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Alexander McMartin & The Martintown Mill

Appeared in the Senior Citizen, March 2017

Martintown, a tiny community in the township of South Glengarry, Ontario, will always have a special place in my heart. Martintown is one of the three communities that became home to many of my ancestors (St. Raphael’s and Williamstown, being the other two.) Martintown is the town where my mother grew up, and over the years I have often lived vicariously through her while she recited many of her childhood stories to me.

Through Mom’s stories I have hitched a ride on Rhodes Grant’s wagon, and headed up to his farm to feed his animals, I have played hide and seek in St. Andrew’s Cemetery, and I attended Martintown Public School. Hearing the stories of my mother’s childhood made me want to know the history of the small beautiful town she still calls home.

Like any other story, I wanted to start at the beginning. Luckily for me, the beginning had a big connection to what I was most interested in: Martintown’s Grist Mill.

McMartin's Mills

The Martintown Mill, in the 1950's / Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

Between 1801 and 1803, Malcolm McMartin built a wooden grist mill, saw mill and carding mill. By the late 1820s Malcolm's son, Alexander, had completely taken over operation of all three mills. The Martintown Mill that is currently standing, was built by Alexander McMartin in 1846. This four-storey stone grist mill was built with local fieldstones, and replaced the original mills that his father had erected.

Like similar operations throughout the province, these mills provided the tiny community and the surrounding counties with much needed flour, feed for farm animals, textiles and lumber. Due to their excessive popularity, the McMartin’s Mills became a local meeting ground for the town’s people. The mills attracted tradesmen, business men and residents, creating the village of Martintown. It has been stated that in its early years of operation, McMartin’s Mills was a more important settlement than Cornwall.

Despite the market becoming increasingly dominated by larger competitors, Alexander McMartin’s Mill continued to operate until 1951.

Since 1997 the mill has been owned and maintained by The Martintown Mill Preservation Society. They are a non-profit organization. The Mill is open to the public on weekends during the summer months.

Source: The Martintown Mill Preservation Society / www.martintownmill.org

Alexander McMartin

Alexander McMartin was born to proud parents Malcolm McMartin and Margaret McIntyre, in 1788, in Charlottenburgh Township.

Malcolm McMartin settled along the banks of the Raisin River in 1789. He eventually erected the mills from which the surrounding settlement would take its name. Alexander began running his fathers general store in 1811. One year later, during the War of 1812, Alexander was promoted to Lieutenant of the 2nd Glengarry Militia. 

During the rebellion, as a lieutenant-colonel in the 1st Regiment of the Glengarry Militia, he was on duty in Lower Canada in both February and March of 1838. That November he helped disperse the Patriots led by the Chevalier de Lorimier at Beauharnois. When the regiment of the Eastern District was formed in 1846, McMartin was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Battalion of the Glengarry militia.

In 1812, Alexander McMartin was elected to the House of Assembly for Glengarry. He held this position until 1824 when he lost to Duncan Cameron. McMartin was returned in 1828 and 1830, but lost the general election of 1834 to Alexander Chisholm.

McMartin was so well liked by his community that he held numerous local positions. He received his first of several commissions as justice of the peace in 1820. He was appointed bailiff in 1827, postmaster of Martintown in 1828, and a commissioner of the District Court of Requests in 1833. In 1838 he replaced Donald Macdonell as sheriff of the Eastern District. McMartin held this position until 1847 when he was prevailed by William Morris and other conservatives to give up the post to oppose John Sandfield Macdonald in the general election. McMartin ran, and obviously lost.

Alexander McMartin passed away on July 12 1853. He is buried in St. Andrew’s Cemetery with his wife Mary Carlyle (1808-1884), and their son Adam (1838-1841).