Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation Annual Conference – Day #1: The Grand Tour

Today was the first day of the 28th Annual Rural Policy Conference of the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF).

2261 by Valerie Keeler

This conference is being held on October 12-15, 2016 at the Holiday Inn in Guelph. Registration is still open. The program includes rural-related field trips, two days of conference sessions (plenary talks, breakout sessions and workshops) on the general topic of rural revitalization and two round-table workshops on Saturday, October 15th.

Today (October 12th, 2016), I chose the field trip called “The Grand Tour.” This tour focused on how built heritage infrastructure (specifically, manufacturing activities powered by waterwheels) has been redeveloped for tourism and the arts. This tour followed local rivers (including the “Grand River” – hence, the Grand Tour) that powered the development of Upper Canada because the focus was on the redevelopment of Ontario industrial heritage. The craftsmanship of Scottish stone masons and the beauty of locally quarried limestone has been repurposed to make a significant contribution to rural revitalization via the preservation of historic sites.

“The take-away message in each case was how the historic built environment can be re-purposed to create local economic activity.”

In rural Ontario, many communities started where there was an adequate flow of water to power a mill – for sawing lumber or for milling grain in the early days but later, wool and rubber, among other items, were manufactured at these sites.

We stopped at the Alton Mill that was built on the banks of Shaw’s Creek. It has now been repurposed as the Alton Mills Art Centre (1402 Queen St., Village of Alton, Caledon, Ontario, L7K 0C3, 519-941-9300). This is a national-award-winning heritage building that they hype as

“a jewel in the crown of the GTA’s arts scene”.

2016-oct-12-pic-1  The Alton community was settled in the mid-1800s to take advantage of the power of Shaw’s Creek. Built in 1881, the Alton Mill was one of eight mills that were eventually established in the village. After surviving several disasters and passing through a number of owners over the years, this building is now one of only two mills which is still standing. The Alton Mill is home to some 25 studio artists, galleries, a heritage museum, café and unique shops with a so-called

“industrial-chic ambiance.”

Numerous artists have their studios inside this mill. One floor is available for events – meetings and over 40 weddings in 2016.

Art is also outside. Many pieces are for sale. One item that is not for sale is the dry stone (i.e. flat stones with no mortar) wall. Here we see our tour guide (Norm Ragetlie, Rural Ontario Institute) levitating with Leana Rienl (soon to return to Ireland after studying tourism-related rural enterprises in Ontario).


For lunch, we stopped at the Elora Brewing Company. Five partners purchased an old hardware store and repurposed it as a brewery. 2016-oct-12-pic-3

“Their Elora Borealis ale won a medal at the 2016 Canadian  Brewing Awards. The menu for beer was three pages (compared to one page for the food) and I preferred the pumpkin ale, which was not even on the menu”

After lunch, we learned about the changes underway at the Elora Mill Inn on the Grand River at the Elora Falls. It “was” a pleasant inn with a pleasant restaurant – where you could sit on a patio on the edge of the falls, if the weather was good. But it was too small to remain viable. It is now part of a major re-development of retail shops, a hotel and planned condominiums that will be built on the other side of the river. The repurposed mill will retain its historic ambiance with rooms at the inn and an enclosed patio overlooking the falls.


Our tour also included a quick stop near the foundry operated by the Beatty Brothers Limited, established by Matthew and George Beatty in Fergus, Ontario in 1874. In 1925, they were the largest producer and exporter of barn and stable equipment in the British Empire. The family enterprise was sold in 1969 to General Steel Wares (GSW). The foundry had been repurposed as the Fergus Market Building. It still contains a number of business establishments but some units have been converted to condominiums as part of a larger condominium development.

We could see the back of the foundry (with the tall chimney) from the newly-constructed walking path along the river.

In each case, entrepreneurship was the key.

However, conserving and repurposing heritage sites has a heritage value as a public good. Thus, public funding is appropriate to the extent that the public values the conservation and repurposing of the site. Certainly, the investment by a private entrepreneur is also appropriate as they will be generating revenue from their enterprise/enterprises associated with the site.

“The balance between public and private investment was a major theme underlying the discussions during the tour.”

The entrepreneurs recognized the need for a balanced mix of investments and the local government officials equally recognized the need for a balanced mix of investments.

These negotiations require a long-term mutual recognition of the vision of the project followed by careful negotiation of the public vs private participation in each step of the conservation and repurposing of these sites.

Ray D Bollman





Ray Bollman on site at CRRF conference – Day #1!

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