Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blair's Sheave Tower

Sheave Tower
Blair, Ontario

A while ago I watched an interview with Ron Brown, the author of a book called Top 100 Unusual Things to see in Ontario. It was intriguing to think there were so many sites off the regular tourist track. I am always interested in learning more about my area, so I bought the book. I have seen a few of the featured places including the Pioneer Tower that stands on a high bluff along the Grand River just downstream from my workplace. This tower was completed in 1926 to celebrate the German origins of the region, particularly the Pennsylvania Dutch and Mennonite settlers who settled here in the early 1800's. The city of Berlin, Ontario had its name changed to Kitchener during WW1, and this tower was built to help heal nationalistic wounds. The architecture is Swiss in influence, as Switzerland is the ancestral home of a number of Mennonite families in the area.

Pioneer Tower
Kitchener Ontario

But I had never heard of the other local landmark apparently located just about 10 minutes from my house. The first evening I went looking for it, I was unsuccessful in finding it as the trees hid it from view along the country road. The Sheave Tower is in a small historic village just outside the city. This is the area where my husband's ancestors settled when they came to Ontario from Pennsylvania over 200 years ago. Here is a description of the Sheave Tower from a local artist's web site.

Built by Allan Bowman in 1876, the Sheave Tower, 31 feet tall, was considered to be the oldest hydro-generating system in Ontario. The board-and-batten structure with pointed gothic windows is located in a stand of cedar, bass and maple trees on Old Mill Road outside the Village of Blair, Ontario. The late Nick Hill, an heritage architect, described the Sheave Tower as “absolutely magical . . . a jewel in the midst of a beautiful wetland.” Water from Blair Creek ran through the sluice and turned a vertical turbine shaped like a corkscrew. A series of shafts and gears spun a giant pulley mounted high outside the tower by the steep-pitched roof. A long cable was looped from the tower’s pulley to another pulley 70 metres away at the Blair Mill. The Sheave Tower produced an additional 15 horsepower for the Blair Mill, which once ground corn for Schneider’s pea meal bacon. Heritage Cambridge restored the Sheave Tower in 1999 as a passive display without moving mechanical parts, and returned the medieval-looking tower to its original oxblood colour. Marriage proposals have been made within its walls! Fishermen, artists and photographers continue to be drawn to it.

The old mill across the road is still in operation to this day, and the creek rushes by the restored but silent sheave tower on its way to the nearby Grand River.

I have marked a few more places from the book that are within a couple of hours from home and will try to visit them soon. Some are historic sites and others are of geological interest.

Do you live near any landmarks that are unique to your area. What would you contribute to a book about unusual things in your "backyard'?


  1. The Sheave Tower is sooo cool Ruth! Thank you so much for explaining it! And the pioneer tower is really cool, too! I love towers.
    Let's see, there's lots of interesting stuff around here to see, too. I'm sitting here with lots of stuff swirling around in my brain, but the one thing I would want people to see in Rochester NY is the George Eastman house.

  2. Anonymous8:26 am GMT-4

    This is such an interesting tower for sure! I loved learning all about it, thanks!

  3. I have been out of the commenting loop for a couple of weeks ... so much travelings and doings. D goes back to work tonight so I'll have more time then to really catch up on my 'puter habit!

    I (and my husband) love visiting all the land marks of an area and do so, especially when we are new in an area. Where we live right now, there isn't much in the way of historical landmarks. Most of those have melted back into the wilderness. About 3 hours north east of here is Barkerville ... a very fun visit. A gold rush ghost town kept alive with live actors etc. Only open in summer.

    In Lone Butte there is an old train tower and its natural feature, the butte itself.

    There is a Heritage Site just down the hill from where we live.

    There is lots in the way of natural beauty.

    Anyway, maybe one day we'll get out to Ontario and see some of your sites. I have a friend in Whitby and have been a couple of times to see her but never long enough to really discover all the treasures that lay in your neck of the woods ... it would probably take a month's visit at least if not more.

  4. Very scenic, Ruth! To think that was so close to your home, but for being hidden in the woods.

    I have a book on the same theme with places to visit here in NJ. Every so often I take it from the shelf when I have a spare afternoon for exploring.

  5. I enjoyed this info of Sheave Tower. Ruth, there is an award waiting for you on my post tonight (8/26). Feel free to stop by and pick it up. It suits you well.


  6. Anonymous5:14 am GMT-4

    Interesting... I've been focused on exploring the trail systems in this county this summer. I should do another blog on other points of interest... Oh Ruth, you are fueling my blogging addiction!

  7. Pam- I like towers too, including lighthouses. I like reading about your excursions to interesting places around Rochester. The George Eastman house looks well worth a visit.

    Monarch- thanks for commenting after your hot and exciting hike!

    CS- I was looking up your area of BC. I really know little about it as Vancouver and Victoria get most of the press. I too would need a month to see western Canada properly. I hope I get the opportunity.

    Laura- I like exploring things like this rather than waiting in crowds to see the big ticket attractions. I have never been to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto even though I have been at the bottom dozens of times.

    Mary- I saw the award. Thanks. I will have to give my response some thought.

    Jennifer- You can write about posts of interests when the trails are covered in mud and ice. I hope you keep blogging for a long time. My blog is a hodgepodge of topics. I am not as focused as you.


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