History comes alive in scenic Cargill

·3 min read

CARGILL – The summer season in Cargill got off to a fine start this past weekend, with a steady stream of visitors – many local but some from as far away as Guelph and New Hamburg.

The scent of barbecued burgers was in the air. Artist Steve Mackie was busy working on a new mural – he’s painted all the other murals and characters – and there was a wonderful yard sale in front of the new location of Margaret’s Mercantile. As before, the shop showcases local crafts and products.

Life-sized, hand-painted characters were everywhere, making the perfect backdrop for a photo – clowning around is not only permitted, it’s actively encouraged. There was plenty to see and do – a new art gallery in the former home of Margaret’s Mercantile, the visitor centre and museum, a train, and of course, the delightful, historic village itself.

Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 health restrictions, tours of the mysterious Greenock Swamp will have to wait until next year, said Shannon Wood.

She and a small army of volunteers (including one of last year’s students) have brought Cargill’s history alive, and what an exciting history it is.

Wood described Henry Cargill as the driving force behind the village’s development. He established the saw mill, planning mill, grist mill, woolen mill and stave (barrel) factory, and purchased the Greenock Swamp because of its fine stand of white pine. Lumber king, farmer, merchant and politician, he was reeve of Greenock Township, the postmaster and represented the area federally for many years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

His wife was the Margaret for whom Margaret’s Mercantile is named.

“Henry Cargill was an important figure in Bruce County, and yet so little is known about him,” said Wood.

Celebrating Cargill’s history – both the village and the man – began in a small way three years ago, said Wood. At first it was just the visitor’s centre.

Then came Margaret’s Mercantile, a run-down building in poor condition.

“We asked if we could have it if we fixed it up,” she said.

Volunteers painted it and turned it into a shop featuring local products. The building was purchased and is now an elegant art gallery.

Wood said the group is doing the same thing with the old Bester’s Garage across the road – fixing it up and turning it into a tourist haven.

“We’re taking over, building by building,” she said with a laugh.

Adding interest and fun to Cargill are the many murals and characters painted by artist Mackie – a Walkerton man with an extensive background in commercial art. He’s owned a sign company in Toronto, and has painted backdrops for theatre and commercially, as well as for the Saugeen Valley and Maitland Valley conservation authorities. He also does murals in Mexico.

On the opening weekend, he could be found high on a ladder, working on his latest Cargill mural. Weather permitting, he’ll be there for several more days.

Many of the murals have been sponsored by OPG, and Wood gives them a lot of credit for promoting local history. The municipality has also been a wonderful supporter, Wood said, picking up the complete project after Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority relinquished its part in it. She made special note of the work done by Paulette Peirol, community development coordinator for Brockton.

“Regional Tourism Organization 7 has been incredible,” said Wood. They provided the initial $1,000 grant.

Others have contributed to the success of historic Cargill, including Huron Tractor which supplied the “dinky train” engine, Youngs Farms, the Walkerton Legion and all the local citizens who have participated in the project.

This is the community’s invitation to see history come alive in scenic Cargill this summer.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

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