The wooden millrace  (photo gz - 2002)

Punished because Francesco
by giorgio zanetti

The punishment had been severe.
The following verdict was issued for two thirds of elementary school pupils: a month without recreation. The motive for this punishment was caused by Francesco who, unintentionally but for good reasons, had to …

But let's proceed in order.

A couple of years ago I was in Port Rowan, a small town in southern Ontario located on the northern shore of Lake Eire.
The occasion was the proclamation of the old mill of the county as a national historical monument. The Backhouse mill, dressed in a recently painted red, flaunted its beautiful and ancient bulk in the large and green sunny park on a splendid June day. This mill is one of the oldest and one of the best preserved in all of Canada. It was built in 1798 by the Backhouse family (later known under the name of Backus) on a piece of land bought the previous year by Patriarch John, whose family operated it for 5 future generations.

The building is located on a verdant and placid hillock and along the bank of a stream with the fresh name of Spring Creek. The building, three and a half floors high, is based on stone foundations, with walls built with squared and massive trunks.
This construction, typical of the Canadian mills of the eighteenth century, has undergone only minor interventions in its two centuries of life. Even the machinery, still functioning, has remained practically intact with the possibility of producing 20 barrels of flour per day (one barrel contains approximately 88 kg of flour).

It is perhaps a miracle if the mill still exists, given the extreme risk of fire that is always present in an environment made of wood and covered with flammable dust, not to mention the danger that had run during the war of 1812 between Canada and the United States, a period in which several other mills in the area were destroyed by fire started by enemy soldiers. Nobody could explain why this mill was spared.   [cont.]

The back of the mill with the overshot wheel   (Photo gz - 2002)


In 1956 the Backhouse family sold the mill and the adjacent vast land to the "Long Point Conservation Authority" which meticulously cared for both the mill and the other period buildings that are located in the park.
Among the numerous structures stands out a school with a curious octagonal shape, built in 1866 and transported here from a valley to the north of Simcoe.
A dam was built about fifty meters upstream of the mill to collect the water from the nearby stream in a small millpond. A long wooden millrace was then built from the dam to channel the water over the wheel through the sluicegate (water wheel dimensions: 3.30 meters in diameter x 1.20 meters wide; weight of 2 tons; 24 oak buckets).

Among the dignitaries who attended the ceremony was a certain George Backus, a direct descendant of John Backhouse, who told the story of how he decided to preserve, for the use of the whole community, the mill and the wood, rare example, in Canadian territory, of plants native to American Carolina.

In addition to participating in the mill dedication, another goal of mine was to be able to gather information about an Italian pilot who, back in 1927, had to stop right here in Port Rowan due to complications with his seaplane aircraft engines. I had been told that if anyone in town knew about the event, it was George Backus.

After the ceremony I introduced myself to Mr. Backus and asked him if he knew anything about the Italian pilot. Affable and enthusiastic person replies to me like this: "But of course! It was Francesco De Pinedo; I was ten and we were in class; when word spread that a seaplane had arrived in the bay, almost all the school emptied ignoring the orders of the principal and teachers and ran to the pier, we even helped in the docking of the plane and then one of the mechanics of the village worked to fix the problem. "

He then went on with a mischievous smile: "The act of disobedience cost us a month of recreations". I didn't believe in my ears; I was in front of a person who had witnessed an event that happened 75 years earlier and described it with the passion and clarity as if it had happened yesterday.   [cont.]

Francesco De Pinedo


The commander Francesco De Pinedo, one of the greatest pilots in Italy and the world, was concluding the long journey that began on February 13, 1927 from Cagliari, passing through South America, then continuing to the United States and Canada from where, after a few stops, he would reach Trepassey Bay, in Newfoundland, and from there return to Rome (he eventually arrived in Ostia on June 16).

That morning on May 17, 1927, he left Chicago at seven o'clock, together with the co-pilot Carlo del Prete and the mechanical engineer Vitale Zacchetti, in the direction of Montreal with the twin-engine S-55 of the Savoia Marchetti, called "Santa Maria II". But after just over an hour of flight, the temperature gauge of the front engine (the two engines were placed one in front of the other) signaled a sudden increase in temperature.

The crew tried to remedy the loss of water by pumping it from the reserve tank, but suddenly the situation deteriorated when the rear radiator also began to overheat. They therefore decided to find a village along the shores of Lake Eire where they could repair the problem. And so they settled in Port Rowan just beyond the point of land and the vast sand dunes that advance for a few kilometers into Lake Eire, forming a large and pleasant bay.

From the bright eyes and the tone of the passionate voice that Mr. Backus sported, while telling the story of the escapade, it could be understood that he thought he had gone to the pier and had been an eyewitness to a memorable and unique fact, well worth the punishment of a month without recreation.

We can therefore exonerate our Francesco for causing the uproar in Port Rowan primary school.

It is a pity that the principal and the teachers did not know how to make use of this event to stimulate the imagination and curiosity of all the students.

Maybe they were other times ...

Old photograph of the mill

Section of Port Rowan Harbour
(foto gz - 2002)

The lighthouse at the entrance of Port Rowan Harbour (foto gz - 2002)

Page created by giorgio zanetti
10 January, 2020
Ottawa - Canada
The Italian version of this article was published in the weekly Italian newspaper "L'Ora di Ottawa", March, 2004