Bennie’s Corners, Ramsay Township, County of Lanark

I’ve heard it said that if you get lost in the woods you end going in circles by trying to get out. This gyration sufficiently describes the outings I routinely make in the afternoon to divert myself – though the purpose is more adequately achieved.  By design I never want to get too far from home.  I know for example the coffee shop at Neat Café in Burnstown (under the capable stewardship of Mark Enright) is conveniently within my allotted time frame (anywhere from 2 – 4 hours depending upon how much time we seek to absorb). If by contrast we venture southward towards the St. Lawrence River (Brockville, Ivy Lea Club, Gananoque) the duration of the exploration is protracted.

Bennie’s Corners is known as the birthplace of basketball.  The Schoolhouse S.S. #10 is where James Naismith and his lifelong friend, the renowned (sculptor and physician) Robert Tait McKenzie, attended primary school.  It is here, while playing the schoolyard game “duck on a rock”, that it is believed that James Naismith was inspired to invent the game of basketball.  The famous rock is now located in the Naismith Museum housed in the Mill of Kintail (the Robert Tait McKenzie Museum) also located in the Bennie’s Corners area.

We in Almonte have shamefully always considered ourselves selective inhabitants of Lanark County. Though we have everything here one could possibly wish for – including doctors, hospital, schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware store, gas stations, churches (though as yet no synagogue of which I am aware), library, dentists, lawyers, museums, banks, accountants, bicycle trails, arena, bakeries, restaurants, mechanics and every imaginable merchant and trade – we have preserved ourselves from the urban flair which has come to characterize other municipal corporations of similar size.

Within the orbit of Almonte are several villages, Appleton, Pakenham, Waba, Blakeney (formerly Rosebank) and Bennie’s Corners. Like my erstwhile physician (who I might first add is a redoubtable world traveler) we prefer the smaller and more immediate renditions of society. As unperturbed as either of us is by the necessity of evening wear, we intentionally succumb to the magnetic allure of intimacy. Whether a seaside beanery in the Greek Isles; or a family restaurant in Sardinia; or at a barbecue on a patio overlooking the swimming pool and weeping willows at his country estate the attraction is always elemental and the same – familiarity, casualness, intimacy and superative food.

In an era when travel abroad (even across provincial boundaries) is to my knowledge currently under severe restriction, the appeal of adventure within one’s immediate scope is both topical and inviting. I am reminded for example of Lucia and Mapp, the English upper middle-class characters of novelist E. F. Benson, in the small seaside town of Tilling. They all swapped homes for the summer months.

That degree of collaboration is certainly beyond anything I’d ever attempt personally but it nonetheless captures the intrigue and detail of close-knitted associations. I recall shortly after arriving in Almonte to live (over 40 years ago) I was asked almost mockingly by an urban resident when I would be returning to the city. Some people are just not comfortable with the closeness of small communities. I on the other hand derive endless pleasure from so-called small potatoes! Nor  – let me be clear – do I consider it an accommodation.