Friends of Hope Mill: Preserving a Historic Sawmill

The milling equipment at Hope Mill is some of the most well-preserved machinery of its kind in Canada. Hope Mill has been used as a model for the preservation of other historic milling sites in Ontario.

William and Jane (Stewart) Lang arrived in Otonabee in 1832 from Scotland, purchasing 200 acres of ideal dam land on the Indian River to construct a carding and fulling mill. The original mill was 41 feet by 44 feet and built of heavily mortared limestone. The mill became a vital cog in the local economy, charging six cents per pound for machine carding (straightening of raw wool) and eight cents per yard for fulling (intentionally shrinking the wool before cutting). A shingle mill was added during an expansion in 1858.

William Lang retired in 1873, leasing the mill, the farm, and the dam house to his son-in-law, Richard Hope. By 1892, Hope had transformed the carding and fulling mill into a saw mill, converting all the equipment to accommodate the new saw house. The mill runs on two dam-powered turbines that produce 75 horsepower, or 55 kilowatts. A series of belts, gears, and pulleys deliver the 75 hp to a 48-inch-diameter circular saw. A thickness planer was added to the operation during the Second World War to meet the increased demand for finished lumber.

After 130 years of family ownership and operation, the mill was sold by John Miller Hope to the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority (ORCA) in 1966. The Conservation Authority made extensive repairs to the mill and operated it as a heritage demonstration site until 1993 when funding cuts forced its closure. In 2001, the Friends of Hope Mill, in cooperation with the Otonabee Region Conservation Foundation and ORCA, restored the turbines, saw house, and wood-finishing machinery. Today, the Mill continues to operate as a musueum and heritage demonstration site, replicating the process of cutting and finishing lumber as it was done in pioneer times.

OHS Executive Director Rob Leverty visited Hope Mill in December 2017 for an incorporation consultation meeting. Hope Mill’s Board of Directors (pictured above) incorporated through affiliation with the OHS on December 22. (Photo – Rob Leverty)

The on-site museum space now features an extensive collection of 19th-century carpentry tools, including planes, chisels, scales, adzes, spokeshaves, and more. This collection was donated by the late Joseph P. Sharp of Peterborough, Ontario. The Friends of Hope Mill continue to maintain and operate the site, offering free guided tours and saw demonstrations from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., every Tuesday from late-April to mid-October. On December 22, 2017, the Friends of Hope Mill became a not-for-profit corporation through affiliation with the Ontario Historical Society. They seek to advance the public’s understanding and enjoyment of Hope Mill by continuing to operate the machinery and manage the on-site woodworking museum. To learn more, visit

Daniel Dishaw, OHS Communications and Outreach Coordinator