Since 1966, two millstones from the long gone, post-1926 Matheson Mill in East Kildonan have been on display in a park at the corner of Henderson Highway and Edison Avenue. Matheson Mill had two sets of stones, meaning there were four millstones in total. (Read CNC article: Grist from the mills of history)
So what has happened to the other two millstones?
Accounts and clippings, provided by Jim Smith, president of the North East Winnipeg Historical Society, reflect a confusing trail of clues.
News stories read that in 1956, Frank DeGraaf simply became curious about the stones. (Frank DeGraaf was a descendant of John DeGraff who arrived to Red River in the first party of Dutch immigrants in 1893). He remembered playing by McLean’s Creek as a young boy and seeing the millstones lying nearby.
“I know they were there,” he states in a March 1979 Elmwood and East Kildonan Herald article. “I began a deliberate search when I noticed an unusual indentation in the ground. I scraped through about an inch of earth and revealed the granite.”
The millstones, he says, were one atop of each other, but there were only three. He reports that he found the fourth in a nearby home’s backyard, mounted as a patio table. Two millstones went to the E.K. park display, and the story cites Degraff as having donated the third millstone to the city.
A 1979 compilation of information by Margaret Kennedy mentions a bit of local sleuthing by Mr. W.E. Hobbs to find out the where the stones had been prior to their park display. Hobbs lived for more than forty years near where the Matheson millstones were found and had collected “a considerable amount of data about them.”
Due to a reference that indicates the mill might have been moved closer to where Degraff made his discovery, the Kennedy history reveals:
“Mr. W.E. Hobbs, longtime resident of North Kildonan, undertook a detailed scrutiny of McLeod’s Creek west of Henderson Highway. He found no clues whatever suggesting (this) site of the former mill. However, Mr. Hobbs thought of asking the late Miss Frances McKay, then with the federal government in Ottawa. Frances was Angus McKay’s daughter. Until 1912, he lived on the bank of McLeod’s Creek west of the highway.
Frances told Mr. Hobbs that she remembered as a little girl, her father had taken her across the highway to show her a small lake created by a dam. Angus McKay said the Matheson Grist Mill had been built at the east end of the dam, on land that was a little higher than that surrounding it (now Maxwell Place at Brazier St.).”
The site of the mill appears to have always been at this spot. The Kennedy history indicates the millstones were taken after the mill’s demise to the Matheson homestead on Lot 60 (now Edison, Kingsford, Grandview, and Hawthorne Avenues), owned by William (Willie) Matheson.
The stones were moved once again to weigh down a bridge over McLeod Creek during a flood. After waters receded they were removed to the side of the road, where Mr. Hobbs remembers they lay for more than twenty years.
Margaret Matheson, a Matheson grandchild, said she had seen the stones and just “took them for granted.” Another report states a tree was growing through the centre of one.
At some unknown date, Mr. Hobbs contacted Harold Matheson, grandson of Angus Matheson, the last operator of the mill. H. Matheson happened to be the secretary-treasurer of the Municipality of North Kildonan. Hobbs suggested the stones be preserved for their historical value.
Around this time, Frank DeGraff was the Superintendent of Public Works for the Municipality of North Kildonan. It so happened that in 1956 he became curious about the stones and made their discovery.
Another Herald story around 1966 said the Parks Board of North Kildonan, when it was formed in 1962, wished to use the millstones to commemorate the settlers. The article states the third stone discovered by Degraff remains on the Degraff’s property, listed at Lot 68 North Kildonan. (Two stones had already been placed in the park).
An undated and likely 1979 Kennedy historical compilation mentions how the Degraffs are moving from their McLeod Avenue home “next month, as the final phase of the development south of Raleigh Street is completed” after having lived their entire married lives in the home.
But by March 1979, Frank Degraff said in the Herald newspaper that his donation of the stone to the city included a provision that it be kept in East Kildonan.
According to Jim Smith, there is no record of a millstone donation to the local municipality or the City of Winnipeg.
“It would have been in the meeting minutes of the municipality,” says Jim. “The donation would have either been accepted or rejected.”
He mentions, for example, the attempted donation of a windmill to the the City of Winnipeg that was not accepted. The windmill now stands in storage at the Manitoba Museum.
Perhaps the stone was placed in a municipal storage area, and somehow the issue was overlooked and never made it onto the council agenda for discussion regarding its formal acceptance.
In 1972, the Municipality of North Kildonan was absorbed into the City of Winnipeg, along with amalgamation of other surrounding municipalities. With all of this change, the stone may still be gathering dust in a forgotten storage corner of a municipal facility.
Jim wonders if it might have been sadly dumped off in a landfill. “Unless somebody knows otherwise,” he says.
Whatever the fate of the stone, “There is no mention of it anywhere,” Jim says. “Who knows?”
As for the fourth millstone – the one Degraff found mounted as a backyard patio table in 1956 near the discovery site – what has happened to it? The Kennedy history states: “This homeowner has verbally agreed to the consideration of donating the stone to the city, in his will.”
Toting binoculars and a camera, Jim and I sleuth a North Kildonan property. Peering through the hedge – low and behold – we spy a round, thick, stone-top table with “dressings” visible on top and typical metal banding on its circumference. It sits on a thick concrete pedestal. A bird house is perched proudly on its granite stone foundation.
The millstone is estimated to weigh in excess of 1000 pounds. Millstones are reputed for their heaviness through many well known biblical references. It is no wonder this millstone, (and perhaps somewhere along the line the Degraff millstone as well) have never again been moved.
This is the second in a three-part series on Winnipeg’s early history. Check out Grist from the mills of history and Home life challenging for early settlers by Shirley Kowalchuk on Community News Commons.