Alton Mill Arts Centre

Art in Unexpected Places

Inspiration can strike in the most unusual places, whether that’s when you’re exploring a new area, reading a book or even doing a mundane chore or task. How about when you find art in unexpected places? There are plenty of historical wonders in York Durham Headwaters where the community has given them a new life through the power of art. They’re bound to inspire you in more ways than one!

Let’s begin at the Olde Mill Art Gallery and Shoppe in York Region’s Township of King. Housed in the Schomberg Feed Mill, the building dates back to the 1800s where it was connected by rail to the rest of Canada. Up until the railway was abandoned in 1927, it was the heart of town. However, one could say that it was given a second chance once it became the Scruffy Duck Restaurant and the Olde Mill Art Gallery and Shoppe! What truly makes it unique is that the Olde Mill is an artist collective, meaning you’ll always find something new to appreciate as members are joining all the time. You might even catch one of the nine artists in residence in action including fabric artists, woodworkers, painters and more!

The Olde Mill Art Gallery and Shoppe

Just a stone’s throw away, you’ll find the Richmond Hill Group of Artists that call the Mill Pond Gallery home. An invaluable part of Richmond Hill’s history as a resting place for travellers heading to Toronto, this sawmill is what made the area attractive for settlement in the late 1800s. While the days of the sawmill are long gone, this area of Richmond Hill is still highly sought after thanks to its natural beauty. It helped to inspire the Richmond Hill Group of Artists to open the Mill Pond Gallery in June of 1994. The gallery gives local artists the opportunity to showcase their work while also inviting the young and old to participate in workshops, demonstrations and critiques by visiting artists. 

Next, head to Bowmanville in Durham Region and pay a visit to the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington. The VAC is not just a not-for-profit art gallery but also an art education centre with the mission of sharing contemporary art with the communities of Durham Region. A marriage of the industrial and artistic realms, it’s housed within the old Cream of Barley Mill. Built in 1905 by John Mackay (aka the Barley King of Canada), it has been revitalized to house classes accessible for all in drawing, painting, photography and ceramics as well as ongoing Contemporary art exhibitions. While art and industry are often seen as opposite sides of the spectrum, the VAC shows how each can inspire and support one another.

Visual Arts Centre of Clarington

Jump back to 1969 when a collective of passionate art enthusiasts known as Whitby Arts Inc purchased the town’s Grand Trunk Railway Station. As it was slated for demolition, this Victorian-style train station from 1903 was saved along with a piece of Whitby’s history to create the Station Gallery! Step inside this century-old building where you’ll find four gallery spaces with each one looking to educate, communicate and inspire the diverse community of Durham region in meaningful ways. The Station Gallery runs a number of programs both in-person in their fully-accessible space as well as virtually that are suitable for all ages.  

Station Gallery Whitby

Nestled in a nook of Halton Hills is where you’ll uncover the cluster of creativity known as the Williams Mill Creative Art Studios. The oldest and most iconic is the three-and-a-half story, sunflower-yellow building – the Original Williams Sawmill. Its unique structure from the logging days lends well to the Williams Sawmill’s current life as studio spaces thanks to the lack of load-bearing walls and posts (thank you, rod system!). Private tours are available by appointment so visitors can witness the beautiful creations actualized by the artists within. You’ll also find the Main Street Studios, Glen Williams Glass Art Collective, the Courtyard and Stone Building Studios, Parkside Studios and finally, the Glen Tavern. From glass art to ceramics to mixed media, you’ll be blown away by the contemporary talent found within the walls of this creative collection in Williams Mill.

Williams mill

Last but certainly not least, the Alton Mill Arts Centre is the most well known of these unexpected artistic gems in York Durham Headwaters. While the village of Alton was once a bustling centre for the industrial era, the Alton Mill is one of two remaining 19th century stone mills in town. Surviving a flood and a fire, its days of manufacturing textiles and rubber products are long gone as Jordan and Jeremy Grant of Seaton Group worked with local woodworker Carl Borgström to convert the east section of the mill to studio spaces in 1999. Collaboration with Jefferson Mappin, a previous president of the Headwaters Arts Festival, saw the Alton Mills Arts Centre transform into the unique mix of studios, galleries, workshops, specialty retail and event space complete with restaurant you see today. It quickly revitalized the town of Alton by creating a destination that art enthusiasts from all walks of life could enjoy!

Alton Mill Arts Centre
Alton Mill
Alton Mill Arts

While their early industrial years have come and gone, these unsuspecting artistic abodes are bound to inspire all who walk through their doors. Spend some time exploring the unique galleries and studios of York Durham Headwaters and you’ll quickly learn just how much there is to discover.

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