The Mill of Kintail Conservation Area – Past to Present

Almonte’s Mill of Kintail is a 188 year old grist mill-turned history museum. Owned and operated by Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority since 1972, the Mill showcases the life and times of the famed Brothers of the Wind, Robert Tait McKenzie and Dr. James Naismith.

Dr. James Naismith (left) and R. Tait McKenzie standing outside of the Mill.

Built in 1830 by Scottish immigrant John Baird, the Mill ran successfully until the 1860s, when Baird suffered a lengthy and costly litigation against a local family, losing everything in the process. The Mill was ultimately left in shambles.

The Gatehouse and entrance to the Mill of Kintail in 1932. Photo by Ron Lamb.

“It sat empty for a long time after that,” said Stephanie Kolsters, the Mill’s site supervisor. “Naismith and McKenzie actually used to play in this building when it was derelict and they used to cross through the fields to get to school.”

The two friends became known for a variety of accomplishments. McKenzie spent his years pioneering physical therapy, medicine and sculpting, whereas Naismith invented basketball.
In 1930, while working as a professor for the University of Pennsylvania, McKenzie returned to Almonte for the town’s 50th anniversary, receiving the key to the town from the mayor for his work in sports and physiology.
“While he was here, he thought he would come out and look at the Mill and the fields where he used to play,” said Kolsters. “He decided to use the Mill as an artist’s retreat, so he and his wife Ethel bought it in 1930 and moved in in 1931.”

The Mill in November 1932

After McKenzie’s passing in 1938 at the age of 71, Ethel McKenzie sold the Mill to Major James Leys in 1952. Leys was instrumental in the Mill receiving heritage status, and was the founder of the R. Tait McKenzie Memorial Museum. In 1969, Leys built the Cloister on the Hill, a wedding venue that he also dedicated to McKenzie.

In modern times, the Mill remains a popular tourist spot, receiving 8,300 visitors to the museum last year and more than 25,000 to the conservation area itself. Alongside the museum and the hiking paths, the site also offers a natural backdrop for MVCA’s education program and Wildlife Watchers Day Camp, as well as a picnic shelter and accessible playground and half basketball court.

The Mill today.

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