The article is unlike the previous TAMARACK magazine articles, as Tom Mills has been deceased for over a quarter century. Therefore, our information on Tom's life was obtained through his friends and family.
Thomas Henry Mills was a gentle, laid back man who was born on September 7, 1882 in Eganville, Ontario. In his younger days, Tom was a logger and a river man. In 1919, he began working for Imperial Oil in Eganville and later made the first fuel deliveries to the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited construction site in Chalk River. Although he whittled his whole life, he never had a chance to focus all of his attention on carving until after his retirement in 1947.
Native statues were a common trend found among Tom's carvings. Every carving of Tom's was unique and never had a price; he simple gave his carvings away to friends, family and children. Tom's carvings are a constant reminder of his quiet, modest nature and ensure that he will never be forgotten.
By Tyler Chartier and Heidi Curtis
Tom O'Brien (Deep River, Ontario)
"Tom Mills was my wife's uncle. I met him back 'bout 1935. He was born in Eganville on a farm. He lived in Eganville all his life, except when he got older and retired. His wife died and then he went to Kirkland Lake to live with his daughters. In his early years, when he was a young man, he worked in a quarry in Eganville. At that time, the workers were taking stone out for making basements. I met him at my wife's mother and father's house. He worked for the Imperial Oil Company when they made deliveries with the tanker and horses, you know. That was a long time ago. I don't think he was a carver then, but he was a whittler.
He never started carving 'til he came up to our place [on the Ottawa River]. He used to be up there with us a lot and he used all those branches and driftwood that would wash in on the shore. He made lamps out of burrs off trees and he made nice axe handles. All my axes had his handles on them, but I haven't any now. I had to give my axes away. They were really well made out of ironwood that he got out of our own bush. He made toolboxes and stuff like that too. He also carved Gordie Howe [Detroit Red Wings hockey player]. He showed his grandson the carving and his grandson said 'You should send it to Gordie.' Tom wouldn't because he was the type of person, you know, that thought it wasn't much good. The grandson parcelled it up and wrote a little note and sent it. He got a nice letter back from Gordie, said he had it with his other trophies.
Geez, we had an awful pile of his carvings, but when we came here [The Long Term Care Centre], we didn't have a lot of room so we gave a lot away. I would say we must have had 25 or 30. I like the birds the best out of all the carvings and I like the grain of the wonderful sumac.
He didn't want to sell his carvings, you know - he wasn't carving for the money. It was an enjoyment to him. If he liked you, he'd give you one or two. He liked Marion [Tom O'Brien's wife] pretty well and I guess I wasn't too bad! I knew him really well because we spent a lot of time together when we were out at the cottage. We'd go up to the cottage and we'd be there alone for a weekend.
Tom Mills was the type of person that never hurried and never seemed to get upset. If he liked you he liked you and if he didn't like you, he wouldn't bother with you. He was a very quiet man and he sure loved the bush. He took his own time; I guess that's why he lived so long. He never got too excited. I always said that if the back of his pants were on fire, he wouldn't hurry!
He smoked White Owl cigars; that was his worst habit. I can remember when we were building up on the Ottawa River, we were going to pour cement and a bunch of guys from work were coming up to help me. Tom came with them and he lit a White Owl cigar up in the car. By the time they got up there, they were all sick! They were sick from the smoke!
He carved right up until the day he went to the hospital. When he went to the hospital, he lived a couple of weeks and then he passed away. He was an old man then."
Tom O. Wright (Nepean, Ontario)
"Tom Mills was my grandfather. He was born in a ditch when his mother was working in the fields outside Eganville, Ontario.
The times were not easy for my grandfather. He worked in the lumber camps and in the lime quarries around Eganville. If you see a picture of him, you will see pock-marks on his face. As a young boy, I saw those marks and took them for granted. Later on, I asked him why he had them. He said it was from when he would hit the lime in the quarries with a sledge-hammer and the lime would come up and bed under the skin on his face and leave a permanent mark.
TAMARACK Magazine: Exploration of Valley History - Issue VIII