Discover Almonte

Jun 22nd, 2018 | By | Category: Adventure, On The Cover

By Katharine Fletcher

Back in 1819, David Shepherd recognized that a set of waterfalls along the Mississippi River would provide power for both grist and sawmills. The settlement took the name of this first European settler: Shepherd’s Mills. As time progressed, its name altered, but eventually citizens adopted the name of then-renowned Mexican General Almonte in 1855 and, after the Post Office recorded it four years later, it became permanent.

Why name a Canadian hamlet after a Mexican General? Good question. Back in the day, after the War of 1812, Britain and her burgeoning colony mistrusted the USA, as did Mexico – and General Juan Almonte was much in the news as he was defending his country’s border against American threat. In 1853, Almonte became Mexican Ambassador to the USA – and so, because of his heroism and determination, his name was a fitting choice for the townspeople.

However, we Canadians pronounce the village “AL-Mont.” The Spanish pronunciation of “Al-MON-tay” never caught on.

By 1870, there were many mills and production of textiles here was so impressive that Almonte was called “the Manchester of North America” which “boasted 30 stores and nearly 40 other businesses.” (almonte.com)

Today, the former Rosamond woolen mill has a new life as the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum.

What to do and see in Almonte? Here are a few things my friend and I did a few weeks ago. But take note: we only scratched the surface. There are many more things to discover.

Mississippi Valley Textile Museum
3 Rosamond Street East

The former site of the Rosamond Woolen Mill, today the MVTM, is a museum, art gallery, and gift shop. Built in our Canadian year of Confederation, 1867, the impressive structure boasts an upstairs museum introducing us to how woolen textiles were fabricated.

We were delighted to find a weaver in the museum, and it’s likely that you will too when you visit. That’s because volunteer weavers enjoy showing visitors how textiles were – and are – woven. This artist-volunteer demonstrated how to create tension on wool, with bags she placed on the lengths of yarn stretched behind the loom. In fact, we learned that setting up the warp and weft is a lengthy and precise task demanding precision and (lots of) patience.

From the MVTM, find your way to Mill Street with its’ many shops and art galleries.

General Fine Craft
63 Mill Street

Richard Skrobecki is the owner-manager of this fine craft shop, which features outstanding crafts created by Canadian artists, many of whom are Ottawa Valley and West Quebec residents. Whether it’s the exquisite ceramics of Chandler Swain, or Sayward Johnson’s astonishing woven copper and copper alloy fibre art, you’re sure to enjoy the colours, textures and fine workmanship of Skrobecki’s collection.

Pêches & Poivres
89 Mill St, Almonte

Pêches & Poivres presents us both with fine foods and materials and utensils which suggest ways of how to prepare and present them beautifully. I live in the country and undertake long drives to friends’ homes for pot-luck meals, where my contribution is often a tossed salad. I was delighted to discover a flexible silicone “lid” for my salad bowl, in the shape of an artichoke. Sold! From dark chocolate to cheeses, go here for inspirational gifts for others – or treat yourself.

Before leaving, I asked the owner for a recommendation for lunch. “If you like fish tacos like I do, there’s no place like the Heirloom Café,” she advised. Done!

Heirloom Café and Bistro
7 Mill Street

Overlooking the river, this heritage mill now houses this restaurant where we both ordered the same thing: fish tacos and blueberry-mint tea. The meal was deliciously flavourful, beautifully presented, and with that all-important addition of attentive service, we echo the recommendation.

The Herb Garden
3840 Old Almonte Road

Just beyond town there’s a beautiful heritage farm, now known as The Herb Garden. Talk about heritage and history: it’s part of the original 70 acres of land deeded to 19-year-old Irish immigrant Michael Meehan in 1824.

The buildings are marvelous: admire the hand-wrought dove-tailed joinery and hewn logs of both the barn and outbuildings of what’s now known as Comfrey Cottage.

Today, The Herb Garden is owned by Nathan and Katey Gervais. They purchased the already well-established gardens in September of 2017 and are continuing the former owners’ dedication to growing and selling herbs and other perennials.

Comfrey Cottage doubles as an art gallery. So, until
Sept. 27 you will find art on display created by West Carleton Art Society artists.

Useful websites

• For information on Almonte and other Mississippi Mills villages: exploremississippimills.ca

• Ottawa Tourism: www.ottawatourism.ca

• West Carleton Arts Society: westcarletonartssociety.ca

• The Herb Garden: herbgarden.ca

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author and visual artist. Visit her at katharinefletcher.com or facebook.com/KatharineFletcherArtist/

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