BY TYLER BATTEN
Lower Doon remains a pristine environment, largely unaffected by urban sprawl.
The cityscape has seen definite changes over the years yet it remains historic. Little encroachment has occurred, leaving the forest primeval. With its rich display of heritage architecture, distinct hard and soft woods and its contained location, the Lower Doon riverbank community retains its history at every corner.
The area follows the Grand River from Old Mill Road onto Mill Park Drive where it eventually merges with Homer Watson Park.
Willow Lake was a local swimming hole which existed from the beginning of the 1800s until the middle of the 20th century. This popular attraction was a place where young and old would visit during the heat of summer to swim, sunbathe and high dive.
The lake was generated by the damming of Schneider Creek, which powered founding father Adam Ferrie’s mill — the Pioneer Mill — in the early 1800s.
The Cluthe family operated a poultry farm near the lake and used the lake privately.
By the start of the Great Depression the Cluthe family decided to monetize their lake and brought in loads of sand from the nearby dunes to synthesize a beach. This beach was complemented by a high-dive platform later on.
The lake was used by locals for swimming in the summer and skating throughout the winter.
In 1968, during a colossal rainstorm, the Grand River watershed flooded causing the Doon mill to collapse. With the mill destroyed Willow Lake drained into the Grand River.
Just up the road from Schneider Creek sits the historic Homer Watson House.
This homestead and adjacent mill were built by Adam Ferrie in 1834 and were later acquired by Homer Watson, a local artist who was born in Lower Doon.
Watson had a deep affinity for Doon and believed “there is at the bottom of each artistic conscience a love for the land of their birth.”
In 1880, Watson finally sold his first painting to governor general Marquis of Lorne for $300. This sale secured his life as an artist. The painting, entitled Pioneer Mill, was gifted to Queen Victoria and to this day remains in the private quarters of Windsor Castle as part of the royal collection.
Watson lived at the Ferrie house until his death in 1936, all the while creating masterful landscape paintings of his surroundings. He is buried in the region’s oldest cemetery, Doon Presbyterian Cemetery, just up Mill Park Drive from the Pioneer Mill.
The house was later renamed the Homer Watson House in the late artist’s honour.
Like any city undergoing development, the community has not escaped the impact of urban sprawl.
“Pike are very rarely able to cross the barrier at Old Mill Road,” said Chris Bunt of Biotactic Inc., who has studied fish migration in Schneider Creek since 2004. “We have manually transferred them but according to our telemetry work they cannot pass the barrier under most flow and temperature conditions each (spring.)”
A stream barrier, used to slow erosion caused by an increase in storm water, has stopped these fish from reaching their natural spawning ground.
Issues involving the nearby water treatment facility have also caused some controversy.
In October 2012 a University of Waterloo research team found male fish to be producing eggs downstream from the effluent deposit site of the water treatment facility. Gender mutations in male fish have been linked to heavy estrogen in surface water.
Many of the names have changed, and alterations made, but the creeks and rivers and many of the original structures remain, making Lower Doon truly a place of living history within Waterloo Region.