P.E.I.’s last grist mill gets a lift

Stabilization efforts underway

Published on August 22, 2017

Warren Leard, center, Prince Edward Island’s last surviving miller, has a front row seat as he watches Leard’s Grist Mill being raised Tuesday. Reminiscing with him are former neighbours Curtis MacPhee and Joyce MacPhee Bridges.

©Eric McCarthy/Journal PIoneer

COLEMAN -- Leard’s Grist Mill in Coleman rose to new heights on Tuesday, and a gathering of onlookers was there to record the milestone.

A crew from PD Construction in North Rustico used air bags to raise the mill, and they did it so gently that the movement was hardly discernible.

Brad Johnstone, a labourer with PD Construction, listens as Warren Leard reminisces about Leard’s Mill, the last remaining grist mill on P.E.I. PD Construction has taken on the job of raising the old mill, a first step in having the structure stabilized.
Eric McCarthy/Journal Pioneer

Among those gathered was Prince Edward Island’s last surviving miller, Warren Leard.
“It is a big day,” the 92 year-old said after hitching a ride down the hill to get a look at the ground floor, now detached from the walls. Equipment that had rested on the ground floor was strapped to the ceiling and raised with the building.

The PD Construction crew stopped their work and listened as Leard reminisced about operating the mill and describing how thrilled he is the 129-year-old structure is being stabilized.

Concrete pillars under Leard’s Grist Mill which were displayed by floods and freezing are to be replaced with new footings and piers.

Pillars beneath the north wall of the building had tipped, kicking out the lower level wall. That wall was actually found to be 15 inches lower than the south side of the building. By noon Tuesday the south wall was needing to be raised about five inches to level up to the raised north side.

Leard’s Mill is the very last of the 117 gristmills that once served Island farmers.

The basement area will be filled with about two feet of shale, PD Construction owner, Craig Peters said. Spread footings, about three feet wide and 18 inches thick will be poured and piers will be placed on top before the mill is lowered back down. The end walls will be replaced and a wooden floor put back in.

“100 per cent,” said Leard in evaluating the work being done, and all of the community support that went into making it possible. “I’m very pleased to see it picked up.”

He admitted he was losing hope it would be raised and stabilized. “It looked sad,” he said.

Justin Rogers, left, a member of the Leard’s Grist Mill stabilization committee, listens as PD Construction owner Craig Peters and employee Brad Johnstone explain the process of lifting and stabilizing the 129 year-old mill.
Eric McCarthy/Journal Pioneer

He had sold the mill to Stanley and Adrienne MacDonald who subsequently donated it to the O’Leary Museum in hopes of having it restored. A study was carried out, but funding couldn’t be obtained to do the necessary work, so the museum board decided it would at least try to salvage mill equipment and display it in O’Leary.

But Island draftsman Carter Jeffery had other ideas and mobilized a campaign to save the mill.

Justin Rogers, a member of a subcommittee formed to oversee having the mill stabilized said they’ve come up with the $150,000 needed for the stabilization phase. He admitted more community support will be needed to restore the building.

“For this to continue to go forward, there has to be a desire on behalf of our community to see it continue to be developed,” Rogers said. “We have to decide does this place matter enough to continue, you know what I mean, and it should. It’s an incredible time capsule; it’s an incredible history here.”

Air bags are used to lift Leard Leard's Grist Millenough to slide another row of blocking beneath the I-beam supports.

©Eric McCarthy/Journal Pioneer

Watching from the Confederation Trail, which runs behind the mill, Joyce MacPhee Bridges, admitted the activity taking place at the base of the mill was nice to see. “It would’ve been a sad day if they would’ve had to tear it down,” she said. Having grown up in the community, she recalled playing in the mill as a child with the miller’s daughter. “We used to weigh ourselves on scales that they weighed the flour on,” she reflected.


Asked if he thought the mill could ever run again, Leard responded, “If I had some of those fellows who are lifting the building, I could get it running.” He said the 1,200 feet of belting in the mill would still be usable, with some maintenance.