by Barbara Martindale

In 1835 Ranald McKinnon came to a wilderness with only a Tavern and two log houses. He came from working on the Rideau Canal and soon began building mills whose products could be transported down the river by barge.

The area developed quickly in the beginning under the leadership of McKinnon whom engineered the Plank Road, later to become highway 6, linking Hamilton and Port Dover together in 1842. Both Seneca and Oneida Villages become part of the town and the streets were laid out by McKinnon, all named after counties and towns within Scotland, his birthplace.

Since 1856 the community newspaper, which is almost as old as the town itself, has been publishing under the name ‘The Grand River Sachem’. Sachem’s were traditionally chief among the Six Nations and were appointed by the clan mother to travel from tribe to tribe with news.
William Holmes made the first discovery of gypsum in 1822 on the banks of the Grand River about 1 mile below the village of Paris. In 1902 the Gypsum mine was opened by the then 20 year old ‘Alabastine’ company in Paris, Ontario.

McKinnon had his mills on the north bank of the Grand River but James Little, in approximately 1850 built the mill that now sits on the south shore and is known as “the Old Mill”.

First built by McKinnon in 1835 when the Grand River Navigation Company built its dams, locks and canals, the dam has stood as originally built for almost 100 years. In October, 1980, a ceremony marked the complete replacement of the Dam by the Grand River Conservation Authority. It was relocated just downstream from the original structure, 700 feet in length at a total cost of 2.3 million dollars.

In 1842 the first bridge was built, it was wooden with a swing structure that allowed boats to go through during the navigation days. Later in 1875 a six span iron bridge was built, minus the swing section, since the river no longer had a need for it. The iron bridge stayed until August 24th 1925 when it collapsed from the weight of a large truck carrying stone. Truck, driver, and span dropped upright 30 feet into the river. The noise of the span collapsing was described as the ‘bang that woke the town.’ Miraculously the driver was not injured. In 1927 the first reinforced concrete arch bridge ever was built. Today it is recognized as the only nine span bridge of its type in Canada.

Caledonia was Ranald McKinnon’s choice of name for his town as it was the nickname for Scotland. Today it is one of the fastest growing communities having tripled it’s population over the past twenty years. In the year 2003 Caledonia celebrates it’s 150th birthday.