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“A.D. McMillan, Fruit & Vegetable Grower”
Remembering the McMillan family

Friends of Freeman Station has received a generous donation from Burlington's Mikalda Farms Ltd. (Norton family) to sponsor the passenger Waiting Room at the restored Burlington Junction Station in memory of their McMillan ancestors.

Chq presentation - SAM_2827 - 8-9-2016

It’ll be designated the “McMillan Room” to commemorate the multi-generational contributions of Alexander Donald and Charlotte Campbell McMillan and their descendants, including daughter Effie McMillan, and her son Frank McMillan and his wife Lillie May Boniface McMillan, to the community of Freeman and Burlington over the past 140 years.

They were the “market garden McMillans.” It was in 1874 that Donald purchased the first 10 acres of land on what is now Lockhart Road, and founded “A.D. McMillan, Fruit and Vegetable Grower.”

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McMillan land map  But it was Frank and his Uncle John (Effie’s brother) who really grew the business in the early Twentieth Century to successful heights, eventually to some 70 acres of prime farm land just West of the QEW.

Lillie May, Frank’s wife, was quite the entrepreneurial lady in her own right as a musician, music teacher, and property owner, and was an inspirational partner to Frank but unfortunately died young.

At various times their farm produced rich crops of apples, plums, pears, cherries, raspberries, tomatoes, turnips, cabbages, asparagus, corn, onions, potatoes, carrots, beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, peppers, pumpkins, and strawberries.  Diversified, it was noted, and “…one of the reasons the McMillans were successful for such a long time…”  But it wasn’t easy.  The weather played havoc with early plantings.  Some years, late frost or protracted drought brought near disaster.  There were boom years and near-bust;  traumatic events on the world stage, family illnesses and crises.  But they worked hard, and persevered.

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Al Norton, writing in his McMillan family history book,* notes:

... the increased use of rail to ship goods marked the end of (shipping produce via) the commercial wharves. There are many references in my grandfather Frank McMillan’s diaries to having their produce shipped by train (through the Freeman Station -Ed.) north to Orillia, Burks Falls, Bracebridge, Powassan, Collingwood and other northern Ontario towns and many times a year to Toronto; as well as having several cars of manure each year brought in for fertilizing the hot-beds and covering strawberries.
"...None of the McMillans ever saw themselves as out of the ordinary, but they were in fact extraordinary: they carried on with what today would be backbreaking work, day after day, year after year through many difficult times and heartbreak, with very little complaint.”

And it was big business. A 1925 diary notation reads, “By the end of the day on Saturday April 4th, the McMillans had transplanted 20,000 tomatoes, 10,000 cabbages and 12,600 peppers…

AD McMillan truck

McMillan descendants are still growing fruit today.

McMillan descendants were also part of early school bus transportation in the community. Frank and Lillie May McMillan’s daughter Doris married Grant Norton, and that is the connection to Al — Cecil Norton was his paternal grandfather, and Grant Norton is his father, still alive.

In his book Al writes,

"(In 1936) Cecil had bought the Pierce Arrow... in anticipation of taking my Dad and the neighbourhood kids from the rural area around Tansley in Nelson Township to Burlington High School that September... Otherwise, their education would have ended at the eighth grade. It was the start of C. H. Norton Bus Lines: a company that grew to six hundred buses by 1974..."

Cecil Norton and one of his first school buses - 1947

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pierce-arrow-4-door-sedan-05

(A 1936 Pierce Arrow, similar to the Norton vehicle)

The “McMillan Room” Station Waiting Room will be available as meeting space for use by small groups. Completion of its restoration to early Twentieth-century appearance is now assured, and is almost finished, including newly paneled and painted walls, flooring, restored ceiling treatment, and reconstruction of the original windows including the distinctive Jane Irwin oval window at the end of the room.

Our thanks to the Norton family for their generous support.

July, 2016

* A Hard Day’s Work: a history of the McMillan market gardening family, Al Norton, 2015.

Editor’s note: the last parcel of the McMillan farmland, at the corner of Greenwood and Francis Road, was gifted by Al’s cousin, Lorne McMillan to the City of Burlington and became a part of Greenwood Cemetery. A final and lasting McMillan legacy for the Burlington community.

 
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Video by Kevin Davies; photography by Bob Chambers, Bob Miller, Nikki Wesley, John Mellow, Joel Waterman, Denny Williams, Alan Harrington, Al Pettman and others (by permission)