Cumminsville – Dakota
Situated one mile apart, the histories of Cumminsville and Dakota will be forever linked not only by their geographical proximity, but by the cataclysmic explosion in 1884 of a gunpowder factory that decimated both communities. The villages’ stories illustrate early successes of Nelson Township while also exemplifying the dangers presented by the manufacturing industry of the period.
The Village of Cumminsville was settled by a grain merchant named Titus Cummins in 1844. For many years Cumminsville was a bustling village which would rival the towns of Lowville and Kilbride in significance. In 1877, the village had a population of 200 people, a grist mill, a general store, a telegraph and post office as well as the Schooley and McCoy Furniture Factory (Turcotte 1989).
The site that became known as the Dakota Mill had a very different origin. Dorothy Turcotte (1992) explains that there is a legend about the name ‘Dakota Mill.’ The legend suggests a group of Dakota Indians camped nearby on government land. When it was time for them to move on, there was one girl who was too ill to travel. A local family offered to take care of her. As time passed, the small girl grew up to marry a local boy. When the mill was built (sometime in the 1840s), the local people named the Mill (and by extension the settlement) after the young Indian girl’s tribe (Turcotte 1992).
While Dakota did not have the same services as Cumminville, it did have a major factory. The Canada Powder Company factory was built in 1854, employing approximately 200 employees from surrounding communities of Kilbride, Cumminsville and Dakota. This factory produced gunpowder and used materials that were imported from Turkey and Chile (Turcotte 1989). The powder was used for blasting along the railway’s route through the Canadian north (McDonald 2011). The factory was the pride and joy of the surrounding communities.
On October 8, 1884 there was a mighty explosion at the gunpowder factory. Stories have been recorded describing that the blast could be heard all the way from Owen Sound to St. Catharines and that people in Hamilton saw the mushroom cloud of smoke and felt the earth shake (Turcotte 1989). The cause of the explosion was never solved. The Powder factory was never rebuilt. Both Cumminsville and Dakota suffered greatly from the explosion. With the loss of one of the area’s major employers and the significant loss of buildings, the population of the communities moved to neighbouring villages to resume their lives.
During the explosion, the mill in Dakota, then referred to as Harvey’s Mill, survived unscathed. The mill operated as one of the last remnants of Dakota until November 1979 when it burned down. The ruins are still visible today.
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