by Dick Nieuwendyk – Montreal Times
In 1815, William Fleming, a Scottish immigrant, built a stone house and a wooden windmill on his property in Lower-Lachine, facing Lac Saint-Louis, near Chemin du Roi (present-day LaSalle Blvd), which was a major thoroughfare and transportation route at the time. He ground barley and rice for local farmers who sold to the Montreal breweries. In 1816, Fleming decided to grind wheat.
But this was in direct conflict with the Seigneurial rights of the Sulpician Seminary in Montreal, who had the monopoly on all flour-producing mills since 1663, requiring farmers to have their wheat ground by Sulpicial mills for a fee. The Seminary, insisting on their rights, ordered Fleming’s mill to be demolished. Fleming’s lawyers replied that the Seminary had no legal power to rule in Canada.
Their status was given by the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice de Paris, which had no authority in Canada. In 1822, the King’s Bench ruled in favour of the Seminary and ordered non-regulation mills to be demolished. Fleming appealed the decision. Three years later, the eight judges of the Court of Appeal were unable to reach a majority decision, which constituted a victory for Fleming, since, in the absence of a decision, the Montreal Seminary could not force him to demolish his mill. William Fleming took advantage of the victory and decided to rebuild the mill in stone in 1827. He signed a building contract with the mason, William Morrison to build the stone windmill that stands to this very day. From 1827 to the 1880s the ownership and operation of the mill remained within the Fleming family.
When William Fleming died in 1860, his son John took over operation of the mill. When activities ceased in the 1880s, the mill’s condition rapidly deteriorated. In 1892, the mill lost two of its blades and the rotating mechanism collapsed. At the turn of the century, the roof and the mechanism had fallen inside the building. After John Fleming’s death, his widow, Isabella Wylie bequeathed the property to Reverend Martin Callaghan, who later transferred the property to Reverend E.P. Curtin.
In 1914, Curtin donated the mill to a religious community known as the Presentation Brothers of Ireland. In 1928, The Wellcome Foundation acquired the mill and the surrounding land from the Presentation Brothers of Ireland with the intention of establishing a pharmaceutical company in the area. Around 1930, the mill and its internal mechanism were restored. As a result of the company’s efforts, the mill was saved from total destruction. In 1947, the City of LaSalle acquired the site from Burroughs Wellcome. Municipal authorities were more concerned about residential and industrial development than about heritage protection, and many old houses were demolished to make room for more modern buildings.
In 1976, the Cavelier-de-LaSalle Historical Society convinced the city to apply to the Ministère des Affaires Culturelles du Québec, in order to have the mill recognized an official heritage site. They felt that their application was justified even if the millstones and the interior mechanism had disappeared without a trace. In 1982, the city of LaSalle adopted the mill as its official emblem and continued to put pressure on the Quebec government to accelerate the processing of the heritage recognition application.
Finally, in 1983, the mill was officially classified as an archaeological heritage site by the Ministère des Affaires Culturelles du Québec. After being restored in 1990, it became a historical interpretation centre, open to the public every weekend during the summer.
The Fleming Mill is the only windmill of Anglo-Saxon design with a device for turning its sails windward, still standing in the Province of Quebec.
Source: Cavelier-de-LaSalle Historical Society / Ville de Montréal / Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America