Lambton Heritage Museum
Grand Bend, Ontario

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Grand Bend - Our Stories, Our Voice




Long before the great hairpin turn of the Aux Sables River gave Grand Bend its name, an enterprise was envisioned. In 1832 a Mr. Benjamin Brewster, popularly known as "Professor", along with a Mr. Pettis, received patents to form the Company of Brewster, Pettit and Company. They then negotiated the timber rights and sale of adjacent lands from the Canada Company. Such rights were granted from the Canada Co. with the stipulation that a saw mill and mill dam would be erected. This mill would be the beginning of Grand Bend but it was called then Brewster's Mill.

An 1851 news release claimed "the mill employed 20-30 people with two upright saws and four other saws for lathing and expected to make three million boards per season". The site chosen for the mill operation begs some questions. The site, we know today, is behind the Catholic Church off Highway 21 and immediately north of the Southcott Pines Clubhouse on what is now called the "Old River". This would seem a remote location then, and far from habitation and supplies, the nearest neighbour "being on one side eight miles off, and on the other side twelve." Although The Pinery and surrounding area, at that time, had a great supply of trees, why build this operation ten miles upstream from the only accessible shipping port at Port Franks? Also a great effort would have been required to tow the loaded barges of sawed boards downstream over this long stretch. No convincing answer to this question exists to this day.

Unfortunately, both the Canada Co. and the Brewster Co. had overlooked one other vital situation. It was not taken into account that even under natural conditions, with the winding course of the river and the fact that it flowed almost level with its banks, drainage was extremely difficult. With the erection of the Brewster dam, and the already insufficient fall of the river, this caused much flooding. Thousands of acres upstream in Bosanquet, Stephen, West Williams, and McGillivary Townships were often flooded, creating what was referred to as the "drowned lands". Some of these lands had already been settled, but the Canada Company found that generally they could not sell vacant drowned and swampy lands.

The existing settlers resented the dam, and in time, so did the Canada Company. The Canada Company, nineteen years after it stipulated the building of the dam, instituted proceedings to force Brewster and Co. to compensate the settlers. They won a favourable verdict in a trial court. Brewster sought equity to restrain this order, was granted relief and offered to destroy the dam if paid compensation by Canada Company. The Canada Company stood defiant. The settlers, caught in the middle of this rhubarb, took action, not legal, but decisive, swift, and emphatic. A mob collected and armed with axe, cap-hook, spade, pick, crow-bar, and pine-knot torches, descended by night upon the mill and the mill dam. The wooden structures were swiftly torn down and everything that would burn was put to the torch. By dawn the Aux Sables was running free past a site of wreck and ruin. In the words of a local chronicler, "After the attack, there remained at Brewster's not any dam by a mill-site, nor any mill by a dam-site". The mill was never rebuilt. Today the mill pond is still clearly evident, but not a trace of the old structure remains, save some old timbers captured for history showcased inside the Southcott Pines Clubhouse.


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