On the Mill’s sign it reads partially: ‘flour and feed – always on hand’.
The Falls and its beauty along with the sign were two of the main things that initially caught our attention.
Immediately, I started to picture what it must have been like back then.
At the time of our visit last year, we took many photos but our knowledge of this little gem was very limited. Since then we’ve discovered many interesting facts about the Morningstar Mill and more, which I’ll point out throughout the post but you can read much more from the sources used and provided at the end.
Unfortunately for us, the Mill was not open that day for us to view, but it was definitely not a loss since the Falls and the wonderful trail itself were worth the visit. The site, which backs onto the Bruce trail, is a popular place for taking photos and having picnics.
In the photo below, off to your right, you can see a hint of The Miller’s House built by Wilson Morningstar, for his family after purchasing the mill property in the early 1880’s. (More about the house later below).
- The mill is the only operating water powered mill in the Niagara Peninsula and as mentioned earlier, has been fully restored and operable, thanks to a non-profit group of dedicated people called the Friends of the Morningstar Mill.
- Morningstar Mill was built in 1872 by Robert Chappell of Thorold and was built of local stone. It draws its power from the waters of Beaverdams Creek, a tributary of Twelve Mile Creek.
- Unlike the grist mill previously built on the site by John DeCew, it was powered by a turbine rather than a water wheel. Several millers leased the mill, and in 1883, it was purchased by Wilson Morningstar, after whom it is named.
- The mill was destroyed by fire in 1895 but was rebuilt by Wilson Morningstar and his brother Wallace which continued to run until Wilson’s death in 1933.
- The Friends of Morningstar Mill began the restoration of the gristmill in 1992 using the original machines and stones except for the turbine shed, which had collapsed and fallen into the gorge. They have operated it as a water-powered gristmill since then.
Of course, one of the main highlights of the area besides the mill is Decew Falls which contain two Falls; the Upper Decew Falls which cascades 22 metres (72 feet) into a bowl-shaped amphitheatre just behind the mill (seen below), and the Lower Decew Falls which is a 8 metres steep cascading waterfalls that is situated in a more remote setting. The Upper Decew Falls can be viewed from above next to the Morningstar Mill, with the area around the falls protected by a chain fence for your safety, making it suitable for children and the elderly to visit.
As we proceed a few hundred metres along the Bruce Trail toward the east we discovered there was a rope that led down into the gorge. Although steep, we’ve heard and read many times (as well as seen a few photos), about the wonderful view of the falls that awaits you. And, for an extra added treat, you can go behind the falls and feel the cool spray.
But before going on, I must say I was a bit saddened that I was unable to go down into this gorge to take some photos. The best way to view the Falls is from down there and the quickest way was by a rope. Unfortunately, I have a fear of heights and under certain conditions, it’s ok but under these conditions, (even though many before us went down), I was just too afraid to climb down the rocks. The other way was too long and time wouldn’t allow it. So needless to say, no photos of the Lower Falls were taken, and I was not too pleased.
The rope was not easy to spot from the trail but if you are real determined and looked carefully you will find it.
The Miller’s House
Another part of this picturesque area we found interesting was The Miller’s House. Before starting on your trail, you will first come to this house. The property is of 3.6 acres in size. Across the creek by the sawmill was an orchard of apples, cherries, pears and peaches, and a large vegetable garden.
When Wilson Morningstar purchased the mill property from the City of St. Catharines back in 1883, there was a log cabin on the site but his wife Emma did not like it so a new house was eventually built for her in 1894. The house appears to have been constructed in stages: the centre section first, followed by the north wing and finally the south wing.
From the City of St. Catharines site:
The two-storey house is of simple carpenter gothic revival style, in the Andrew Jackson Downing, Country Cottage tradition. It is finished in wood clapboard and painted white with decorative trim around porch edges, windows and roof lines all painted green. The porches are distinct architectural elements, supported by decorative wood columns and brackets. Bay windows on the ground floor and double-hung windows are located throughout the remainder of the house. The John Howard Society of Niagara renovated the house in the early 2000s.
When Morningstar died in 1933, his daughter, Norma Robson, her husband, David, and their two children, Lorna and Donald, moved into the house. Donald and Lorna continued to live in the house until Donald’s death in 1991. Much of the furniture in the house today was gifted to the City of St. Catharines by Lorna.
Overall, it was one of those wonderful experiences mixed with feelings of ‘regret’ for not being able to get photos of behind the Falls. I just wasn’t brave enough, but I'm still hoping one day I will be.
The mill is located on Decew Rd, a little west of the intersection with Merritville (No.50) Highway in the southern outskirts of St. Catharines. This site is on the Bruce Trail and is said to be a good starting point for hikes.