Sherri and Geof Turner’s search for information on their century home in Steam Mill led them to the other side of Canada and at the same time, turned up some of the little-known history of the village.
While the Turners aren’t sure about the exact age of their house, documentation they uncovered indicates it was standing in the middle of the 1870s, and occupies portions of the land granted to Rev. Benaiah Phelps in 1769. Phelps may have built the house but this is conjecture. Eventually, part of his original grant was farmed by Planter descendants with the surname Reid. Robie Lewis Reid was born on his father’s farm there in 1866 and his memoirs describing his early life were discovered by the Turners through the Internet.
The Turners web search took them to the archives of the University of British Columbia. A document stored in the archives, Robie Lewis Reid’s autobiography, was for the most part a description of Reid’s career after he left Nova Scotia. When they obtained a copy of the document, the Turners found that Reid also devoted several pages to describing the Steam Mill he knew as a boy. Reid wrote as well about the Acadian homesteads and dykes, what he called the “mementos of a forgotten people,” that he discovered on the farm.
These “mementos” can be looked upon as evidence Steam Mill was once an Acadian settlement. A small settlement perhaps, but Reid mentions that the “French orchards” on his farm were still bearing apples and had been “grafted to better fruit.” By digging a little, Reid wrote, he found the “ashes of an old French forge.” Evident also on the farm were “depressions in the ground (that) showed where the houses of the French had stood.”
It’s almost certain that Acadians first dyked the tributaries of the Canard River before attempting to tame the main stream. Before being moved to its present site, the Turner house stood beside Reid Road (named for Robie’s grandfather and known earlier as Isaac Reid Road). Along a Canard River tributary near the original site, Robie found “by digging down a foot or so, the timbers of the original floodgate or aboiteau” of the Acadians. Reid speculated that the aboiteau was “the first dyke on the Canard River lands” and he may be right. Most local historians would agree with him.
In his memoir, Robie Lewis Reid included a few interesting tidbits about early Steam Mill. He mentions, for example, that a grist mill once operated on the Canard River, and that Steam Mill Village once had a large school building called Franklin Hall, of which the upper floor was used for public meetings and religious services.