A small cairn dedicated to the mill owners©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Thomas Hembroff and David Lyons were very determined men. The two were privy to a bit of insider information from Hembroff's brother, who was part of the Elderslie Township survey team in 1851. After hearing glowing reports about the area's potential for new settlers, they decided to check out the situation for themselves.
Early one morning, in October 1851, they packed the necessary provisions and set off to their intended destination. Their journey was not an easy one. First they travelled by canoe down the Saugeen River, but were then forced to complete the remainder of their trip on foot after the driftwood in the river became too thick. Luckily their explorations were not in vain. Hembroff and Lyons found the location ideal for a new mill site. They did enough work to establish a squatters' claim and returned the following month with more supplies.
In the spring of the following year, both men, who were living in Chatsworth, packed up their families and headed off into the untamed land. First they travelled by team from Chatsworth to Hanover. After arriving in Hanover, they built a large raft where they piled up their belongings and their families, and embarked on the two-day voyage to their new settlement. Upon their arrival, they built a shanty where both families lived for the duration of the summer. Lyons didn't stick around for too long afterwards. About a year and a half later, he undertook a similar journey - this time to Southampton - to set up yet another mill, which unfortunately burned down some time later.
After the Crown opened the lands for sale in 1852, it didn't take long for new settlers to begin pouring in. Some bought and others squatted. On September 27, 1854 an historic land sale took place in Southampton that allowed all the squatters to purchase the land on which they had been living. William Gunn from Inverhuron was a volunteer at that frenzied event, which when it finally ended, saw every lot in the township sold. In the meantime Thomas Hembroff built a sturdy log home for his family and began putting together plans for a new grist mill.
Lockerby's school, the first in the township, was opened in 1855 with Isabel McIntyre as the first teacher. For the first year classes were held in the old shanty, the same one built by Hembroff and Lyons several years earlier. A new log school was opened the following year with J.C. McIntyre (Isabel's brother) as the first teacher. The McIntyres were a deeply religious family who also felt the need for a Sunday school. The old shanty, which was beginning to see more lives than a housecat, was resurrected once again - this time for Sunday classes taught by J.C. McIntyre. McIntyre later became a principal and also served as the Township Clerk from 1893 - 1910.
The Lockerby grist mill was finally completed and open for business in 1856. The mill was named for the Lockerby Creek, an early name for the Saugeen River, which provided the necessary water power. The mill enjoyed instant success. It was the first grist mill in the township and was badly needed. Shortly afterwards Edward Pearce opened a sawmill, which also did very good business. William Hornell reportedly opened a store behind the grist mill. A post office, with David Hornell serving as postmaster, was also open for a brief period during 1857.
In the meantime Hembroff had more pressing issues to deal with. An earlier rumour that the new Elora Road would be passing through Lockerby set off a wave a speculation by George Jardine, who owned the farm lots adjacent to the mill. Jardine had the land surveyed into lots and even went so far as to travel to Hamilton to hold a land sale. By 1866 Hembroff and Jardine were engaged in a vicious lawsuit over ownership of the mill lands and surrounding property. Following the old adage that 'possession is nine tenths of the law', one night Jardine pried open one end of a board and attempted to break into the mill. That little escapade cost him more dearly than he could have possibly foreseen. Instead of staying open, the boards snapped together wedging him in between. Unable to break loose or call for help, he eventually met his death caught in a horrible trap of his own making.
Lockerby never had a church. When Isabel McIntyre, Lockerby's first schoolteacher, married Thomas Pearce in 1856, the pair walked from Lockerby to Southampton in order to be married by a Presbyterian minister. Isabel Pearce was later instrumental in setting up the Sunday school in the old shanty.
Although the village boasted up to 36 separate homes, there were very few other services in Lockerby besides the mills. Residents had to walk or ride to Southampton to do their shopping. The school, SS No. 4, however continued to grow and serve the needs of the settlement well. The old log school was replaced with a handsome brick building in 1875. One of the highlights of the settlement was the annual picnic held on R.C. Pearce's bush diagonally across from the school. By the 1890s, the picnics had become so popular, with crowds swelling to 1000 or more, that they had to be discontinued due to lack of space.
The mills also continued to prosper. The sawmill changed hands a couple of times - first to Robert and William Lloyd and then in 1870 to Robert Dick. After building a dam, enlarging the mill and installing circular saws, Dick sold the entire operation to Donald McIntyre in 1875. In addition to being a mill-owner, McIntyre later served as reeve from 1888-91 and as superintendent of the Sunday school. The Hembroff mill also changed hands first to Peter Drummond and then to William Brown in 1885. The mill was the object of some criticism by George Field, who owned a grist mill in Williscroft. Field believed that the white flour produced in this mill was an inferior product that had been stripped of many vital nutrients. History would undoubtedly judge him to be correct. Ironically the Field mill was later purchased by William Dudgeon, who was married to Elizabeth Hembroff, the oldest of Thomas' Hembroff's 10 children.
The sawmill lasted until 1893 when it was destroyed by fire. Donald McIntyre, with remarkable foresight, promptly rebuilt the mill and equipped it with generators, which enabled him to produce electricity for customers in Lockerby and Paisley. Jim McNeil took over the power plant in 1907 and operated it until hydro was introduced in Paisley in 1924. During that time, McNeil was a complete one-man show who did everything. He was the engineer, lineman, repairman, and also installed electric wiring in his customer's homes.
The Lockerby grist mill was an incredible success and continued to operate for well over 100 years. From 1885 - 1923, the mill was owned and operated by the Brown family. Later owners included James Beattie, John Matheson, B. Sorenson, Robert Armstrong, Clifford Hartman and Frank Gelyk. During the latter years it was only used sporadically for custom milling. It was finally closed for good in 1965. In 1970 the property was sold to the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority for use as a park. Much to the regret of many, the trusty old mill was demolished in 1975.
The Lockerby community remained cohesive for a number of years. The Sunday school, after being closed around 1900 was revived in 1924 and remained active for a several years afterwards. A school reunion was held on August 4, 1934 in Pearce's bush. Among the attendees was Dr. Thomas O'Hagan, a distinguished poet and scholar, who began his education in the little log schoolhouse.
During the 1940s the women in Lockerby and Gillies Hill formed a quilting group, with the quilts being sent to the troops overseas. After the Gillies Hill school was closed in 1951, students from Gillies Hill were transferred to the Lockerby school, S.S. No. 4. The school remained in use until the 1960s, when all the rural schools were closed and students transferred to the new central schools.
One descendant of Lockerby went on to leave his mark on provincial politics. Sterling Lyon, a great-grandson of Donald Lyons, served as premier of Manitoba from 1977-81 and later as an appeals court justice.
Although the Lockerby mills were extremely successful, the community never progressed much beyond a paper town. After being bypassed by the Elora Road, Lockerby was quickly eclipsed by the village of Paisley, located a scant 5 km to the east. The former mill site is now a community park, marked by a cairn that pays homage to this small community and industrial site. The schoolhouse still stands and is now a private home. The area continues to be used for farming and still supports a rural population.