Forlorn but Not Forgotten:
The Kilns of Limehouse
by Rosaleen Egan Garneau
Lime set kilns huddle side-by-side in
the undergrowth on the Niagara Escarpment at Limehouse.
A nearby draw kiln, originally 16 metres high, struggles
to hold itself together. These kilns are testaments to the
spirit of entrepreneurship and the industrial development
of early Ontario.
These crumbling, but extraordinary,
stone structures stand on Credit Valley Conservation land
alongside remnants of a powder magazine, loading dock, millwork
walls along Black Creek and the ghost of the quarry that
provided stone for the limeworks dating from about 1840.
Each of the structures is in imminent danger of ruin.
originally named Fountain Green, is part of Esquesing Township.
It grew along the Guelph Road that ran between Toronto and
Guelph. Later the Grand Trunk Railway ran through town.
Canadian National Railway still uses the track blasted out
of the escarpment.
The area was attractive to lime companies
because of its easy access to markets. The natural erosion
of stone on the Niagara Escarpment meant that large boulders
were readily available at ground level. By 1856, Limehouse
boasted a gristmill, a sawmill, and two lime operations.
The production of lime created a lot
of smoke as chunks of rock were heated in kilns fired with
wood. The draw kiln process used in the 1870s proved more
efficient than the earlier set or pot kiln since it could
operate on a more continuous basis.
Hunks of heated limestone from the
kilns were slaked with water, and ground like grain. The
resulting lime was mixed with sand and cow hair to be used
as mortar. Lime was also used to remove oil and grease from
wool and in alkali paints such as whitewash.
In 1893, a fire destroyed the woollen
mill, a paint factory and 100 cords of wood at the waterlime
mill in Limehouse. This was a huge economic setback. In
the meantime, lime operations encroached on residential
development. By 1917, after a change in ownership, the lime
industry closed, although it continued in nearby Dolly Varden
until 1931. Today, there are aggregate and sandstone quarry
operations in the area.
The Limehouse Kiln Society (LKS) was
formed more than three years ago under the leadership of
resident Mary Sheir to "promote and preserve the historic
significance of the lime industry in Limehouse through education,
restoration and accessibility." Members include residents,
municipal government officials and agencies, and local business
The group hopes to preserve the site
through restoration or re-creation, to increase accessibility
through the existing trail system, and to develop interpretive
signage, brochures, and educational materials.
A master plan was prepared last year
by Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Limited to
consolidate historical data, map the site, and determine
interpretation themes. The plan suggests possible partners
and fundraising suggestions. Subsequently, the LKS submitted
an application to have the area designated as a national
historic site because of the lime industry's influence in
the "early development of Canada's industrial and commercial
heartland," i.e., the building of Toronto.
Visitors have access to most of what
remains of an industry that gave Limehouse its name. Some
of the oldest kilns are on private property, however, and
access is denied. The Bruce Trail Association, through the
Toronto Bruce Trail Club, maintains existing paths in the
area that are easily accessible at the Limehouse Memorial
Hall. The kilns are a short walk in.
Limehouse is situated between Georgetown
and Acton in Halton Hills at the intersection of Regional
Road 43 and Concession 5.
For more information visit the Limehouse
Kiln Society website.
This is an original story,
first published in The Country Connection Magazine,
Issue 42, Spring 2003. Copyright Rosaleen Egan Garneau.
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