When we talk about the Brick Mill in Yorkton, we have to ask why people are working so hard to save it. What is it about the mill that makes it so important to preserve? The Brick Mill Heritage Dinner, which sold out in its second year, was not only a way to raise money to preserve the building, but also an answer to that question.
The mill is a standing monument to the history of Yorkton.
The evening was focused on the history of Yorkton. Displays showcased, in photos, building through the city’s history, from those still standing to those lost to the wrecking ball over the years. The first speaker of the evening, Kenn Propp, spoke about the history of his own business, Harvest Meats, as it went from a family grocery store in Rhein to a giant international corporation. The second speaker, Kristin Catherwood, Intangible Cultural Development Officer at Heritage Saskatchewan, spoke about her job and why preserving the stories of people in the province matters.
To Catherwood, the story of the Brick Mill is something worth preserving as much as the building itself. And the story goes beyond the construction of the building, but the entire story, including how it was nearly lost due to neglect and the renewed interest in preserving it.
“If you look at the Brick Mill itself, it’s a historic structure built in 1900 that has all this amazing history and architectural value. It’s a beautiful building in its own right, but the fact that it’s still standing now in 2018 that has a story and heritage as well, there were many times that it was on the brink of being demolished and saved. I think that has become part of its story, more than just it used to mill flour, it went through these periods of neglect and disuse, and that has become part of its story.”
The difference between a building that inspires people to buckle down and preserve it and one that is lost to time often comes down to more than the structure, but also what it means to people, explained Catherwood.
“For instance, a building like the Mill, it milled flour, and that evokes connections to farming, and family farming was, and continues to be, a huge part of this area, and that’s one way where it might have importance to people that just a brick building doesn’t. When you think about how it’s connected to farming over time, how farming’s changing, and what keeps people rooted in Saskatchewan, suddenly you see connections that you didn’t immediately see.”
The difficulty with many buildings like the Mill is that once a building gets old, it becomes increasingly difficult to save it.
“Every time we do lose something like a grain elevator, it’s rare that happens without tears being shed or some kind of anger being expressed, because people don’t want to lose those things. The unfortunate thing is it takes a herculean effort to maintain these structures,” said Catherwood.
To assist the people in the Brick Mill Heritage Society with that effort, and other people interested in the city’s heritage, work towards preserving the stories that make up the city’s history, Catherwood’s role was more than just the speaker at the event. She was the host of a workshop the next day, with the goal to assist in preserving the city’s heritage.
“That’s where I come in, to help people figure out what, exactly, is important to us and furthermore, how can we do something about it?”
For Catherwood, the building is also a way for an outsider to get interested in the city.
“It piqued my interest and made me want to know more about the history of Yorkton and specifically that building. How is that building here and how did it come to be saved? Because I know buildings like that are here for a reason, because somebody made the effort to do that, or a group of people, they don’t keep standing on their own... I’m excited to see that momentum in Yorkton.”
Larry Pearen, with the Brick Mill Heritage Committee, is excited to see the buzz surrounding the mill project.
“The exciting part is keeping the momentum going.”
Right now, they are working to get the building stable, working on the foundation and repairs on the east wall. Once that work is complete, work will begin on the next phase of the project.
“We don’t know what the future is going to be, but it’s exciting to look forward, talk about the history and move it forward.”