Water Powered Sawmills in Southwest Arm

by Gord Robbins, Reprinted from The Informer, July – September 1994

A common sight in Southwest Arm 100 years ago was the waterwheel. This was a unique method of operating a sawmill. Water was obtained from the tributaries of the chain of ponds surrounding the community. Where the brooks came together a dam was built creating a reservoir to run the water wheel which in turn through a number of reduction wheels and gears ran the rotary saw. In order to ensure a plentiful supply of water, dams were also built on ponds on back of the communities for backup. Millions of feet of lumber were produced in Southwest Arm by this method.

The water powered sawmills operated in the arm until the late 1950’s to be replaced by the diesel motors. (There were some steam driven – stationery – engines before this.)

Most of these mills were operated in partnership with as many as four or five families sawing in the one mill. Because the water supply (high in spring, low in summer) was limited, this meant some mills operated around the clock in springtime. Depending on when you turn came you might end up sawing by lantern light.

I remember in the early 1950’s (I was only a boy) working the inside mill at Hatchet Cove with my father. The chute from the dam through which the water ran to turn the water wheel had a small side chute. This smaller chute of water ran under the saw blade and directed the sawdust out of the mill. The other work was much the same as in the modern mill.

The following is a partial list of sawmills in Southwest Arm. I know I have missed some. If you know of any please let me know for a later issue, also who owned the mills. There should be some interesting stories on this subject, if so, please let me know.

Leonard’s Beach – 1 St. Jones Within – 2 Hatchet Cove – 2
Hillview – 2 Deep Bight – 2 Adeytown – 1
North West Brook – 2 Queen’s Cove – 1 Long Beach – 3
Hodge’s Cove – 2 Little Heart’s Ease – 4 Bailey’s Cove – 1