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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.