Life in the country

There is within me a long-standing urban bias which irresistibly and oft times voraciously compels me to honour traffic, not so much the vehicular kind as the figurative urbanity of life, the busyness of the streets, the flourishes to and from the theatre, the concert, the art galleries, the market, the offices and the retail stores. The suavity and worldliness of the urban citizens sometimes collide with the breeding and mannerliness of their rustic cousins but there is undeniably an atmosphere of exhilaration on the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue and the commotion surrounding Bergdorf Goodman and the Plaza Hotel.

The Plaza Hotel (also known as The Plaza) is a luxury hotel and condominium apartment building in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. It is located on the western side of Grand Army Plaza, after which it is named, just west of Fifth Avenue, and is between 58th Street and Central Park South (also known as 59th Street) at the southeastern corner of Central Park. Its primary address is 768 Fifth Avenue though the residential entrance is One Central Park South. Since 2018, the hotel has been owned by the Qatari firm Katara Hospitality.

Perhaps it is my minority and insignificiance in the urban hive of such stellar accomplishment and endless hourly activity which enable me unwittingly to escape notice, allowing me coincidentally to observe unobstructed the fruition of imaginativeness and eccentricity within such a complex and vast environment. Yet as serpentine and immeasurable as it may be the urban life never competes with life in the country.

When in 1976 in a huff I announced to my friends and acquaintances that I was moving to Almonte from the city, the first and indisputably memorable question posed to me in response to my relocation was not, “Why?” but, “When will you be coming back?” That was 48 years ago. Since then frankly I haven’t had a moment or the inclination to consider much less reconsider moving back to the city.  This is not to suggest I object to the city; rather that I rejoice in the country. I have learned to understand and accept that life in the country is no more suited to everyone than life in the city. Remarkably years ago upon arriving in the country – and perhaps as memorably as the first question asked of me upon leaving the city – an elder store clerk here in Almonte told me that he had never been to the city. It was initially construed to be an outstanding deprivation. I have since learned to think otherwise.

The importance – if indeed there is any – of this trifling observation is that I can look out the drawing room window upon the distant fields and nearby river and proclaim my complete lack of regret. Nor is this solidarity deficient of ingredients. Only recently for example during a communion with an urban-type I confessed my diminished familiarity with the current catalogue of legal counsel in the city. It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard of Hyman Soloway or Gowling and Henderson (now I believe abbreviated to “Gowlings” or perhaps more notably amended to “Gowling Lafleur Henderson”).  The last time I had seen Hyman Soloway was when I was in the Supreme Court of Canada alongside the likes of George Burke-Robertson (whose daughter by the way resides in Almonte). By further coincidence the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada (the court of first instance in the McKenzie Valley Pipeline drama in SCC) was Jake Urie, father of David Urie, a colleague at St. Andrew’s College (where by further coincidence I had met “Gordo” Henderson, son of the esteemed Gowling’s fame).

Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP (Gowlings) was a Canadian and international law firm, with about 700 legal professionals in 10 offices in Canada and as well as London, Moscow, and Beijing. The firm offered legal support in business law, advocacy/litigation and intellectual property law. On July 8, 2015, Gowlings announced that they would amalgamate with UK firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co to create a new international law firm called Gowling WLG.

But as I say these brief acquaintances are by now all remote.  They have since been replaced by R. Tait McKenzie, James Naismith, Hon. Mr. Justice James Knatchbull Hugessen of the Federal Court of Canada and his wife Mary Rosamond Hugessen, Leonard Lee of Lee Valley Tools, Angus Morrison of Canada Air and his wife Carlotta Morrison, Dale Dunning (artist), Stephen E. C. Brathwaite (artist) and his sister Noreen Young (puppeteer), Shirley E. Deugo, Mr. Justice C. James Newton, Col. John R. Cameron, Edward Harrington Winslow-Spragge, John and Halcyon Bell, Keith Blades, Peter Mansfield, Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, R. Louis Irwin and his wife Peggy Irwin among others.

Young began her lifelong career in television puppetry at CJOH/CTV and CBOT/CBC in Ottawa, notably with Hi Diddle Day (1967–1976) (a show about a female mayor named Gertrude Diddle, in a small town called Crabgrass) and Pencil Box (1977 – 1979). The former received an Ohio State Award and the latter received ACTRA’s Best Children’s Programme in 1978. She was known for building puppets for shows including Today’s Special and Téléfrançais. She became an independent television producer with Noreen Young Productions Inc., which, with CBC and Telefilm Canada, produced Under the Umbrella Tree, a popular CBC Television children’s series that ran from 1987 to 1993 on the CBC nationally and from 1990 to 1997 on the Disney Channel. It was also dubbed in French for Canal Famille and currently streams on the Canada Media Fund’s Encore+ on YouTube in both languages. For that show, she was Executive Producer and performed the character “Gloria the Gopher”.

I mention these personalities only to exemplify that the rural governance exceeds the mystic pastoral gems which are for the most part mutually shared by Country Mouse and City Mouse. This in turn affords however the distinguishing feature of life in the country; namely, the hidden (though unqualified) character of rusticity which is for others as compelling as urbanity. Nor I hasten to alert is there anything either simplified or unsophisticated about life in the country (not least of which is the acoustics of the Old Town Hall).  Indeed it corresponded to an awakening to discover the many pathways insinuating life in the country both metaphorically and less poetically. Rather than complicate the assertion with needless explanation, it perhaps suffices to recall, “If she knows why she loves him she doesn’t!” This is especially so when I haven’t an appetite to enlarge the size of our community.  Indeed it pleases me to note that since 1976 the population of Almonte has increased very little.

Almonte’s first European-bred settler was David Shepherd, who in 1818 was given 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, and Shepherd sold his patent after his mill burned down. The patent’s buyer, Daniel Shipman, rebuilt the mill and the settlement became known as Shipman’s Mills by about 1821.

Most of Shipman’s Mills’ early settlers were Scottish and later Irish. A textile town almost from the start, by 1850 it was the home of seven busy woollen mills. It was one of the leading centres in Canada West for the manufacture of woollen cloth. The construction of a railway line to Brockville stimulated the economic growth of Almonte. During this time of rapid expansion, the town changed its name from Shipman’s Mills to Ramsayville, and then to Waterford.

In 1869, Almonte was a village with a population of 2,000 on the Mississippi River in the Township of Ramsay, County of Lanark. It was a station of the Brockville and Ottawa Railway. By the 1870 the town had thirty stores and forty other businesses. Almonte was incorporated as a village in 1871, and was incorporated as a town in 1880.

On 10 September 1909 the town suffered a major fire, which destroyed several buildings on the main street and caused $75,000 dollars worth of damage.

Origin of the name Almonte
When, in 1855, the newly-created Canadian post office pointed out there was already a Waterford in Canada West, the town needed another name change.

Relations between the United States and Great Britain had been antagonistic since the Revolutionary War and later the War of 1812. Border wars between Mexico and the United States in the 1830s increased this antagonism. Mexican general Juan Almonte had fought honourably in these latter wars, and by 1853 he had become Mexico’s ambassador to the United States.

In the ensuing climate of Canadian mistrust of American territorial ambitions, General Almonte’s name would have been well known to Waterford’s citizens. Though there is no decisive evidence as to the final motive for the name change, it appears likely that Waterford saw Almonte as a “principled David fighting a Goliath interested in swallowing up all North America.” The proposed name change was accepted by the Combined Counties of Lanark and Renfrew in June 1855, although the post office did not record the new name until 1859. Whenever the name may have been formally accepted, it led to Almonte being the only community in Ontario, and likely Canada, to be named for a Mexican general.