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Where Will All the Swallows Go?

Kathy Renwald

Back in the day- like two months ago, when we could take drives and not feel guilty, I often went on mini tours. I love exploring, and almost anywhere you go, you bump into a story.

  This week, I felt it was safe to poke out to Caledonia. There are two stories there that I have been following for years, and a third one I was alerted to by a member of the Hamilton Nautralists’ Club.

  The story for that headline is Where Will All the Swallows Go?

  The charming Argyle Street bridge over the Grand River is going to be replaced. Built in 1927, the Ministry of Transport has deemed it too rickety to carry modern day traffic.

Swallows nest under the Argyle Bridge in Caledonia. Where will they go when the bridge is replaced? Photo:Kathy Renwald

  The concrete bridge also happens to be the home of the largest cliff swallow colony in South Western Ontario. They nest there because the rather porous concrete is hospitable to nest building.

  The new bridge will be steel. This is not a material of choice for the cliff swallows. Environmental assessment of the bridge replacement makes note of the swallows, but their fate remains unknown. Birds are under threat everywhere.

  Linked to the bridge and another Caledonia landmark is the charming and historic Toll House. Built in 1874, it was the home for the toll keeper who collected fees for boats using the Grand River for shipping goods.

The 1874 Toll House at the edge of the Grand River in Caledonia has been the subject of an expropriation tussle with the Ministry on Transportation. Photo: Kathy Renwald

  Three years ago I stopped and talked to the owner. She was already worried about the fate of her house.  The new bridge and traffic redesign will put traffic closer to her house. An expropriation tussle began and according to the Grand River Sachem newspaper, the house was expropriated by the Ministry of Transportation last November.  

  The Ministry has stated that provincial regulation requires them to conserve the heritage of the house. I hope that means the house is preserved as a whole, and not carved up into bits for display in a museum.

  Just steps away from the bridge and Toll House, the old Grand River Mills building has been rebuilt.

The rebuilt Caledonia Mill Photo:Kathy Renwald
The original Grand River Mills used as a backdrop for car photography
Photo:Kathy Renwald
Demolition of the old mill
Photo: Kathy Renwald

   It’s a familiar story, the old mill, charming as all get out, was in need of repair, money was short, and it came a tumbling down. The new owners built a replica, and there it sits on the Grand River. Apparently it’s going to be office space. I reached out to the owners for more details, but have not heard back.

  The old mill, built in 1857 was used for the grinding of wheat and was a long time symbol of Caledonia’s economic importance and vital link to the Grand River.

  Both Caledonia and Brantford are fascinating places to explore history because of their position on the Grand River. Go poke around and see what’s left, before it changes.

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