Note: In 2007 the Women’s Institute digitized the Tweedsmuir History of New Dundee. You can visit this project here.
Drawn by the lure of arable land, a trio of Millar brothers from Dundee, Scotland, arrived in 1830 and purchased from the Canada Land Company a number of lots on which one of the brothers, John, built a dam on Alder Creek to power a sawmill; the first business in the new settlement called New Dundee.
In 1846 another brother, Frederick, built a flour mill and a landmark home in the Carpenter’s Gothic style; today known as the Doctor’s House for the succession of village doctors who lived there between the 1870’s and 1940’s. This gothic structure with its well-kept lawns and flower beds has attracted the attention of artists and photographers from near and far.
New Dundee grew slowly; its shops serving the village residents and the farm families surrounding it. At one time New Dundee boasted services such as: carriage, blacksmith, harness and woodworking shops, meat markets, an apple dehydrating plant and as many as four sets of gas pumps. It was a regular Saturday night town. Residents would ride into town in a horse-and-buggy on Saturdays when the stores would stay open late and people would gather around the stove at the general store to catch up on the latest news.
For decades business life in this rural village was dominated by a handful of enterprises such as; the New Dundee Creamery, Buck Brother Hatchery, Robinswood Feed Mill (formerly Frederick Millar’s flour mill), Weber Home Center, Poth Furniture, Colman Hardware Store and Kavelman General store
( now The New Dundee Emporium).
The most significant business was the New Dundee Creamery which provided employment for more that 100 individuals. It opened in 1908 as a cooperative owned by the dairy farmers who supplied it with milk. By 1930 it was churning out 1,000,000 pounds of butter annually. By the 1960’s it had grown to 5,000,000 pounds plus more that 115 million pounds of milk. In 1982 it was acquired by Ault Foods. In 1997 Parmalat purchased it from Ault Foods. In 1998 the last dairy product was shipped out of the plant when Parmalat closed the creamery
due to restructuring. The closure cost the village its largest employer.
The year 1980 marked the beginning of two decades of significant change for New Dundee.
In 1980 the historic 133 year old Robinswood Mill burned to the ground. It was never rebuilt. With the creamery’s closure, came the end of an era and recognition that the village had become a bedroom community for residents working elsewhere in the Waterloo region. It was time for the community to reinvent itself. It has done so with a small but vibrant retail business sector.
Nevertheless, in 1981 the national spotlight shone on New Dundee after a group of residents founded the break-away hamlet of Dire Straits, complete with its own mayor, council and constitution. This was a humourous response to a statement made by the then prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, that his government would only provide assistance to people in “absolute dire straits.” It is ironic that when the meeting hall for the Dire Straits council – Barten’s Inn – burned down in 1982, this light hearted act of civil disobedience also disappeared.