Nova Scotia

Whiley sawmill roof collapse 'end of an era'

A piece of Nova Scotia's black history is gone after a roof collapse at a sawmill in Upper Hammonds Plains over the weekend.

Original mill built by freed slaves in the 1800s

Curtis Whiley says the original mill was built by their ancestors who cleared the land. (CBC)

A piece of Nova Scotia's black history is gone after a roof collapse at a sawmill in Upper Hammonds Plains over the weekend.

The Whiley mill was built by freed slaves in the 1800s. It was the first mill built in Upper Hammonds Plains and was still a thriving business until just a few years ago.

The last two owners of the mill, brothers Curtis and Franklyn Whiley say it's a sad day.

"I look at it as the end of an era," Curtis Whiley said.

The original mill was built by their ancestors who cleared the land.

The mill was miles back in the woods, close to a lake and powered by water. (CBC)

"They started off with the barrels," Franklyn Whiley said. "They used to make the barrels and take them to Halifax by horse and wagon. Then they went into the mackerel boxes. They were really producing those for a long time."

The mill was miles back in the woods, close to a lake and powered by water. It burned down twice, but not before an accident at the site claimed the life of their grandfather, Sam, and his close friend.

The family continued on with Franklyn Whiley helping build the current structure in 1969. When their father died, he and Curtis and another brother took over the mill. Market changes and circumstance forced them to close seven or eight years ago.

Frankie Allison recalls visiting the mill as a boy.

"I remember we used to come up here and get sawdust and shavings for our horses and come up and play around the mill," the 73-year-old said.

Rev. Dr. Lennett J. Anderson remembers the history.

The Whiley sawmill burned down twice, but not before an accident at the site claimed the life of their grandfather, Sam. (CBC)

"Growing up as a youngster, to hear that the oldest longest serving black business in Canada is in our community was just a very proud, significant achievement for us as a people," he said.

He says the mill has always stood as a monument in the community.

"The Whiley mill is seven generations long, so for us it speaks to fortitude, longevity and service to the community," Anderson said.

The Whiley family would like to see the history of the mill preserved in some way but they haven't decided how that should be done.

They feel it's important for future generations to know about the struggles and successes that have come before them.

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