The grist mill on Sturgeon Creek was one of a kind when it was built during the heyday of the fur trade, as Metis settlers took up residence in the Red River Valley. Mills for grinding grain into flower were becoming common, but until 1829, there were only wind mills and no water mills on the prairies.
That changed when Metis leader Cuthbert Grant began construction of the grist mill in 1829. It was operational over the course of three summers as a way for the local populace to grind their grain into flour, allowing them to make baked goods. Unfortunately for Grant, the winters in the area are not exactly nice, and the mill repeatedly failed due to spring flooding each year. Grant abandoned the mill after three years, taking the grinding stones to nearby Grantown, now known as St. Francois Xavier, which Grant founded in 1824. There he set up a windmill, which successfully worked for many years.
Cuthbert puts the Grant in Grant Avenue
Cuthbert Grant was a pioneer of the area around Winnipeg, and was a prominent Metis leader, causing problems well before Louis Riel came on the scene and made it popular. Grant sided with the Northwest Company against the Hudson’s Bay Company in their volatile trade disputes. When Governor Miles Macdonell of the Red River Colony issued a ban on the exporting of pemmican from the area in 1814, Grant and his fellow Metis traders ignored it and continued moving the goods. One day in 1816, Grant and a group of traders were confronted by a group of Hudson’s Bay Company men from the colony, including Macdonell’s replacement Robert Semple. Angry words were exchanged, and despite the fact that Grant’s men outnumbered Semple’s by more than 2 to 1, Semple’s men shot first. This went very poorly for Semple, as he and 20 of his men were killed by the group of skilled hunters. Grant was charged with murder for these events, but was acquitted. When the two companies merged in 1821, Grant was named ‘Warden of the Plains of the Red River’ in 1828 by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Kind of like Ned Stark, but without the eventual beheading.
River Creek Runs Through It
Interest to rebuild the mill started in 1973, with a series of grants and donations coming in, with the Rotary Club and City of Winnipeg chipping in. The mill received its grand opening on July 3rd, 1975. Premier Ed Schreyer was on hand for the festivities. The St. James Assiniboia Pioneer Association was formed to oversee the mill. Ownership of the mill was turn over to the City of Winnipeg in 1978, under the stipulation that the Association maintain administration over the site.
It is believed that the mill is very close to the site of the original mill, as the map of the Red River Colony by J.H. Hind in 1858 notes a “mill” about a mile north of the Assiniboine River, just north of the Portage Trail, now known as Portage Avenue.