Cream of Barley Mill was built in Bowmanville in 1806 on land purchased from Augusta Barber on a creek called Barber’s Creek, later referred to as Bowmanville Creek. Leonard and Timothy Soper built and operated the grist mill for many years. Originally it was a sawmill, then converted to a grist mill. Over the years, many different owners operated the mill. Over the years, the name of the mill has changed several times: “The Ontario Mill”; “The Soper Mill”; “The Caledonia Mill”; “The John MacKay Milling Company” and finally “The Cream of Barley Mill”.
Caledonia Mill was purchased in 1884 by Scottish immigrant John MacKay, known as “The Barley King of Canada.”. There was a time when the mill produced barley goods, flour, animal feed, split peas, and other items of grain. This was going to be the home of a new cereal called Hot Cream of Barley that would be made in the Caledonia Mill. Under the name The John MacKay Milling Co., MacKay designed and built the new equipment to mill barley, formulated this new product and installed it in the mill.
A huge hit throughout Canada, the Hot Cream of Barley cereal was shipped to the British Empire, East and West Indies and other areas in need of it. The mills were so busy that they had to run 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, just to meet the demands of the customers. MacKay was forced to import the majority of the barley needed because local farmers were unable to grow enough barley. Locals mention in their stories that a trainload of barley would arrive at the mill in the morning, and that evening it would leave with a big load of Hot Cream of Barley cereal.
The old mill burned down in 1904, as did a lot of older wood-frame mills, and was replaced in Rotary Park on 143 Simpson Ave in Bowmanville by the attractive brick building seen today. There was an established campground with tourist cabins just north of the millhouse at this time and in 1922 there was also a petting zoo added. In 1946 there were also tennis courts added.
Alfred Shrubb, a once-renowned long-distance runner, operated the Mill, the tourist camp, the park, and the cabins after James Morden acquired them in 1928. Cold breakfasts became popular with the rise of the ‘cold cereal’ in the 1950s, and the Hot Cream of Barley cereal lost market share. Quaker Oats, Kellogg’s, Nestle, and General Foods (Post) are the four cereal manufacturers that produced these new cold cereals.
Within a few months, the mill had been sold. What is now Bowmanville Zoo, North America’s oldest private zoo, began as the Cream of Barley Mill tourist park and campground. There are still several tourist cabins at the zoo that are now being used for other purposes. A group of Bowmanville Rotarians bought the mill property in 1964 and began putting it back into the shape that it once had been.
This mill building, which was bought by the Town of Bowmanville in 1973 and is now known as The Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, has been in service in that area for years. Cultural and artistic facilities like this one are not-for-profit organizations. An Ontario Heritage Act designation has been given to the Mill as a protected architectural heritage site.