part 2
back to page 1
prologue   zero   press
December 26, 2000     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
to be continued... 2002    
glossary   notes   links  
proceed to page 3

omni home

Despite its beloved familiarity, it's been easy to not take the Old Mill all that seriously; even the whimsically, sentimentally generic name plays an enigmatic peekaboo with history, though it's come to lovingly adorn the entire neighbourhood where Bloor St crosses the Humber. It's been nothing but an old mill --but more than that, it's "The Old Mill", Toronto's archetypal romantic ruin. Like the Taj Mahal or the Tower of Pisa, its eternal "pop object" status has come to delightfully overshadow the actuality of how it came to be.
           Close to the site of the pioneering 1793 King's Mill --recently the subject of an informative booklet by Carl Benn-- William Gamble's massive, seven-storey 1848 flour mill was itself the third on its site; burnt in 1881, it was left a hollow rubble shell, and set forth on its post-industrial life as a romantic idyll on the banks of the Humber. Such "accidental" idylls are not always permanent; but what cemented --should have cemented-- the Old Mill's eternal iconic stature was when it was bought out by developer/enterpreneur Robert Home Smith, who in 1914 built the adjacent Old Mill Tea Garden and Restaurant (the core of the current complex) as a centerpiece for his residential developments hereabouts.
           The Home Smith motto of "Angliae pars Anglia procul" --a little bit of England far from England-- was evident not only in the bourgeois "Old English" garden-suburb character of his neighbourhoods (most notably the pending Heritage Conservation District of Kingsway Park), or in the half-timbered medievalizing of the Tea Room (which also housed Home Smith's administration office facilities), but in the conscious decision to retain Gamble's mill as a ruin --a picturesque ruin, an objet among the riverbank willows, a romantic park folly. In fact, this folly became the symbol of the whole Home Smith enterprise-- it was the central feature in their logo. Evidently, to "de-ruin" it, to adapt it into a working building, was totally beside the point --and it still ought to be today, in spite of the successful restaurant/inn adaptations of ruinous mill structures in places such as Elora and Alton. Thanks to Home Smith, the Old Mill was enshrined as a ruin; to build within it would be like building within Fountains Abbey (itself a pre-existing ruin adopted as a picturesque park folly).
           Paradoxically, the Old Mill's ruinous "uselessness" led over the years to neglect and desultory treatment; at best, it was like the revered but senile family patriarch kindly left to his corner of the dining table. For a while, its walls were covered with ivy, which presumably did little for the stonework's stability (though it was able to withstand calamities like Hurricane Hazel). In later times it was "wired" for spotlighting and prone to other eccentric highlighting, like the senile patriarch "adorned", sometimes absurdly, for birthday and holiday snapshots. It starred in films, in videos, in an Anne Murray TV special. Deeply ingrained, it was loved --perhaps more by outsiders than by the flux of management-- but not really maintained (inasmuch as a ruin can be "maintained") or regarded all that seriously; in fact, the Old Mill was somewhat taken for granted as the beloved old crock it was. And oddly, despite its floodplain location (especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel, when much floodplain land fell into the jurisdiction of the Conservation Authority), it continued in private hands, as an adjunct of the Tea Room complex. At one point, close to when the concrete apartment tower was erected on the bluff overhead (1960s), it was even proposed to sweep the whole property clean, mill and all, for further apartments --but a little community protest and new ownership saw against that. Instead, the Tea Room and Restaurant was expanded in the 70s into a small conference/community centre complex, continuing quite successfully the "Old English" architectural theme (though not without a little contemporary neo-Arts & Crafts/Prairie flair). The Old Mill itself remained fundamentally untouched, but not necessarily for eternity; there was some consideration toward adapting its structure into a museum --an abortive and perhaps, at least for the earlier date and dependent upon execution, more apropos precursor to the current scheme.

back to page 1
prologue    zero    press
December 26, 2000      1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
to be continued... 2002    
glossary    notes    links   
onwards to page 3





PICS        Before...
old mill old pic 1  old mill old pic 2
old mill old pic 3  old mill old pic 4
old mill old pic 5  old mill old pic 6
old mill old pic 7  old mill old pic 8
...& Aug. 2001
old mill new pic 1  old mill new pic 2
old mill new pic 3  old mill new pic 4
old mill new pic 5  old mill new pic 6
powered by
can't call it


" How do I do a film called
'The Old Mill'
...when i don't have
an old mill?


cannibal kitsch


birth of a folly
just part of
the scenery




"heritage community"
was a vacuum,
a nullity, a dead zone
33 1/3 years later,
wasn't looking like
such a barren
lump anymore...


On one thing
everyone agrees:
the mill is
finally "
finished "'s like
Mitch Miller

dept. store:

think of
Carson Pirie Scott
with a little
Mazda zoom-zoom