Chatham Winnowing Mill

This nineteenth-century innovation made husking wheat a breeze.

Written by Mathieu Drouin

Posted February 15, 2023

Cereal cultivation has been practiced since the fourteenth century by the Iroquoian First Nations of the St. Lawrence Valley. When Europeans arrived on the continent, they quickly understood that colonization required food self-sufficiency, and the intensive cultivation of wheat was quickly adopted under the French seigneurial landholding system. Bread represented up to eighty-five per cent of the French settlers’ diets.

After the British conquest of New France, the seigneurial regime persisted until 1854. British authorities also established townships with freehold land ownership. At the end of the century, dairy farms replaced much of the cereal production in the St. Lawrence Valley; however, farmers continued to grow for their own consumption and for their livestock.

In the nineteenth century, Manson Campbell invented the Chatham winnowing mill, which facilitated the task of husking wheat and other cereals. This model, built between 1850 and 1900, became very popular at the turn of the twentieth century. After several decades of use, it was cleaned and restored for the Musée québécois de l'agriculture et de l'alimentation in La Pocatière — home to the first permanent agricultural school in Canada, founded in 1859.

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This object resides at Musée québécois de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation.

This article originally appeared in Cinquante Merveilles de nos musées: les plus beaux trésors de la Francophonie Canadienne. The special interest publication was part of Projet Portage, a five-year initiative to connect history lovers in French and English Canada, generously supported by the Molson Foundation.

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