View all Stories

Percy Sherman Remembers Kinmount’s Austin Sawmill

November 23, 2023

J. Austin & Sons Mill, Kinmount, 1975

By Ernest Hills

Originally Published in the Summer Times, August 5, 1986. That summer, Kinmount was debating a proposal to refurbish the old sawmill.

One of the few surviving residents of the community with an understanding of the early workings of the Austin Sawmill is Percy Sherman. Sherman was born 76 years ago on the ‘Patterson Place,’ north of Furnace Falls on Highway 503. Sherman becomes animated as he recalls the early memories of his father, a man of “extraordinary ambition, who believed in investing in property.” At one time he owned a blacksmith shop, garage and grist mill where Taylor’s garage is located today. He owned property on either side of town at various times in his life. Percy explains that he would purchase property and homes which had been neglected and renovate them.

One of Percy’s earliest recollections of the village was the fire of 1917. “I was just a kid, but I recall Doherty’s store burning… you could hear the shells inside exploding in the heat.” Another blaze, in 1942, poses an even clearer recollection for Percy Sherman. “Back then, Ed Definey was cutting cedar shingles for Jack Austin and there was always and awful pile of cedar shavings lying about the floor. My father had sold the Austin’s an old truck we had bought to transport used lumber from a home we were demolishing in the city. The truck had sprung a leak in the gas tank—not a big lead—but it was losing gas. There are many versions of what caused the fire then, but I can tell you. Someone was smoking where the shingles were being cut, and the shavings caught on fire. They kicked the shavings out of the building, but they ended up under the truck, where the gas was leaking from the tank. That was how the big fire of 1942 started.”

In 1925, the danger of working in the mill was brought home to the Sherman family. Percy’s second oldest brother, Herb Sherman was millwright at the Austin mill, where he would go first thing in the morning before breakfast to setup for the men who would arrive at 7 am. “The story was that he was setting up a belt when a stick came up and struck him across the side of the head. When the gang came in at 7 they found him unconscious. They rushed him up to Dr. Frost, who had a practice in town. From there they took him to Ross Memorial in Lindsay. He died three days later.”

As a boy, Percy recalls working in the mill tying edgings for $1.25 a day during summer holidays, or when he was out of school. Another early recollection of working in the mills for Percy was “as a young devil working at Bill Parkin’s Mill on Crystal Lake Road, which was approximately 2 miles east off Highway 121. I tailed the slab saw, taking the slabs and edgings away. I remember when I started Bill Gardiner Sr. was explaining to me how to be extra careful at this particular job, when he reached over to pull away some edgings and cut off two fingers.”

Back then, Percy recalls you would work 11 hours a day. “You’d start at 7 in the morning, and break between noon and 1 pm for lunch. Then you’d go back to work until 6 pm. Back then, you were paid $30 a month plus board.

When he was 17, Percy was involved in his first and only log drive down the Brunt River. He had some experience in running the logs while he was attending school in Kinmount, which he recalls would cover the river from Austin’s at the south end of town to above where Rokeby’s Lumber is today. “There was some feeling at the time that Austin’s was monopolizing the river back then, but they were also providing a livelihood for about 25 men in town.”

Sherman recalls that Claude Austin was supervising the drive, and that they had come down as far as Devil’s Gap, south of Lochlin. “We were tailing, that is getting the logs moving which were tailing the main group going down the river. These were all peeled hemlock and were to slippery for my regular soled boots.” Percy wouldn’t say how many times he got dunked, but he continued, ‘”by the time we got to Devil’s Gap Bob McKindley and I decided to quit. We were boarding near Donald, and the bed consisted of sleeping in a hayloft.

“Claude Austin was disgusted with us. There was not much help about at the time. He drove a Model T Ford Coupe, and we asked him for a lift back to Kinmount with our ‘turkeys.’ Turkeys were what we called our pack sacks, with our grooming utensils and that sort of thing. “Well he was so angry he refused, and we had to walk to Kinmount from Lochlin, along the railroad track. I have a scar to this day, the mark of a blister that formed during that walk home.”

Percy recalls that at one time all the logs were marked on the ends as to which mill they were destined for, whether it be Austin’s in Kinmount or Boyd’s in Bobcaygeon, or Carew’s in Lindsay. “Where Rokeby Lumber is now there was what we called Mansfield’s Jack, where men would sort the logs coming down the river into booms destined for the various mills. I’ve heard they had sorting jacks on Cameron Lake as well, but I never saw them. They also drove logs from Birch Bark Lake down Union Creek in the spring run off.”

In the fall of 1928, Percy moved to Oshawa, where his father owned a farm, which included magnificent orchards with apples, plums, cherries and pears. Gradually, he gravitated to Toronto where he was employed as a machinist. He would return to Kinmount, primarily in the fall, when a call would come for help at the mill, when work orders would come in. By 1945, Percy and his wife Flo had returned for good to the village. In 1946, he was working 9 hour days at Austin’s Mill for $2.50 a day.

Sherman regards the sawmill as an important ingredient in the development of Kinmount. “It employed 5 men, at least, just bringing in the logs. Then there was another 20 full-time employees working the mill in its heyday. “It will be an awful job to restore the mill to its original state. The big question in my mind is the proposal to operate the mill once it’s restored. Where will they get the expertise to do those jobs which haven’t been done for so long: the sawyers and planers?

“But the great thing about the mill was how you could plan for the future. You knew you had a living coming. It was a livelihood for local people for many years.”

© Copyright 2024 - Maryboro Lodge Museum