April 8th

Who hasn’t gleefully shared their stories of serendipity! Yet as much as I relish a good yarn I am bound to declare upon sober consideration that there isn’t anything attaching to coincidence except  what we make of it. Certainly there’s no metaphysical or abstruse significance. Nonetheless the unfathomable import attaching to commonality is neither irrelevant nor entirely negligible – no matter by what failed reasoning or inspired spirituality it is arrived at.

Take today for example, April 8th, it’s my sister’s 70th birthday which I suppose is momentous enough on its own.  But neither can I escape the still lingering recollection of my father’s death on this same day in 2014 as he approached his 96th birthday on August 17. Quite apart from anything else promoted by his memory, I shall forever be grateful that he had such a long and productive life. It was only in the very lateral stage of his life that he showed any sign of ruinous declension from aging. Indeed I was surprised to learn that he had died in his sleep – in what I shall presume conveniently or otherwise was a peaceful passing if indeed Nature affords such poetic privilege. In any event I believe my niece Jennifer was with him the night he died; and that alone is an enormous blessing since he and she were close. So you can see this one day – with the benefit of coincidence and some necessary extrapolation – encompasses three uniquely important persons in my life, my father, my sole sibling and my god-daughter.

Indeed – and forgive me if this precipitous alteration appears to be an inductive leap – while bicycling on this my second day of escape from a 14-day mandatory quarantine I found myself once again reflecting upon the extraordinary privilege I have to connect with so many of the fine people and places in this remarkable town of Almonte. Hometown boys Dr. James Naismith (inventor of basketball) and R. Tait McKenzie (physician and sculpture) are but two of the many celebrated people I might mention.

James Naismith (November 6, 1861 – November 28, 1939) was a Canadian-American physical educator, physician, Christian chaplain, sports coach, and innovator. The same year he left Canada for Springfield, Massachusetts, he invented the game of basketball. He wrote the original basketball rule book and founded the University of Kansas basketball program. Naismith lived to see basketball adopted as an Olympic demonstration sport in 1904 and as an official event at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, as well as the birth of the National Invitation Tournament (1938) and the NCAA Tournament (1939).

Born and raised on a farm near Almonte, Ontario, Naismith studied and taught physical education at Montreal’s McGill University before moving to the United States, where he designed the game of basketball in late 1891 while teaching at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Robert Tait McKenzie (sometimes written MacKenzie; May 26, 1867 – April 28, 1938) was a Canadian physician, educator, sculptor, athlete, soldier and Scouter. Born in Ramsay Township, Lanark County, Ontario, Canada, he attended McGill University in Montreal as an undergraduate and medical student, and was an instructor in its medical school beginning in 1894. In 1904, he moved to the United States to teach at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the 1930s, he returned to the county of his birth, retiring to the Mill of Kintail in Almonte.

He pioneered physical fitness programs in Canada. During World War I, his methods and inventions for restoring and rehabilitating wounded soldiers laid a foundation for modern physiotherapy practices.

McKenzie was born on May 26, 1867, in the township of Ramsay (now part of the Town of Mississippi Mills), in Ontario’s Lanark County. A childhood friend was James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, with whom he attended McGill University. As a child, McKenzie did not regard himself as an athlete, saying,

“Looking back with an eye of memory I see a rather delicate child, sensitive at being called pale-faced, a roamer of the woods and fields with a mind filled with romance that Sir Walter Scott and Fenimore Cooper alone could instill, going unwillingly to school, distracted by thoughts of the Deerslayer…”

In preparation for McGill he attended Ottawa Collegiate Institute (currently known as Lisgar Collegiate Institute) in 1883 at nearby Ottawa, Ontario.

Though obviously I did not know either Naismith or McKenzie, there are many others whom I have been privileged to encounter. They are from every rung of the ladder; those who distinguished himself or herself in the evolution of the Town of Mississippi Mills (the 1998 conglomerate of the Town of Almonte, the Townships of Pakenham and Ramsay). The people who come to mind are the son-in-law of a Senator; a long-time waitress at an equally long-standing local restaurant; the son of a member of the Board of Directors of the Bank of New Zealand; the relatives of the Molson brewing family; the President of the Rideau Club; the owner of a berry farm who competed with the owner of a chain grocer; a Brigadier General; the founder of an international tool and medical supply company; the owner of an airline; a myriad of entrepreneurs, farmers and tradesmen; a Judge of the Federal Court; the first female lawyer of the County of Lanark; a descendant of the Rosamond Woollen Company; celebrated artists and a high-end art dealer; distinguished physicians, dentists and other health-care providers; committed provincial, municipal and infrastructure employees; ancient and modern teachers; and war heroes to name but a few.

The Town of Mississippi Mills was incorporated on January 1, 1998, by amalgamating the town of Almonte with the townships of Ramsay and Pakenham.

Almonte’s first settler was David Shepherd, who in 1819 was granted 200 acres (0.81 km2) by the Crown to build and operate a mill. The site became known as Shepherd’s Falls. That name was never official, however, as Shepherd sold his patent after his mill burned down. The buyer of the patent, Daniel Shipman, rebuilt the mill and the settlement became known as Shipman’s Mills in 1820.

This idle rumination filtered my mind as I cycled along the former railway right-of-way from the centre of town towards the Village of Blakeney along the Mississippi River. The transition is through one of the more historic avenues of the town. The pathway borders many of the century homes built for the mill owners and their senior partners. The generosity of the community is inescapable. I had for example the benefit of seeing the organic development of the superior hydro-electric plants which now heighten the attraction of the River.