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Local Origins: New Dundee

Photo: wilmot.ca

New Dundee, not far from Berlin (Kitchener) on the Alder Creek, owes its existence to the Millar brothers, Frederick, William, John and David from Dundee Scotland, probably in the 1830s. They named their new home New “Dundee” which means “in the hollow by the water” and started businesses here while still living in Berlin.

John Millar dammed the creek and built a sawmill. Later Frederick bought most of John’s properties and built a large grist mill which would continue operating until 1980. In the 1850s, he arranged for the completion of a village plan but the area did not attract many settlers because it was some miles from the main roads and the railway.

Later, Lutherans from Germany settled here as did some Mennonites from Waterloo Township. The Post Office was opened in 1852. By 1870, there were two churches, two hotels, a school, the sawmill and the flour mill, and factories that produced shingles, rakes and flax, as well as two stores and two hotels. The population was 250.

In 1904, Ezra H. Thamer opened New Dundee’s first Bell Telephone exchange, the New Dundee Rural Telephone Company, and started a small home-based creamery. By 1908, other investors joined the group, and the creamery became a larger operation, initially as the New Dundee Farmer’s Cooperative Creamery Company Ltd.; it was later renamed to the New Dundee Co-Operative Creamery Ltd. The operation became the community’s largest industry, processing 140 million pounds of milk in 1964, for example. The business closed in 1998 and the factory was dismantled in 2005.

The year 1980 marked the beginning of two decades of significant change for New Dundee. In 1980 the historic 133 year old Robinswood Mill burned to the ground. It was never rebuilt. With the creamery’s closure, came the end of an era and recognition that the village had become a bedroom community for residents working elsewhere in the Waterloo region.

It was time for the community to reinvent itself, and it has done so with a small but vibrant retail business sector.

Nevertheless, in 1981 the national spotlight shone on New Dundee after a group of residents founded the break-away hamlet of Dire Straits, complete with its own mayor, council and constitution. This was a humourous response to a statement made by the then prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, that his government would only provide assistance to people in “absolute dire straits.”

It is ironic that when the meeting hall for the Dire Straits council – Barten’s Inn – burned down in 1982, this light hearted act of civil disobedience also disappeared.

 

Sources: Wikipedia.ca, Wilmot.ca, newdundee.ca

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