Devastating fires in circa 1946 and 1950 caused the Collie Woollen Mills to abandon the historic stone mills that had been the nucleus of Appleton since 1862.

Much of the history surrounding the two fires has been lost and the stories have often become confused. Using newspapers, photographs, archival docuements as well as speaking with Collie relatives, former mill employees and local residents has allowed the museum to slowly piece together the story of the two fires.


Collie Woollen Mills - before the fire
Circa 1937-1950
Appleton, Town of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Canada

North Lanark Regional Museum (2012.13.33)
Donated by Edna Lowry


In 1945, Collie Woollen Mills in Appleton included an "upper mill" and a "lower mill". The "upper mill" was a concrete block factory built in 1940 behind the former Robert Teskey home. The "upper mill" featured 20,000 square feet of production space and housed the picking and weaving departments. From the "upper mill" the woollens were then trucked over to the "lower mill" where the finishing department and the administration offices prepared the product to be shipped.

The "lower mill" consisted of two stone mills built in 1862 and 1880, respectively, as well as several smaller outer buildings. During the 19th century woollen mills operated using water power to turn the machinery and production was spread out over several storeys using a system of pulleys and levers. The stone "lower mill" was not an ideal building for woollen production.


In 1900 a turbine generator was added to the woollen mills so that electricity could be used to operate some of the machinery. This turbine generator operated until 1937 when the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Corporation built a dam on the Mississippi River to harness the water power to create hydro electricity. As part of this process the Collie Woollen Mill shut down the mill's turbine generator and began purcahsing power from Ontario Hydro.

Electricity, high voltage machinery and oil soaked floors created many fire concerns in the old stone mill. In 1946 the fire hazards combined and a large fire spread across the "lower mill."


Holly Lowry and Team of Horses Pulling Steam Fire Engine to the Collie Woollen Mill Fire, c.1946
Circa 1946
Appleton, Town of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Canada

North Lanark Regional Museum (2012.55.145.137)
Donated by Sheila Babb and Ann E. Love


The stories and photographs from the 1946 fire are quite extraordinary. The fire departments had very limited equipment at the time and the steam fire engine had to be pulled by horses from Carleton Place to Appleton.


Fire at the Collie Woollen Mill Circa 1946
Circa 1946
Appleton, Town of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Canada

North Lanark Regional Museum (2012.55.145.139)
Donated by Sheila Babb and Ann E. Love


On December 11, 2012, Bob Butler interviewed Jim Lowry. During the interview, Jim recounted his father's experiences from the 1946 Collie Woollen Mill fire. Jim was born and raised in Ramsay Township and is a great source of local history.

[Jim] "The mill burned in Appleton one time. And, Dad happened to be in Appleton with a load of wood and they said they needed a fresh team to take Carleton Place's steam fire engine. Steel's had a team, they were in the delivery business in Carleton Place and they brought it out to the Appleton Corner and then dad met them there and he took it in. And there must be a picture of him in the museum somewhere with a team of horses. Doug Stewart had a team too, but. But he just happened to be there, in Appleton, to go and the."

[Bob] "So this was to help control the fire?"

[Jim] "Yah. It was. But your, your fire pump was run with steam. I think."

[Bob] "It's hard to imagine how if you bring them in with horses like that and change teams and so on how you'd get there soon enough before it's all over."

[Jim] "Well, I know. Well when I was, before I was on Council very long it was brought to [pause]. Ramsay did not have an organized Fire Department and we operated as if we did have. We had some firefighters and some equipment but you did not have a legal agreement with Almonte. So, I was a founding Board Member of the Almonte Ramsay Fire Department and it operated that way for 17 years until it became the Mississippi Mills. But it had operated that way for, got along well. But you really didn't qualify for mutual aid unless you had a legal Fire Department, just a technicality along the way."


Fire at the Collie Woollen Mill
Circa 1946
Appleton, Town of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Canada

North Lanark Regional Museum (2012.55.145.138)
Donated by Sheila Babb and Ann E. Love


On July 30, 2012, Eleanor Wright interviewed former Appleton resident Lenny Spinks. During the interview Lenny recounts the 1946 fire at the woollen mill.

[Eleanor] "Is there anything that's really outstanding that you'll always remember Appleton by?"

[Lenny] "Well, I guess the most thing that stands out in my mind, Eleanor, is the time the mill was burned, the time the mill caught on fire. Someone came into the school that day and said, 'the Appleton mill is on fire'. Well of course my father was working there and my brother was working there so it was very important to me. And we all ran outside of course we wanted to go to the village. I wanted to get to the village and she [teacher] said, 'No Leonard you're not going, you're staying here because you're more of a hindrance than you are, you know because that's what we would be.

But of course my dad got lots of pictures and we have pictures of when the mill was on fire, of the team of horses coming down there with the fire engine. The smoke flying out of the smoke stack because they didn't have anything else to produce power for the water but steam."

[Eleanor] "That was in the 1940s?"

[Lenny] "Yah that was in 1942[1946] and uh"

[Eleanor] "What caused that fire?"

[Lenny] "I just don't know, Eleanor, except that it was spontaneous combustion I think, with the oil and the wool upstairs."


Collie Woollen Mill Burning
Circa 1946-1950
Appleton, Town of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Canada

North Lanark Regional Museum (2012.55.145.135)
Donated by Sheila Babb and Ann E. Love


On Saturday July 15, 1950 the Collie Woollen Mills suffered another devastating fire. This time, the majestic four storey stone mill that was built in 1862 and the three storey stone addition built in 1880 were both gutted.

The fire started at about 4:00 o'clock in the morning and quickly spread from the top floor to the rest of the complex. Fire crews from Carleton Place and Almonte came to fight the blaze and three firemen were injured during the effort.

With only a skeleton of the former mills left, repairing the stone mills for production wasn't an option.


Almonte Gazette Clipping: Original Unit of Collie Woolen Mills Is Badly Damaged by Fire
20 July 1950
Appleton, Town of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Canada

North Lanark Regional Museum, Almonte Gazette Collection


Looking back many community members and visitors wonder why the mill wasn't restored and preserved as a heritage building. The stone mills could have been a majestic reminder of the community's heritage.

It's always easier to look back and say "what if". In 1950, the reality was that rebuilding the stone mills as they had been would have been extremely expensive and inefficient. The multi-floor production system was no longer efficient and was quite costly to maintain. Instead it made more sense for the Collie family to build an addition to their one storey factory that they had built in 1940, 150 metres west of the stone mills.

For several decades the ruins slowly decayed until the early 21st century when the ruins were knocked down to a much shorter and less majestic height. The ruins were officially knocked down for "safety" reasons, although prior to this community members from Appleton and the wider Town of Mississippi Mills pushed for the ruins to be preserved & safely reinforced as a heritage site.