At the end of the 17th century the Sulpicians reserved lot no. 42 situated on the point, for the construction of a windmill. The point consisted of a peninsula that jutted out into Lake Saint-Louis. The practically treeless point was the ideal place to catch the wind, the driving force of the mill. In 1708, a contract is signed between the priest Michel de Vilermaula, Léonard Paillé and his son Charles for framework. The masonry contract was awarded the following year to Jean Mars. The dimensions and materials needed for construction are mentioned in the contract. Also mentioned in the contract, is the construction of another building to house the miller. Work is to begin in the spring of 1709 and is set to finish at the end of 1710. Therefore the colonists, also known as "eligible voters", were able to have their grain ground there and as payment to the lord of the seigneury had to pay one bushel of grain in every 14 (the right of banality).
Although never raided, the mill's loopholes are evidence of its military role. It was also used as an observatory. In 1837, Amable Saint-Julien acquires the mill from the Sulpicians and in 1854 sells it to Benjamin Dubois. The mill will be in use until September 1st 1866. In 1866, La Fabrique purchases the land to build a convent for the Sisters.
The Pointe-Claire windmill, as it stands today, is a result of many transformations that occurred between the years 1866 and today. Prior to the transfer of lot no. 42, no transformations are undertaken, but the condition of the structure deteriorates and subsequently the wings are lost between the years 1866 and 1880. Afterwards in the 1890's the Sisters replaced the roof, which is a state of ruin, with an observation platform. They had a wind engine erected on the platform to provide the convent with water.
Restoration of the windmill begins in the 1950's. The land is solidified, the roughcast removed and the stone repointed. The conical roof was rebuilt in August 1962 and new wings added in 1967 to mark the convent's centenary. By May 1967 the windmill is looking sensibly the same on the exterior as it did in its heyday. Unfortunately the interior could not benefit of the same result due to the loss of all the original mechanisms. The Société pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine de Pointe-Claire has taken steps to restore the windmill in its entirety.
Context within the History of Quebec Architecture
The Pointe-Claire mill, in common with most mills in New France, was built to a popular French design. It was a tower mill, a cylindrical fixed stone structure with a wooden pivoting roof that enabled the wings to be oriented into the wind. All the surviving windmills from the French Colony belong to this category. Usually, these types of windmills were either erected on parcels of land which bordered onto a river, foreland such as Pointe-Claire or on an elevated plateau like the mill LeBer in Senneville.
Although the usage of windmills was fairly widespread, it was never able to surpass the water mill, due to the higher efficiency and quality of the latter. If the use of the windmill surprises some due to the abundance of the surrounding waterways, which favours the use of water mills, this can be explained by the fact that the installation of a windmill was far less expensive and had the capacity to run during the majority of the winter as opposed to the water mill. The windmill was used to grind basic grains such as wheat, barley, rye and buckwheat. Pointe-Claire Mill was used to grind wheat only.
Characteristics of the wind mill
The tower mill
The Pointe-Claire tower mill's stonework is made of quarry stone. The walls of the mill were 4 French feet (1.30 m) thick at the base. Inside, the mill measured 12 French feet (3.90 m) in diameter by 24 French feet (7.80 m) high. A French foot equals 1.06575 English feet or 32.484 centimeters.
Built at a time when fear of the Iroquois was still rife, that mill was also designed to serve as a redoubt in case of attack. The walls are pierced with many loopholes which confirm its military function. The mills in Senneville (West-Island) and Pointe-du-Moulin (Île-Perrot) also have loopholes.
A mechanism situated in the frame of the roof
A characteristic of the tower mill is the fact that the entirety of its mechanism is situated under the cap. Although the Pointe-Claire mill has since lost its mechanism, we still know how it operated. The orientation of the wings into the wind is made possible by a movable roof or cap rotating on a wooden winding track built out of oak and greased with suet thanks to a long tail pole. The brake wheel, a large gear wheel set in to the windshaft, transferred the force of the sails to the wallower (another gear), which then transferred the force to a vertical axis, the quant or top spindle. This spindle turned the runner stone resting on top of the bedstone.
A two-door system
Generally, all windmills had two doors opposite each other; when the sails were turning in front of one of them, the miller could safely come and go by the one on the other side.
Meunier tu dors...
Around 250 windmills were built in Quebec. Today, of that number only 18 remain standing, 4 of which are on the island of Montreal. With the exception of Senneville (1686), the Pointe-Claire mill is the oldest windmill on the island of Montreal. Remembering the important role of the French regime, in 1911, the city of Pointe-Claire adopted the windmill as its symbol. Amongst its heritage the windmill is in a league of its own being closely tied to the birth of Pointe-Claire and its ensuing growth.