masthead image

Crooks' Hollow


Town site photo

The former paper mill

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

Crooks' Hollow was founded by Scottish born James Crooks who immigrated to Upper Canada while still in his early teens. When James first arrived he joined his older brother Francis, who had been operating a store in Fort Niagara. By 1807, Crooks had established his own store, gotten married and was ready to settle down and raise a family.

It was war and politics that forced Crooks to relocate his centre of operations to Flamborough Township. After Francis passed away in 1797, the Crooks brothers, James and William, had purchased several parcels of land along Spencer Creek with the intention of building a grist mill. Construction on the mill began in 1811 but the War of 1812 intervened and Crooks returned to the Niagara area to fight against the Americans. He was captured by the US Navy and escaped, only to find his Niagara home had been destroyed. The schooner, which he and his brother had purchased several years earlier to transport supplies, was also captured by the Americans. It sank during a violent storm on Lake Ontario in 1813. With nothing left to hold him in Niagara, Crooks and his family returned to Flamborough to start a new life.

The area that became known as Crooks' Hollow had its industrial beginnings in 1801, when Jonathon Morden, a sawyer by trade, built a sawmill on Spencer Creek. Crooks constructed a new dam and sluice, south of the Morden property, and completed his mill in 1813.

Crooks was an industrialist who went on to build an empire that was massive for its time and astounding, even by today's standards. By 1829, the settlement had grown to include the original grist mill, known as Darnley Mill after Lord Darnley, a distillery, linseed oil mill, cooperage, tannery, woollen mill, card clothing factory, foundry, agricultural implement factory, paper mill, log cabins for the workers, a general store and inn. A 100-man workforce and their families lived in the community that aligned Spencer's Creek for half a century.

James Crooks died in 1860 at the age of 82. Following his death, the original grist mill was purchased by James Stutt and Robert Sanderson, who enlarged the structure and converted it to a paper mill. The mill was hit by a massive boiler explosion in 1885 that killed two men. It was rebuilt and continued to operate until 1934, when it was gutted by fire. The remaining industries gradually closed after the village was bypassed by the railways during the mid 19th century.

Although the city of Dundas, slightly north east, has grown to encompass Crooks' Hollow, the area has been under the protection of the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority since 1969. Although little remains of the early structures, visitors to the site can view maps and take a walking tour through one of Ontario's earliest industrial empires.

Thanks to Ron Barrons for the additional background information on Crooks' Hollow.