HERITAGE LIVES: Cooper’s Riverside Mill Still Jives In The Urban Landscape

The Riverside Mill (Supplied photo)

By Terry Hughes

In a recent article in the Tribune, Mark Allenov skillfully articulates the contribution made by David Cooper to Welland’s early industrial development and in particular, the Riverside Mill. He laments the fact that any evidence of this facility leaving a footprint on the urban landscape is no longer the case. However, this  may not be true and there is evidence that there are signs of this around the city.

If we go back to 1843 when the contract to build the second aqueduct was issued, the details of this effort indicated that the project included a lock on the northwest wall and a spillway on the southeast corner of the structure to allow excess water in the canal to be diverted into the river creating a potential hydraulic opportunity. (The second aqueduct later became the Cross Street Pool and the river ran underneath this structure) A facility that can be seen in the accompanying photograph shows wooden gates that were suspended below a catwalk supported on cut stone blocks that were part of the wall of the second aqueduct.

When the third canal expropriated property on which David Cooper’s mill was originally located on the west side of the second canal, a deal was made giving him the site next to the spillway enabling him to tap this head of water to operate the hydraulic engine found in the basement of his mill. Note the placing of sacks of flour on the horse-drawn wagon at the ground level. 

 When the route of the river was changed to its present course the former river bed had to be filled in but a small segment showing the large pipes from the mill were still uncovered. Since the beginning the city had been dumping its raw sewage into the river. Fast forward to the 1940’s and 50’s. When walking to the pool you would cross this catwalk and see the sewage coming from buildings on Main Street  oozing between the pipes of the mill! Fortunately, this situation was covered up.

The building of the civic centre created a threat to the pool as a historic structure. It was filled in and the need to place a drainage line to the canal caused the contractor to partially disassemble the wall that supported the pool and the catwalk near the former mill site. While conducting a tour for the World Canals Conference, we were passing by this site and a member of the tour asked who was supervising the disassembly of this piece of history. She said that in the U.S. each piece would be catalogued and marked with numbers so that it could be reassembled properly.  

The next day, I found out that the city considered these cut-stone blocks as landfill and it would be disposed of accordingly. Alerting the Tribune, a story critical of this situation appeared causing the city to place these cut-stones at their public works facility. In recent years these stones have been appearing at various spots in the city as part of floral displays. The accompanying photo shows one of these locations, at Riverbank Park at Niagara Street and Riverbank. A second site is along Catharine Street, the brick paved road from West Main Street to Bald Street.  So David Cooper’s footprint is still in evidence today.

Remnants from the old mill pictured here, Riverbank Park, Niagara Street.

(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

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