The History of Mill Creek

In 1816, the Honourable William Dickson acquired 90,000 acres of property along the Grand River, later to form the North and South Dumfries Townships. After exploring the new lands with Absalom Shade, the pair decided to establish the town of Galt at the intersection of Mill Creek and the Grand River, then known as Shade’s Mills.

They noted that at this site both the Grand River and Mill Creek could be harnessed to provide the power needed for the mills that were the first requirement of any new settlement. Thus it was the river and its tributary that determined the site of Galt.1

Mill Creek quickly became the backbone of the town’s local economy, becoming rerouted, channelled, split, and reshaped for industrial development. Mills, distilleries, and factories all drew power from the creek and its swollen ponds, including the Galt Knitting Company that provided the arched outlet that fed the creek into the Grand River. When the railway was introduced in the late 1850s, it was built alongside Mill Creek, providing Galt with a new means of distribution, reinforcing the strength of the creek’s vital presence, and helping dub the town “The Manchester of Canada”.

By 1910, the great ponds to the north and south of Main Street had been channelled; and by the 1960s, Mill Creek had become half-buried after the introduction of municipal power systems and road transport. In the 1990s, the entire creek south of Main Street had disappeared and its arched outlet was blocked off. Today, it is buried south of Warnock Street, almost at Bruce Street.

North of Main street, the creek is the backbone of a linear rails to trails park system that includes Soper Park with its history as Galt’s first public swimming spot and its significant bridge at Dundas Street, and further upstream, the Shades’ Mills Conservation Area. Present-day maps from the Chamber of Commerce to the Grand River Conservation authority continue to show a visible creek along the central line of the site’s old route after it plunges below Main Street.

1 Jim Quantrell – A Part of our Past, Essays on Cambridge’s History: Cambridge Rivers, City of Cambridge Archives 2000.









To follow how Mill Creek changed shape in downtown Galt, you can look at the historic maps and photographs by following the links below.

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