Inglis Falls

Inglis Falls is not only a beautiful place to enjoy nature, it is also the home of one of Owen Sound's first industries.

Inglis Falls is one of the most beautiful areas in our region. It has a long and diverse history. It played an important role in the development of Owen Sound and the surrounding area. But as quickly as it rose to prominence, its importance as a centre of commerce faded.

One of the first commercial establishments erected to serve the needs of the pioneer communities was a mill. When the first settlers came to this region the closest mill was at Coldwater. Before enough land was cleared to grow the necessary wheat to sustain the community, W.C. Boyd, an early entrepreneur, would send his small ship, the Fly, to St. Vincent to purchase wheat and then sail on to Coldwater to grind it into flour.

As more land was cleared and crops were grown the absence of a mill made it hard to provide flour to sustain the growing population in the community of Sydenham. Some pioneers used a coffee grinder to mill their wheat. But this was an arduous task. Hours of grinding with the coffee grinder would only produce barely enough flour for a loaf of bread.

To meet the need for a mill, in 1842 a pioneer by the name of Elliot started building a mill at Inglis Falls. But before the project was completed Elliot gave up and sold the property to W.C. Boyd. Despite his entrepreneurial skills, Boyd too failed to complete the mill and once again the property was sold. The new owner was an engineer by the name of Peter Inglis.

Inglis built his mill with two runs of stones. After the mill was completed, he constructed a dam to hold water in order produce enough power to run a saw mill. Later, the enterprising Inglis added a carding and woollen mill to site.

After almost a decade of operations Inglis sold the enterprise in the mid-1850s to John McInnis who made improvements to the operations. The new owner increased the mill’s power with a larger wheel, then he rented the mill to Thomas Dickson, who had been the miller for Inglis. Dickson’s nephew, Robert succeeded him as the operator of the mill.

Dickson continued operating the mill for several years. However, as the area continued to develop other mills were built and the mill at Inglis Falls was unable to compete profitably with the newer installations. The operations were sold to David and James Johnston who operated a cheese factory on the site for a short time. 

Probably another reason for the demise of the mill operations at Inglis Falls was the inconsistent flow of water over the falls. In the spring time the Sydenham River sends torrents of water roaring over the falls. Many early visitors to Inglis Falls likened the roar of the water rushing over the falls to a northern Niagara. However, as the spring thaw ends, and the warm summer begins the rushing water roaring over the falls, quiets to a more moderate flow. In dry years the water flow subsides even more to the point where, it seems to be only a mere trickle of water. This ebb and flow of water over the falls made it difficult to operate a mill without the costly expense of maintaining dams to control and store the water volume in order to maintain a constant source of power to operate the mill.

Today, Inglis Falls is a conservation area. The natural beauty of the area and the remnants which remain from a by-gone era when Inglis Falls was an important part of the life of the pioneer community combine to make the site a popular tourist attraction.  

The information used in the article came from many sources. However, A History of the County of Grey by E. L. Marsh was of primary importance.

A version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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