History of Balmoral Grist Mill

When John Taylor retired in 2004, Balmoral Grist Mill fell silent for the first time since 1954 when it was shut down for economic reasons by its last commercial owner, Archie Macdonald. Except for the closure in 1954 and normal seasonal closures, the mill had been in continuous operation since its construction in 1874.

In 1964 a local heritage organization took over the derelict mill and began restoration with Archie employed as miller. In 1966 when the burden was becoming too much for the local group, the Nova Scotia Government stepped in to save this important landmark. Archie MacDonald stayed on and John Taylor apprenticed under him. John in turn taught Mark Burris. Mark left to pursue other opportunities but rejoined the in the summer of 2007 and stayed until 2016. 

  • Balmoral Gristmill is located on Matheson's Brook which feeds into Waugh's River. During the last century there were at least half a dozen mills located along this brook.
  • Around 1820 the nearby settlement of Earltown was settled primarily by Scottish immigrants. In 1822 the residents of Earltown wrote to John Mckay, a miller from Scotland who had settled in Cape Breton, asking him to come to Earltown and set up a gristmill. John Mckay agreed. His mill was completed ca. 1825.
  • John Mckay had two daughters and seven sons. Four of these sons also became millers. John Mckay's second son Alexander, born on April 2, 1827, learned his trade in his father's mill in Earltown.
  • On May 21, 1854, Alexander purchased a combination sawmill and gristmill on Matheson's Brook from David Sutherland. This mill was located upstream of the present mill location.
  • It was not unusual for a gristmill and sawmill to occupy the same building both obtaining their power from a single waterwheel. However, it was considered preferable to have the two activities separate thus increasing the efficiency of the mills and lessening the hazard of fire. Consequently it was Alexander Mckay’s desire to have a separate gristmill.
  • On Sept. 9, 1873, Alexander McKay purchased a plot of land from Rev. William MacMillan, just a few hundred yards downstream from Alexander's old mill for the nominal price of $12.00.
  • Alexander most likely began construction of the new mill almost immediately with the assistance of his brother John Mckay Jr. John Jr. had taken over the operation of their father’s mill in Earltown. The old mill continued operating as a sawmill and in l883 Alexander sold the sawmill to the Sutherland brothers (Alexander and James).
  • In the 1870's the water turbine was becoming the modern alternative to the waterwheel in much of North America and Nova Scotia was no exception. Alexander installed a turbine in his new grist mill.
  • The water wheel that was installed by the province was there mainly for appearance. In 1886 the sawmill that Alexander sold upstream burned down. The water wheel from the old mill was washed downstream after the fire and lodged behind the dam of the Balmoral Gristmill. The old sawmill was rebuilt and its remains are still in evidence upstream of the Balmoral Grist Mill.
  • Alexander Mckay died in 1886 and the mill passed into the hands of his youngest son Hugh. Hugh was only 22 years old at the time and his uncle, John McKay, Jr. came from Earltown to assist him in running the mill. After operating the mill for 18 years Hugh McKay decided milling was not for him and he sold it for $2900 to Alexander McLean MacDonald (‘A.L.’), a farmer from Kemptown.
  • A.L. MacDonald operated it until he retired in 1940 and passed the mill on to his son Archie MacDonald. Archie ran the mill full-time until the mid-1950's when lack of business (due to competition from the large modern mills) forced him to abandon his work in the mill.
  • In 1964 the Sunrise Trail Museum in Tatamagouche began restoring the gristmill and Archie MacDonald returned to operate the mill for them. However, the extent of their renovations was limited by their budget and resources.
  • In May 1966 the Nova Scotia Government purchased the Balmoral Gristmill and began an extensive restoration program. An electric motor was installed and the the dam was rebuilt.
  • Several years ago the NSM determined that the dam needed to be replaced in order to maintain the safety of the mill.
  • Work began in August of 2012 and the dam was completed in August of 2013.
  • Shortly after the museum reopened.
  • In addition to a new, worry free concrete dam a sluice gate was added in order to allow sediment to flow through and maintain a traditional mill pond.
  • At the same time as the dam was being built, repairs and upgrades were made to the understructure of the mill.