Leard's Grist Mill restoration continues to grind along

The Leard's Grist Mill in western P.E.I. looks almost brand new after a busy summer of restoration work for a crew through Skills PEI, even though the historic building is actually more than 100 years old.

'It's technology at its very oldest, you know, the old grinds and grist'

The exterior of Leard's Grist Mill is completely renovated with a new roof, new shingles and repaired and replaced windows to keep the original look. (John Robertson/CBC)

The second phase of restoration has been completed at Leard's Grist Mill in Coleman, P.E.I.

Located at the end of Leard's Pond near the town of O'Leary, the historic mill is looking like a brand-new building from the outside — even though it is actually 130 years old. The mill operated in western P.E.I from 1888 until 2012.

A crew of four workers was hired for 14 weeks over the summer to rebuild and repair the old mill, with some help from provincial training program Skills PEI.

Carpenter's assistants, from left to right, Ashley Rafferty, Kenny MacDonald, Ryan Adams and site foreman Jason Greenan spent the last 14 weeks at the Leard's Grist Mill. Not pictured was carpenter's assistant Declan MacMeans. (John Robertson/CBC)
The deteriorating condition of the mill before the restoration was approved. (Leard's Grist Mill Restoration Committee)

"I've lived just up the road," said carpenter's assistant Kenny MacDonald. 

"I grew up around here so I knew this place was here, I just never knew all this was in here for all these years."

Kenny MacDonald had lived in the area his entire life but had never seen inside the mill before working on this summer project. (John Robertson/CBC)
Installing new cedar shingles was one many jobs the crew accomplished. (John Robertson/CBC)

The crew had its hands full working to repair the years of damage from time, weather and rodents.

They also rebuilt parts of the chutes and belts that once helped the machinery mill grain.

Holes in the floors and ceilings allow the belts that power the machinery and move the grains to pass from level to level. (John Robertson/CBC)
Carpenter's assistant Ashley Rafferty says figuring out how all the machines worked and trying to put them back together was a great summer job. (John Robertson/CBC)

"It was a really good experience," said carpenter's assistant Ashley Rafferty.

"I really enjoyed figuring out how everything worked and looking at it, because I'd never seen the insides of all these machines," Rafferty said. "Whenever we opened one up it was like 'Oh so that is how it would do that.'"

Dried grains still hang from the walls near the stone which once ground them to flour. (John Robertson/CBC)
'Some of them hadn't even picked up a hammer before,' said Greenan, who is proud of the work the crew accomplished in just 14 weeks. (John Robertson/CBC)

The crew worked under the watchful eye of carpenter and site supervisor Jason Greenan, who said he was pleased with what the workers accomplished over the summer.

"It was great, when they started some of them hadn't even picked up a hammer before," Greenan said.

"I would be confident right now to put them on a carpenter crew working somewhere else."

The sign, believed to be an original part of the building's history, has been rehung over the main entrance of the mill. (John Robertson/CBC)
Susan Dalton is on the committee that is working to restore the mill and hopes someday to open the historic site to the public. (John Robertson/CBC)

Amid the clutter and debris the crew cleaned out, they also managed to find nuggets of history like an original sign for the mill.

"It is very rewarding at my age to see this," said Susan Dalton, a member of the mill's restoration committee.

"It's something we can pass on to the next generation and they can look at it and say 'Oh, look they did that for us and it must have meant a lot to them'. And it does, it does mean a lot."

The main floor still holds the colourful pattern of painting that it has had for many years. (John Robertson/CBC)
Some belts had little scoops attached to lift the grains from one floor to another. (John Robertson/CBC)
Bags have been hung back up under the many chutes that would have produced different types of milled grains. (John Robertson/CBC)

The mill machinery has not run since 2012 and will still need some work to get it going again.

For many years, it looked like the building would have to be torn down.

The Confederation Trail passes behind the mill between Coleman to O'Leary. (John Robertson/CBC)
The crew built a new ramp to the main entrance on the second floor. (John Robertson/CBC)

Volunteers raised money, and the federal government chipped in some funds to rebuild the mill's foundation — it had been perilously close to collapsing into the stream that once powered it.

Although the committee is excited they are one step closer to reopening the mill so the public can enjoy the its important Island history, there are no firm plans yet for the mill's future

Little historic touches sit everywhere in the building, like a stool bolted into the wall that folds up to make space. (John Robertson/CBC)
Gears, wheels and belts sit motionless where the mill was once a hub of noisy, dusty activity. (John Robertson/CBC)

"It's technology at its very oldest, you know, the old grinds and grist," Dalton said.

"It is just a wonderful piece of history and I do hope that people will use it, people will enjoy it and come and see it."

Complex machinery for grinding up the wheat and barley sit as they did since the day they were installed, some over a hundred years ago. (John Robertson/CBC)
Much of the work was cleaning up damage to the building and equipment caused by time, weather and rodents. (John Robertson/CBC)
A diesel engine, believed to once power a bulldozer, was installed to replace the water power when the stream was diverted due to nearby road construction. (John Robertson/CBC)
The stream that feeds Trout River still gurgles by the mill, a little further away since the nearby road construction moved the culverts. (John Robertson/CBC)
Leard's Pond was the source of the water power for the mill before the road construction shifted the stream and a diesel generator was added to the mill. (John Robertson/CBC)

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About the Author

John Robertson

Video journalist

John Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. He has been with CBC News for more than a decade, with stints in Nunavut, Edmonton and Prince Edward Island. Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @johnrobertsoncbc


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