Conestoga: Bog-Iron

Four and a half years ago my family and I moved to Conestoga; it is a very lovely village, and little by little we’ve begun to discover a little of it’s history, too.

One evening as I was reading a publication of the Geological Survey of Canada by C.W. Willimott (which was published in 1906 and suggested that old mines across Canada could be used as sources of pigment-colour for paints), I was surprised to read under the section on Siennas that Conestogo, Ontario was listed! This was too delicious for me to leave alone! I began asked around the village for more information.

I was introduced to Ernest Hackborn, a gentleman in his 80’s who’s father and grandfather all lived in the village of Conestogo. His father was a house painter, and after our talk, I was sent home with a Bick’s pickle jar of the chocolate brown pigment he used which was produced by the Goodworth and Sill’s Pigment Mill within the village. That mill burned down sometime before 1900. Ernest regaled me with the tale of how his father took his wagon back and forth collecting loads of the pigment afterwards. The colour became part of his standard repertoire and, if you know what you are looking for, you can still see it all over the village.

I loved having the historic pigment, but I still had a curiosity in the back of my mind as to where the bog-ore rocks were mined; it wasn’t until I put up a partial fence that I got to find out. In digging the three foot hole needed for the fence-post, the dirt I pulled from the hole changed with every shovelful.

First I had to get through the gravel that a previous owner had spread over the whole yard; then came sand; then wonderfully plastic clay; then I noticed chunks of bog-ore; at last I hit soil. The photo at the top of the article is of bog-ore from this dig.

As a painter and iconographer I find great pleasure in having Conestoga, where I live, as a source of such beautiful pigment colour.

This entry is one that has been inspired over many years and there are really too many people to thank if the truth were told. Still I would like to especially thank Ernest Hackborn, Marion Roes and Bob Baede for their generous help in piecing together some of the history of the old Goodworth and Sill’s Pigment Mill.

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