Billings Old Mill Heritage Centre museum returns to its roots for the 2019 season

A rural history awaits in the museum.

KAGAWONG – Sometimes we get so used to the spectacular event that we are in danger of forgetting just how wonderful our ordinary can be. The Old Mill Heritage Centre museum in Kagawong has a long history of hosting some very unusual exhibits, including the recent Lester B. Pearson exhibit which highlighted Manitoulin’s famous member of Parliament and former Canadian prime minister, and with its 10th anniversary this year one might anticipate another blockbuster. This summer, the threat of extensive road work encouraged the museum to head back to its roots for a hiatus from extravaganza to provide a fascinating trip back into the region’s historical roots.

“We are still going strong after 10 years,” said curator Rick Nelson. “When it looked like we would be facing all kinds of construction the museum committee decided to tweak our existing exhibits. By the time we found out that the road construction wasn’t going ahead this year it was too late to plan for something else.”

But that opportunity to retrench doesn’t mean the museum isn’t a great place to visit this year. “Our mandate is to gather research and exhibit historical information pertaining to people, places and events in Billings Township,” noted Mr. Nelson, referencing the museum’s mission statement. “Back in the day, Billings Township had a heritage building that was not being used and it was decided that the museum board would house a museum inside. Thanks to some short term government funding, we soon had it operational.”

The result was a snapshot of the historical development of a Manitoulin community, documented right back to the town’s beginnings with vintage photographs, historical documents and artifacts. One of the highlights this year is a recreation of a typical blacksmith shop from the early days of settlement. The transformation is quite startling, as the former Lester B. Pearson office has metamorphosed into a place of fire and iron.

“Blacksmith shops were the heart of any rural community,” said Mr. Nelson. “Everyone needed their services at some point since they made everything from horse tackle to nails, wheel rims to hand tools.”

The Old Mill Heritage Centre also features a very detailed military exhibit and, with the advent of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, there is special meaning in its exhibits. “We have sand from Juno Beach (the Canadian landing zone in the greatest contested amphibious invasion in history) and dirt from Vimy Ridge.”

Then there is the Island’s greatest mystery, the story of Danny Dodge. “It’s the story that just keeps on giving,” said Mr. Nelson.

“We can’t forget the Post Office museum either,” said Mr. Nelson. “It has been renovated and is new and improved thanks to the Trillium Foundation and FedNor.”

There is a high tech digital kiosk that displays the historical trails system and the markers that the museum created in concert with 4elements Living Arts that tell the history of the town.

One of the highlights of the season for history buffs is the annual History Day and this year the focus will be on Harbour Island, from its glory days as a high end playground of the elite to the current restoration.

“We will also have a talk by Chris Kohl on the shipwrecks of Georgian Bay,” he said.

The official celebration of the museum’s 10th anniversary will take place on August 24 with a community barbecue.

“It’s going to be a great season,” said Mr. Nelson.