carriage shed was brought into question. Community members pulled together to convince the City of Ottawa to purchase “Dickinson Square,” keeping the historic buildings together and open for public use.
In December 2007, after numerous appeals, meetings, and reports the City of Ottawa officially announced their plan to purchase the three historic buildings that made up Dickinson Square.
Ownership of Watson’s Mill and the remaining carriage shed was later transferred to WMMI in 2008. The management and operation of Dickinson House was transfer to the Rideau Township Historical Society, with the City of Ottawa retaining ownership.
Form 2008 to 2021 WMMI and the Rideau Township Historical Society have worked in partnership to keep the historic buildings in Dickinson Square open to the public as heritage assets and attractions.
November 2021 marked the signing of the Dickinson House Management Agreement between the two organizations which turned over the management and operation of Dickinson House, and effectively all of Dickinson Square, to WMMI.
WMMI continues to operate Watson’s Mill, Dickinson House and the Carriage Shed (WMMI’s Offices and Used Book Store) by working in partnership with the City of Ottawa and other community partners.