Hillsdale Mill

To some, it may appear that I have become an UrbEx fan of the Gristmill as this is now the second post concerning these (for the first post, see HERE). I will admit that these old structures are not without their particular rustic charms. Today, we will have a brief look at the Rumble Gristmill, located in Hillsdale, just north of Barrie. This location was first brought to my attention by fellow explorer 'LostInTheWoods' last year.

Hot UrbEx tip: To locate a mill near to where you live, start by looking for a street called 'Mill'. (duh.)

The Gristmill in Hillsdale grew out of a necessity of the local inhabitants. The farmers needed a close convenient location to process harvested grains and cereals and likewise, the consumers needed flour and animal feed.

The mill was first constructed in 1869 on the banks of the Sturgeon River. Yup - You guessed correctly - this was a 'water-powered' mill.
It was purchased by the Rumble family in 1887 and has stayed in the family ever since.

The mill was improved and modernised several times in 1892, 1905 and again in 1910 to the design of the structure you see currently.
Although the building is now structurally unsound, many personal effects such as this soda-bottle. Fellow explorer 'tait' had discovered correspondence dating to 1925.

Also present, is a large amount of the original processing equipment. Here, within the basement is a belt-pulley. Notice the distressing lack of machine guarding which the Ministry of Labour may have something to say about.

Although a water flue was constructed at the Sturgeon river to power the water wheel, this source of power proved unreliable at times. The mill was modernised with the addition of a diesel power plant in 1962.

As the business end of the mill is pretty much located in a flood plain, it is not surprising that a high degree of damage had occurred here.
There were raccoon tracks in the wet sand near the structure . . . they were the size of a large dogs.

From this angle, the building is really showing a high degree of decay. There was no evidence of the remnants of any wheel within this structure. It could have rolled . . . down the river.

The wooden shingle siding almost appears as furry scales in this image. This wooden shake siding was hand-made and was probably a beautiful thing to behold back in the day. During the exploration, I was nervous that this material was suddenly going to com bust.

The Mill used to produce Lilly White pastry and bread flour in paper 7 and 24 lb. bags as well as canvass 100 lb. bags of breakfast cereals and animal feeds.

The Mill stopped production of flour in the late 1950's and only stayed with the feed line. The mill finally ceased all operations in 1989.

It is unfortunate that given the way things are deteriorating at the Hillsdale Mill, this structure may not be with us too much longer. It is uncertain that any concerted effort may be mounted to arrest further damage or even if it is now worth it.

The Coldwater Mill is a success story. The Coldwater Mill Heritage Foundation raised $52,000 over six months to renovate the historic Coldwater Mill, a heritage wooden gristmill built in 1834. The Mill now used as an archival and educational facility and has a restaurant.


UrbEx Short Story

Busted – An UrbEx Short Story
(a fictional Urban Exploration nightmare)

Bob Barrie, known by his on-line handle as CopySix, was itching to go 'urban exploring'. It was late November of 2006 and although cold, the sun was shinning for the first time for what seemed like weeks. Bob picked up the telephone and called his good buddy Patrick Cheung. Patrick picked up on the first ring.

“Hey Rafter-Man, it’s me”, said Bob, using Patrick’s pseudonym. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yup, let’s do it” Patrick quickly replied.

The conversation immediately turned to the rapid exchange of details all regarding another exploration of the old cold-war radar base located at Edgar, just north of Barrie, Ontario. This massive facility, built in the early 1950’s, contained everything one would expect in a small town; hospital, church, school, recreation centre and of course a small sub-division of houses where the military staff and their families resided. In place of a shopping plaza were two huge radomes which contained the radar antennas. Although residents at the base could get some bare essentials at the ‘Canteen’, they had to drive 30 minutes or so to either Orillia or Barrie.

The cold war was over and the radomes, which served as a landmark visible for kilometres around, were long gone. So were the staff and civilian workers who worked and lived here. The federal government sold the property to the Province of Ontario who had plans for this. The Province had been looking for just such a facility for one of its new mental health programs. The radar base became the Edgar Adult Occupation Centre which offered life and work skills programs for the mentally-handicapped to give them a solid chance of re-integration to society.

“I’m calling JFK for on this one” Bob stated referring to Amanda, the third and newest member of their underground urban exploration group ‘UrbEx Barrie’.

“She’s not going to like the snow” replied Patrick.

Bob knew immediately what he was talking about; “We’ll be careful not to leave tracks where Security can easily see them then.”

“Tell her I’m bringing butter-tarts” Patrick said, knowing Amanda’s weakness for this baked good.

Within an hour, the three explorers were tearing up a side road towards the former radar station in Amanda’s new SUV. Apparently, not only did the butter-tarts motivate Amanda, but also worked on her father to lend her his ‘new baby’. The hill loomed in the distance topped by an extraordinarily tall telecommunications tower now standing in almost the same spot where the radar domes did decades earlier. The vehicle had passed several signs indicating road construction ahead which worried the explorers that perhaps their regular parking spot, just off the county road would be inaccessible. Within a few moments, they had passed a works crew and heavy equipment resurfacing the roadway.

“Looks like we’ll be able to park in the same spot again” Patrick noted.

“Great. I don’t feel like walking too far in the snow.” Bob replied.

With the car parked just off the road on a dirt trail and obscured by the trees, the team started on a practised 5 minute walk through a field to the edge of the base. The maintenance yards were located at this corner of the former base. The group had already discussed that they did not want to go through the garages and workshops here again so they moved along the road towards the Base’s ‘PMQ’s’ or Private Married Quarters. Here, a full generation of children grew up as ‘Base Brats’ in these houses which were built to a standard enviable to civilian residents in the adjacent Township.

The children who lived here not only enjoyed the privilege of using the recreation centre, housing the indoor pool and bowling alley, they were also treated to day-trips to nearby Wasaga Beach by the kindly teachers who staffed the school on base.

Soon, the trio were skirting the overgrown school yard. They were careful not to travel in the open or to close to the front gatehouse where the Security guards spent their days at crossword or reading. Occasionally, the guards would foray out of this comfort for security rounds at the base. There were several recent incidents of vandalism to buildings which resulted in more frequent checks by the guards looking for intruders. All three explorers held vandals and graffiti ‘artists’ in the lowest regard for defacing or destroying property. The group’s motto of ‘Take only Pictures, Leave only Footprints’ was a widely held standard of the urban exploration community.

As the group moved through the property towards the PMQ’s, they could clearly hear the heavy equipment working on the road.

“The road crew sounds really close” Amanda noted.

“Sounds more like a bunch of tanks” Bob said jokingly.


Approximately a half kilometre away, on the far side of the base, Lieutenant Schaffer of the 48 Highlanders light infantry was pouring over orders for ‘Exercise Aggressive Viper 2’. This was a large exercise in which not only his own regiment but that of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and 2 Field Engineer Regiment were taking part.

His Commanding Officer (CO) had been giving directions to modify the training program with less stress on conventional warfare and more emphasis on tactical fighting in built-up urban areas. The abandoned radar station provided a perfect modern ghost town to prepare his soldiers for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and other municipal police forces used the abandoned buildings here for SWAT Team exercises and tactical entry training. Although the owner of the property, the province, had no issues with the army using the base for training, the Lieutenant could still hear his CO stressing quite forcefully not to “blow up or flatten any buildings” during the exercise.

His unit had arrived late yesterday after a short hour and half drive up from Toronto, and had immediately set up tents and a command post for this important exercise. The convoy of trucks and Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV’s) were directed to use an alternate route to the abandoned base due to road work but the tight schedule was still adhered to. The unit’s newly acquired Griffon helicopter was expected at any moment and the exercise would then be underway.


The explorers were already into their fourth house in the PMQ’s. They moved quietly through the upstairs together.

The cold air steamed their breath as they moved down a hallway. They explorers were oblivious to the smell of mold, mildew and rot in the stale air of the house through their masks. The three wore respirator masks not only for the indoor air quality but also as protection against the possibility of exposure to dangerous asbestos insulation.

Peeling sheets of paint hung from the walls like an open scar and the carpets showed remnants of some stubborn plant attempting to put roots down before the winter die-off. It was easy for the explorers to imagine the lives lived in these houses – the walls almost leached these memories out and in the empty halls one could almost hear the echoes of its former occupants.

They were setting up for another round of photographing this delicious decay in a bedroom with the most hideous orange drapes when they heard the low beating sound of a helicopter. Amanda stepped over to the window overlooking the backyard and the forest actively trying to reclaim it. She suddenly stiffened and rapidly retreated from it.

“Guys,” she whispered said, “I think we’re being invaded.”

To the other two, it almost sounded like a beginning of a joke but the look in her eyes told them otherwise.

With a little more stress now noticeable in her voice Amanda whispered again “There are soldiers out there.”

They now quickly worked silently breaking down their tripods, and stowing their camera equipment, flashlights, and respirators in knapsacks. Only after everything was put away did Bob move cautiously towards the window with a mirror in his hand. He crouched below the window and slowly moved the mirror up to give him a view of the outside.

“Oh yeah, we got soldiers”, Bob said. “And I think I just saw a tank moving through the forest. I guess that sound really wasn’t from the road construction crew.”

“We got to move it out of here now.” Patrick said.

“The only way back is back through the base again.” said Amanda.

“I don’t think we have to worry about leaving foot prints on the way out.” Bob said wryly.

The group quickly moved downstairs and after ensuring there was no-one on the street in front of the house, slipped out and straight across the street back towards the maintenance yard. As they were expertly moving through the buildings using as much cover as possible, they all had one thought; the thought of being caught and possibly charged with trespassing or worse – breaking and entering. Since they had never been charged before and had a clean record a trespassing fine might cost them 80 bucks or so – the cost of a cheap dinner and a movie for a couple. Breaking and entering was altogether different. The group made it a point never to pack anything in their gear which could be construed as a tool which could be used for burglary and although they may have ‘assisted’ some doors or windows to open, if a building was tight, they simply would not try to get in. The police would, however, need quite a ‘song and dance’ for them to believe that you were not a vandal or thief and even if convinced, might still prosecute to the full extent for having troubled them.

Bob thought about the remote possibility of having his equipment confiscated and held by the police. His brother Eric had just given him a Canon Powershot for Christmas, Bob’s first SLR camera and possibly the best gift he had ever received. At this thought Bob without realising, drew his knapsack closer.

One part of this urban exploration hobby which attracted so many was the exhilarating thrill and rush of adrenaline experienced when out-maneuvering site security. The chance of being caught is always a possibility and provides some unexplainable level of excitement of going places you’re not supposed to. Today’s trip to the base however, provided a rather unpleasant anxious feeling almost bordering panic.

These and many other thoughts were running through their minds as they were running up to one of the many barracks. The explorers now moved closely along the side of the building and stopped near the corner. Amanda cautiously peeked around the corner of the building and moved back.

“More of them green guys this way” Amanda said to the other two.

“Lets duck in here” Patrick motioned to an open side door to the barracks.

The group moved inside the building and then carefully down the hallway making sure not to step on anything that could make a sound which could be heard by those outside. Patrick led the way to the far end closest to where they entered the property. At the end of the hall, past some furniture debris was the exit. The door’s window was smashed. Most likely with the very rock which was now present and looking very much out of place in the middle of the hallway. Bob now stepped forward and looked out through the hole in the window. Several soldiers, dressed in full combat fatigues were toting rifles at the ready and advancing past the door. Bob belonged to a number of urban exploration community forums like UER, 28 days latter, UEKW, Dark Playgrounds and degGi 5. No-one was going to believe this story. Bob quietly pulled his camera from his bag, focused and slowly depressed the shutter button.


The camera blasted the electronic synthesised sound of a classic camera shutter out of its micro-speaker. The sound almost felt like a thunder clap.

Shit. Bob was sure he muted his camera along with his cell phone before they came onto the property and the camera certainly was muted when he was taking earlier photos. Perhaps the camera menu or a button got toggled in the haste to put the gear way earlier.

There were three soldiers just 20 or so metres away. Their heads all turned towards the sound. The nearest soldier started towards the explorers. Without any direction or discussion, the group spun around and jogged up the hallway towards the exit at the opposite end of building. Over the sound of their hurried footfalls, they could distinctly hear the soldiers yelling something incomprehensible following radio static and chatter.

All three explorers burst out of the door at the far end of the hall and straight into a large group of soldiers who obviously were expecting them.

“Don’t run!” yelled one soldier.

Another soldier stepped forward “Put down your bags and step back into the building.”

“We got lost, we didn’t know we were trespassing” offered Patrick.

“Yeah. We had car problems and must have wandered onto your property” followed Amanda.

The second soldier repeated “Back into the building now please.”

The door was opened and the three explorers were herded into the first room on the right. An expressionless soldier stepped over to the opposite side of the room and faced them. Several more milled about outside in the hallway. What seemed like hours but in reality only about 30 minutes a soldier stepped into the room and their guard snapped to attention and saluted “Sir!”

Obviously an officer, the three explorers thought. The Officer dismissed the soldier and took the same place across the room. He appeared to size up the three nervous individuals and then introduced himself. His uniform bore a name tag ‘Schaffer’.

“My name is Lieutenant Schaffer. You are trespassing on provincial property. We have informed the site security guard that we have detained you and he tells us that the OPP has dispatched a constable who should be attending shortly.”

The Lieutenant paused. Bob strained to make an emotionless face but inside he could almost hear his heart drop into this stomach.

“You people have caused me quite a bit of grief today.” the Lieutenant continued, “My men have only a finite time here today for the exercise and you have disrupted our training schedule. The soldiers here in the hall need to be storming a house held by insurgents at 1330 Hours.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Bob could see Amanda’s face twitching to control a smirk. It sounded almost comical but the Lieutenants face was completely serious. The Officer then turned abruptly and left the room. The explorers could barely hear the Lieutenant mutter “the CO is gonna chew my ass on this one” as he left. The guard immediately returned to the room and took up the same position.

A few moments latter the three of them could hear the creak of a rusty door hinge and a door banging shut. This was immediately followed by the voice of the Lieutenant speaking with someone who must have just arrived but they could not make out any of the words. Then the sound of movement of people in the hall and then an OPP Officer stepped into the room.

“I understand from the army Lieutenant I just spoke with that you folks interrupted an important training exercise today.” the Police Officer stated without introducing himself.

The Officer casually looked at the three, removed a note book from his pocket and proceeded to write in it. The Officer was wearing a heavy winter uniform coat with shoulder flashes and had traded in the highly recognizable Stetson hat for a winter toque.

Bob’s eyes wandered down to the Officer’s name tag. ‘Rush’. There was a name tag theme today. Bob began to think about some of his favourite Rush songs and then tried to chronically order Rush album releases in his head. The Officer broke the silence.

“I would like you two to leave the room for a moment while I get some details from your friend here” he jabbed his pen at Amanda and Bob and then pointed towards the door.

The soldier, who was still in the room since the Police Officer arrived, walked across the hall and led Amanda and Bob into another very similar. The Officer then closed the door. Amanda and Bob could hear fairly clearly the Officer ask Patrick who he was and requested that he produce identification. The Officer then used a radio to call in a request for background information on Patrick. As this request was being processed, the Officer asked questions as to why Patrick was on the property. The group had practised what excuses to use and what details to provide on the car trip to the radar base to ensure everyone’s story meshed.

A few moments latter, the Officer’s radio crackled and there was a rapid exchange of incomprehensible codes and police jargon between him and Police dispatch. Patrick was then directed to leave the room and Amanda then brought in for questioning. The same process continued for her and then Bob. At the end of this, all three were gathered and the Officer addressed them.

“It appears that the three of you have not had any trouble with the law. I also understand from site security that it is the policy of the property owner, in this case the Province of Ontario not to request trespassing charges be brought forward on first time offenders.”

That nasty felling in Bob’s gut just went away. The Officer continued.

“I am going to warn you that if you are caught on the property again, charges will be applied. Lieutenant Schaffer indicated to me that it appeared that you had camera equipment in your bags. Should you be caught, your equipment will be seized, declared before a Justice of the Peace and held until the fine is paid or until the conclusion of your trial should you contest. As there is an ongoing military exercise on the property, the good Lieutenant has offered an escort off the site to your vehicle, which I assume is not parked too far away”

The three explorers all nodded and offered apologies to the Officer for having caused such trouble. The Officer then left and exchanged words with presumable the Lieutenant who was waiting in the hall. Shortly after the trio were then led by an escort of soldiers out of the building and down the road to the front gate. Numerous military vehicles were rolling through the streets and the helicopter noisily passed close overhead. At the front gate, the soldiers followed the explorers to the vehicle and waited until they got in and drove away before returning to the base.

Approximately and hour latter and two beers each, the three explorers were sitting at their favourite table at ‘Sticky Fingers’, known for cold beer and hot wings. Amanda was just returning to the table from the washroom and as she approached the table, slapped down a copy of the Barrie Examiner in front of Patrick and Bob. The front page headlines read “Big Military Exercise in Edgar Today”.


Washago Tower

Washago had its beginning in 1852, when Quetton St. George & Company built a sawmill and latter a Gristmill near the outlet of Lake Couchiching into the Severn River.

Shown here water-powered Grist mill at Washago, constructed 1873, demolished 1970. (source: www.washago.ca)

The Grand Trunk Railway extended to Washago in 1873 and created somewhat of an economic boom to the 250 or so settlers who had lived here at the time. A via rail still operates from the train station today.

There still is standing an interesting relic from the earlier days. Just a short distance from the rail station on the north side of the track is this very large grain tower.

From this angle we can clearly see the remnants of the chute which disgorged the tower's contents into awaiting grain cars. Today, I observed only pigeons shooting out.

The ladder ascending to the top of the structure was enclosed by steel cladding. Only one word could really describe this particular view . . . rustalicious (!).

Adrenaline coursed through my veins when I saw no apparent lock on the door's clasp. I was looking forward to a long dangerous climb up a rickety ladder.
To my deep disappointed, vigilant CN Rail staff had welded the doors closed.

To add insult to this, this structure taunted me with a view through a grated window to see what I was missing. Apparently some of the stairs were removed or simply fell down.
The blur you may see in the bottom right of this image is pigeon poop falling from above . . . nasty.
I am kind of glad the door was welded.


Fork Truck GraveYard

No urban (or sub-urban for that matter) centre is without its scrap-yards. It is certainly not uncommon to drive by these places and see piles of vehicles waiting to be salvaged or ready to be crushed and melted down.

What make this location unusual is that this is where fork-lift trucks (or toe-lift trucks) come to die.

Another item quite common to these scrap yards are intimidating fencing to keep all the wrecks corralled. This fence shown from a business next door had an interesting blend of domestic wood-privacy and military-facility barbed-wire.

On the way onto the property I had come across an unexpected caché of nature still hanging on within the surrounding industrial wilderness. Upon my arrival, the ducks which where hanging out in the oddly-coloured pond took flight.

This general area is called the Bear Creek Wetland or the Ferndale swamp an is a Provincially Significant wetland and important ecosystem. The Barrie Collingwood Railway (BCRY) transected the wetland and just recently the Ferndale Drive Extension, was constructed through it. Evidence of beavers (estimated to be close to a hundred) may still be seen.

Anyway, back to the dead fork-lift trucks parked near this environmentally sensitive area. Most of the lift trucks appeared to have some level of decommissioning in that the large battery was removed (if electric-powered), the motor stripped and hydraulic lines drained.

I also found this interesting rack for salvaged for some of the large fork components. I had a tough time deciding whether it should be in colour showing the wonderful rainbow or in black'n'white to highlight the forms.

One irony I realised while on tour through the yard was that most (if not all) of the dozens (and dozens) of lift trucks here most likely had to be moved there by a larger lift truck. Given the heavy counterweights this may be a challenging task on the soft ground.

This scrap yard was by no means exclusive to just lift trucks but also had a small number of distantly-related cousins present. This Tennant industrial rider floor scrubber most likely provided hours of crazy joy-rides for factory workers when managers / supervisors went home.

The scrap yard was a riot of colour all unique to the various manufacturers whose machines were present. Of all the manufacturers such as Hyster, JLG, Caterpillar, Clark, Komatsu, Taylor, TCM, Mitsubushi, and Toyota, I am decidedly favouring the bile-green colour of Clark.

Although I am no expert in this field, it was fairly obvious that some of the equipment present were fairly dated. These much-earlier models had unfamiliar shapes and byzantine controls.

I am quite certain that, on a very still and quiet evening, one may hear the machines rusting here or even perhaps the vegetation straining against their roots to envelope these metal carcases.


Holland Marsh House

If you every had the pleasure of driving north of Toronto via highway 400, you would likely have had to drive through the 'Holland Marsh', just outside of Bradford. This is the largest area of organic (muck) soil developed for agriculture in Ontario and one of the most intensive areas of agricultural production in the Canada. This is the reason why they call it Ontario's vegetable basket (sorry - not sure exactly who 'they' are). Naturally a swamp, drainage of the wetlands began in 1925 and was completed by 1930. The marsh's length is about 15 km and its width about 4 km.

Some History . . Straight from the Plaque - The Plaque don't lie -


The Holland Marsh consists of 7,000 acres of reclaimed land in the Schomberg River Valley. Named after an early provincial official, this fertile area was drained between 1925 and 1930. John Snor, Canadian represenative of the Netherlands Emigration Foundation, visited the sparsely settled marsh and proposed the relocation here of recent Dutch immigrants in Ontario. Assisted by grants from the Netherlands, Canada and Ontario, fifteen Dutch families many from Friesland and Gronigen originally, settled on the marsh in 1934 and formed the nucleus of the community of Ansnorvelot. Later, Dutch farmers settled throughout the marsh , through skilled farming practice and co-operative management, the Dutch were the first group successfully to develop the marsh as one of Ontario's most important vegetable growing districts.

This particular abandonment is pretty much right in the middle of the Holland Marsh, just west of highway 400. I would often see this place in the distance from the road but never had the time to stop by and smell the roses, or rather mildew as it were.

I often imagined that this structure was at one time the domicile of a lovely agrarian couple who, perhaps, had upgraded and kept this on to house seasonal workers. I was unable to find anything to support this during the exploration.

There were obvious signs of fire damage but it appeared to have been contained to only a limited portion of the east end of the house. The vines in front of the door here presented a very nice fire-red colour perhaps echoing the conflagration.

In fact, on the wall beside the obligatory 'keep out' posting, someone had scrawled the word "fire" (??).
I wish people would use these words in a full sentence.

Given the fact that the agricultural real estate is so precious here, I am rather surprised that the previous owner did not raze it for radishes. A considerable volume of detritus was laid up along the property from the adjacent fields so I guess that even in its abandoned state it is fulfilling a purpose of sorts.

Everything and the kitchen sink seemed to have grown legs at this house and walked off.
Personally, I blame gypsies.

One item the gypsies did not take was this richly upholstered chair. From this image it is readily clear that sneaky dirty raccoons had carried off the stuffing.

Did I mention the exquisitely-design open concept of the house? One would be quite thankful for this on a hot summer's eve for any draft to blow through.
Given the lack of screens, I do not think the former occupants worried about disease-laden mosquitoes.

The only life still left in the house was moss. Specifically, Plantae, Division Bryophyta, Class Bryopsida, or your common window-sill sitting moss.
If you're ever in a pinch for 'fresh greens' . . .

On the way out from this place out on the marsh, I went looking for a location tip from fellow Urban (Rural) Explorer Mr. Nitromare. He described a fairly pristine abandonment dying a natural death on the wrong side of the canal . . . I found it.

One of the reasons why this is pristine is because it is largely inaccessible to a$$-hat vandals and tag monkey.
One would need a boat or commit to a good hour hike into some bad-a$$ swamp land to get to it.

Alternatively, if one were a brave soul and the ice thick enough, you just might be able to walk across the frozen canal.
I will just admire from afar for now.

Happy and Safe Exploring.
If you are a gypsy or a raccoon, please direct to hate mail via the comments box.