Almonte 45 years ago

It is almost precisely 45 years ago that I arrived in Almonte. I thought I should challenge myself to mention some of what has changed.

Personalities:

Beginning with the most important topic – people – the alteration has been an evacuation.

Angus and Carlotta Morrison former owners of “Burnside” on what is now Strathburn Street. Angus was President of the Rideau Club and formerly a lead personality in Canada Air. Carla grew up in a mansion in Texas that made Falcon Crest look shabby. My guess is that there was some Mexican blood mixed with the oil in her veins.  She liked her drink (I believe it eventually killed her); and at Christmas she was generous with the tellers at Bank of Montreal on Mill Street.

Howard Campbell lived in “Old Burnside” just down the road overlooking the Mississippi River. It was the childhood home of John Bell son of the famous geologist James Macintosh Bell who, according to John, maintained the residence with a “skeleton staff of fifteen“. Howard was a recent widower when we first met. John Bell and his wife Halcyon Bell retired to the country together, operating a 100-acre spread off the Clayton Road.  They had no electricity for the first thirty years they were there.  John loved to hold court in his country residence but he was like a fish out of water if he socialized beyond the bounds of his property.  Halcyon was a marvellous cook. She decorated with exquisite Lalique vases and Russian samovars. Their in-ground pool overlooked a meadow; and John kept an tropical frog terrarium.

Bernard Cameron lived kitty-corner the Morrisons at the “Glen“, an even more exotic mansion built I believe by one of the textile giants in Almonte. Bernard and I (and his brother John) had been in boarding school together at St. Andrew’s College, Aurora.  Subsequently John and I attended Dalhousie Law School contemporaneously.  John ended buying the practice in Nova Scotia of Senator Henry Hicks who was an acquaintance of my parents. Bernard was a teacher, married to one of the notable Dunn family (of Dr. Dunn fame).  Bernard died a tragic death at the hand of a disgruntled gentleman.  Bernard’s parents (the predecessors of the Glen) were John and Peggy Cameron.  Peggy was from a wealthy family in Halifax. John drove his Cadillac with the dignity it deserved.  Whenever they entertained at Christmas (an annual open house) they served nothing but tea and cakes, no booze.

Speaking of booze, Charles James Newton and his wife Betty Newton lived on Elgin Street across from John H. Kerry and Marion Kerry and their next door neighbour Stewart E. Lee. Jimmy Newton when I first met him was Crown Prosecutor for the County of Lanark. He later became a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice (Ontario). Jimmy and his wife Betty had a curious relationship.  While they pretended to maintain their alliance, neither made a secret of their external relations.  Betty was friendly in particular with James Collie of Collie Woollen Mills in Almonte and the Village of Appleton. Jimmy was a terrific public speaker, always witty and humorous. Stewart Lee’s Home Hardware Store was originally on Mill Street.  The building adjoined the Masonic Lodge (the bottom portion of which was used to expand the hardware business).  The hardware store later became part of Lee Valley owned by Leonard Lee of Almonte. My father had formerly been Leonard’s commanding officer as a result of which I believe Leonard always extended to me a similar respect.

Air Commodore Donald Blaine and his wife Norma Blaine lived in another stone mansion secluded on Main St E in Almonte between Union St N and the railway. When I once visited Norma to have her sign some documents she was in bed recovering from a cold.  When a train happened by the entire house shook and disturbed her writing. Norma made dolls, most of which she gave as gifts to children in her family, some of which she sold.  The doll faces were handmade ceramic and the hair was real. They were all collector’s items. She said most of the doll collectors were men.

John Carson (JC) Smithson was among the crew I first met.  We may initially have encountered one another at the Mississippi Golf Club where JC and his cronies were members.  JC and his wife Rachel Smithson were kind enough to entertain me.  We all lived on St. George Street at the time. I met JC regularly at the local Land Registry Office of which he was Registrar and his Deputy was Bessie Moses. JC and I had other encounters through the Masonic Lodge of which JC was a member as well of Grand Lodge in Toronto. I ran into Bessie’s young son (who since died as well) in a nightclub in Key West, Florida.

Nicholas Magus was another golfer.  More significantly for me he was part of the six men (including me) who regularly had breakfast at the Superior Restaurant on Mill Street. For over thirty years we met there every business day of the week at 8:30 am.  The bacon, eggs and sausage finally got to me when I had open-heart surgery in 2007 and I stopped going to the “Soup” (as we called it). Nick was among the Mill Street business operators; he ran a hairdressing salon which was purchased by Wayne Lockhart.

Louis Peterson of Peterson Ice Cream Company was perhaps the most notable businessman at the time. When he started his business he reputedly encouraged the sale of his product by also selling ice boxes – then a luxury in many homes. Louis’ notoriety was in close competition with Johnnie Graham who operated the grocery store across the street at the bottom of Mill Street. Johnnie sold his business to Gord Pike who ended building the large grocery store now owned by Guido Patrice. Until Pike built the new store I shopped on Mill Street for groceries.  There was no need for a credit card; everything was cash or credit. That changed when Pike opened the new store.

Harry Walker lived on the mainland (somewhere just off Ottawa Street) when we met. But JC Smithson told me Harry had been part of the baseball team from Coleman’s Island. I met Harry when he was manager of the local LCBO.  When he was processing my purchase one day he eyed the fob of my watch chain. It had belonged to my grandfather; the fob was the Masonic symbols of the square and compass.  Subsequently Harry and JC Smithson rushed me for membership in the local Masonic Lodge Mississippi No. 147.

It is impossible not to mention Stan Morton who with his wife Marg Morton operated Stan’s Variety Store on Mill Street.  Until his death Stan was the most senior businessman of Almonte.  He was subsequently succeeded in this distinction by John Hawley Kerry who to this day maintains the privilege. A close competition for this elevation was that of Raymond A. Jamieson QC who practiced law in Almonte from 1921 (when he was called to the Bar at Osgoode Hall) to 1976 (when he retired and I took over his office at 74 Mill Street).

Geography:

Metcalfe Park where I now live was nothing but field when I came to Town.  On the other side of Town where Patrice’s grocery store and Levi’s hardware store now are was also a field with the exception of Britt Thurston‘s automotive business near the roundabout (which also didn’t then exist).

Where the hardware store now is was Howard Sadler‘s farm property. Howard had a fight with the original grocery store which used to be located at the bottom of Mill Street. The competition was for the sale of strawberries which Howard raised on his farm. When the grocery store began reducing prices incrementally by $.50, Howard apparently tore up his entire field of new strawberries in testimony to his unwillingness to submit to crass commercialism.

Next to the LCBO was a dry cleaning plant owned by Fred Roy and his wife Jessie Roy.  They both lived in Ottawa but they had no children and were hopelessly dedicated to Almonte.  Fred died of throat cancer (the original symptoms of which he persisted to ignore until too late). George Gomme spoke at an anniversary celebration for Fred and Jessie at their home in Ottawa. George was a former Minister of Highways for the Province of Ontario.  Even more interestingly than that distinction however is the fact that George was a “home boy“, one of the English orphans sent to Canada to work as a labourer.  It is small wonder George practiced speaking in tongues at the Anglican Church of Canada.

Frank Murphy was, like every other owner before him, an Irish born medical practitioner who owned and inhabited (as his residence and surgery) the stone home on Clyde Street built by William Mostyn in about the 1860s next to the Anglican Church at the corner of Brougham Street. Mostyn, unlike Murphy, was a teetotaller and a member of the anti-connubial society. I believe Mostyn was also Church of England contrary to the Roman affiliation of the subsequent owners.

I owned two homes in Almonte, the first on St. George Street and the second (where I lived from 1980 to 2014) in the Gale Subdivision.  The Gale Subdivision (the first subdivision in Almonte) was developed by Albert T. Gale and named after himself (Gale Street), his wife Evelyn and daughter Laura (I lived on Laura Crescent). There was nothing beyond those three streets. The development of Mississippi River Estates adjoining Paterson Street by the water tower was not yet in motion.  Paterson Street (down which I regularly bicycled) was a gravel road only.