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Jack and Linda Hutton | November 24, 2017

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From Issue No. 264 | December 17, 2017

The co-owners of Bala’s Museum say the discovery of an historic rock this week at the Bala Falls hydro plant work site may be the most important archeological find in the last half century of Bala’s history.
But Jack and Linda Hutton, who have written extensively about Bala history, worry that Swift River Energy Limited, the private developer, will not allow time for local historians and qualified archeologists to analyze the history behind the find and what should be done with it.
Word about the find spread like wildfire last Wednesday morning after Bala’s Museum leaked photos of the rock’s inscriptions on the Internet.  A photograph of two chiseled inscriptions on the rock was widely distributed at a meeting of the District of Muskoka public works committee and also at Queen’s Park.
Swift River responded later in the day with a release saying it had already informed the appropriate department at Queen’s Park about unearthing the historic rock.  It said that the two inscriptions dated 1888 and 1919 were a “mystery” and that an archeologist would be required to  shed some light upon that.
Jack Hutton, an award-winning  local historian,  has a different version of events.  He says he and his wife Linda received photographs of the inscriptions from a concerned individual who worried that they might disappear before the public was aware of them.  He says they released the photographs on-line  to make sure that did not happen.
“Workers at the SREL site used machinery to go down to the level where foundations will be laid for the new building and discovered a huge rock where a small sawmill once operated between the North and South Falls,” explains Jack Hutton.
“It was an historic find because the workers found a hand-chiseled inscription dated 1888.  We finally know when a timberframe and water wheel were created at that location.  A concrete border of that small sawmill is still visible plus the remnants of another foundation.  Those are important reminders of Bala’s past.  Will the Bala community have a say in what happens to them?”
The Huttons are fascinated by another inscription roughly 15 inches to the right of the 1888 inscription.  It is the expertly chiseled joint signature of W.A.T. and G.G. Birrell from London, Ontario, dated August, 1919. 
“This will have historians jumping up and down all over Muskoka,” says Jack Hutton, “because W.A.T. Birrell left his chiseled signature on the opposite side of the North Falls on Aug. 1st, 1919.   I wrote about it in a magazine column.  We had no idea until now that he was involved on both sides of the North Falls, and that he was probably helped create the small hydro plant as a stonemason.”
The Huttons applaud Swift River Energy for offering to bring in an archeologist but worry about the short timeline. They also worry that an archeologist hired by the company may be biased towards his or her employer.
Linda Hutton, an executive member of Architectural Conservancy Ontario’s Muskoka branch, says the rock messages are a unique opportunity to learn more about Bala’s past but that cannot be done overnight.  
“We hope that Swift River will give our little town time to consult our older residents and our local historians and perhaps our own archeologist to determine what should be preserved for posterity”, she says.    
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