When Aaron Ciancone discovered the ninety-year-old turbine in the dirt-filled basement of the Cambridge Mill, he recognized it as the perfect symbol of the building’s past, present, and future.

The president of the Landmark Group, which owns the Cambridge Mill as well as several other restaurants in the area, discovered that the turbine, used from the 1920s until shortly after the Second World War, was the lightest, smallest, most efficient water-powered electricity generator for its time—which meant its revolutionary design fit perfectly with the Cambridge’s Mill’s latest manifestation: modern, elegant restaurant, lounge and wedding/special event venue that’s a model of green building and energy efficiency.

“A great example of adaptive reuse through the years”

The heavy stone structure on the banks of the Grand River started its life 160 years ago as a grist mill, then became an electricity generator—the only one on that stretch of the Grand—then went through several other incarnations, including an auto-parts store and four different restaurants.

When Landmark took over, it stripped the building back to its stones and beams, spending $11.5 million on renovating the facility stem to stern—new look, new layout, and, most importantly, a new, high-tech approach to energy consumption and conservation.

Green building from the foundations up proves a success

When BizEnergy profiled the Cambridge Mill last year, it was still under construction—a sloppy, muddy mess, just one scant month away from opening. General manager Todd Diamond remembers those early days with a disbelieving smile.

“There were 24 weddings prior to us actually opening the doors to the public,” he says. “It was construction until noon on Friday, then clean-up from noon until five. They were having weddings in this space, and that space—but that’s what you have to do sometimes.”

That’s certainly what you have to do when you’ve planned for 30 weddings in your first year of opening, and instead manage to book 130.

Old-world appeal meets modern chic

Open now to the public for just over six months, the Cambridge Mill is a model of antique charm—heavy wood beams, reclaimed wood tables—married with understated modern elegance.

Diners have a choice of spending their time in the formal dining room, the more casual all-season patio space, or a cozy lounge/bar. Special events have rooms all their own, ranging from a 200-person dining/reception area to an attic meeting room complete with Juliet balcony.

The building’s site doesn’t hurt its appeal either: most rooms have spectacular views over the rushing Grand River, with floor-to-ceiling windows and strategically placed balconies and patios making the most of the natural appeal.

Invisible sustainable design

But while the beauty of the building is surely a large part of its success, what goes on behind the scenes is an equally important part of ensuring the building is sustainable over the long term.

We originally twigged to the Cambridge Mill when we discovered that part of the their massive renovation included some cutting-edge energy efficiency technology, including:

  • A geothermal, closed-loop heating/cooling/energy recovery system, using water from the Grand and recaptured heat from the ventilation hoods to power in-floor radiant heating and pre-heat hot water and make-up air.
  • Reflective film on the floor-to-ceiling windows, which reduces heat by 60 percent.
  • Motion-sensitive ventilation fans in washrooms.
  • On-demand ovens and high efficiency appliances.
  • Programmable, digitized building controls, which allows managers to automate temperature controls and reduce waste.

Moving through growing pains

Now, a few months into operation, Diamond explains that, after a couple of early hiccups, all systems are up and running smoothly.

“We needed a little rework in terms of the placement of the extraction point from the river,” Diamond says. “We needed to use a different type of screen filter than what was originally planned for, because in the late summer there’s quite a bit of sediment that comes through. It took a little love, but it’s gotten to the point now where it functions really well and is reliable.”

The course of energy efficiency never did run smooth, it seems. That said, though, the river-water system is expected to save significant amounts of money after it meets its payback period of 8-9 years, so a few adjustments are par for the course. The energy-recovery system in the kitchen has an estimated payback period of 3.5 years.

An important part of the community

True to its parent company’s moniker, the Cambridge Mill is a landmark for what used to be the Town of Galt. And while there are guests from all over the province, Diamond says the local community has been important in helping the facility succeed.

“The Cambridge, Galt and Blair community has shown exceptional support,” says Diamond. “They all want the area to grow and to succeed. Happily, there have been a number of new developments that are happening in this downtown Galt area.”

Local, local, local

The fact that the restaurant uses as much local produce as possible helps them to feel part of the community.

“We strive to have the freshest-quality ingredients from local vendors as close as possible,” explains Diamond.  ”I think the local guests align themselves to that philosophy and understand that we are part of the community, and we seek to strengthen that part of the community in general.”

The menu certainly reflects a local approach.

“This spring being so warm, we’re looking forward to the first crops of Barry’s asparagus just down the street,” laughs Diamond.

The dinner menu also includes pork from Willowgrove Farm, outside of Stratford, as well as a Hundred Mile Salad featuring organic greens, hemp seeds, cranberries and goat’s cheese.

Green is good for business

Diamond says the facility has booked more than 200 weddings for the coming year, with a projected capacity for 400—so business, so far, is booming.

“I think it’s a testament to the building that the family’s created here, and the quality of the food and beverage services, and the experience that we provide,” says Diamond.

He’s not taking anything for granted, though.

“It’s actually quite shocking to see how much it’s been embraced, how quickly. I think this is a great example of a community supporting and getting behind a new addition to the community.”