Not everyone is comfortable living in a small town like Almonte. I am. It’s not that I haven’t an interest in large urban areas like New York City and Paris, France; but when it comes to working and living, I am decidedly more animated by a bijou environment. No doubt the preference is because I haven’t the chutzpah for corporate resolve. Indeed it is consistent with my dislike of shopping malls and employment in the federal government that I withdraw from those venues. When on March 1st, 1978 I began my solo law practice, sitting in Raymond A. Jamieson’s swivel wooden chair at his large writing desk, glancing out the second floor window onto the back lots of the historic adjoining Mill Street buildings, I knew it was for me.
Mr. Jamieson – who visited me at his old office from time to time – told me that there were formerly several lawyers with offices on Mill Street, all above street level. Apparently the offices adjoined one another. He told me that when it came time for a coffee break and a chat, the lawyers would tap in code on the walls separating their offices as a signal to meet downstairs on the street.
During the heyday of the woollen industry in Almonte there were reportedly eight hotels. The Almonte Hotel (located across Bridge Street from the Canadian Legion) was the only hotel that lingered upon my arrival in Almonte in 1976 when I first worked for Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield, Barristers &c. At that time the former adjacent General Motors dealership of Stewart C. Burns had been overtaken by Karl Morgenroth who in turn wasn’t long shifting to ownership with Britt Thurston on the edge of Town where Levi Home Hardware now stands.
As a rural practitioner much of my legal work concerned local real estate. The focal point was the Land Registry office on Brougham Street near St. Paul’s Anglican Church. J. C. Smithson was the Land Registrar at the time. If a lawyer appeared with a deed for registration and the document was inadequate for some reason, “JC” (as he was popularly known) would not dismiss the lawyer but rather seek to correct the document in his office at the back. This was a distinction from the procedure in the City; and many of the city lawyers who drove to Almonte expressly for the pleasure of the rural outing were grateful to JC for the accommodation. Among those city lawyers who drove to Almonte was George Burke-Robertson of the distinguished firm Burke-Robertson, Chadwick, Ritchie and Urie, Barristers &c. Burke-Roberston’s daughter Alexandra (“Sandy”) now lives on Martin St N with her husband, Dr. David Atack (neurologist). Mr. Burke-Robertson could be seen arriving in Almonte in his sleek, black Buick Riviera. The last time I had seen him previously was in the Federal Court of Canada (Appeal Division) in his silk gown along with twenty-five other lawyers representing West Coast Transmission Company Limited and various other oil and gas corporations in matters relating to the McKenzie Valley Pipeline Hearing by Marshall Crowe, Chairman of the National Energy Board. Mr. Burke-Robertson’s rural preference for Almonte was not entirely unexpected as he resided in Dunrobin on the Ottawa River.
My first office was at 74 Mill Street, the former office of Mr. R. A. Jamieson QC above what had previously been the shoe store of the notoriously crotchety Philip Neadham. Mr. Jamieson retired from practice in 1976 after approximately 54 years of practice. He paid rent at the time in the amount of $25 per month. When the building sold to Teddy Ferrill the rent went up to $100 per month. I moved my office around 1980 to 77 Little Bridge Street next to where Baker Bob now is and where the flower store formerly was belonging to Haas and Donna Fallak. I first rented from Jack Levi and Billy Guthrie who not long afterwards sold the building to me.
Johnny Graham ran the former Almonte Gazette. The building is located on Mill Street adjacent the (new) Post Office. On the other side of the Post Office was the Peterson Ice Cream Company started by Louis Peterson and later carried on by his son Jack Peterson. Adjacent to Peterson Ice Cream Company was the former woollen mill in which Pinecraft (an Ottawa-based company) had a showroom on the ground floor which at the time was the only portion of the several storey building which was inhabited.
Up Mill Street towards Little Bridge Street was Steadman’s Variety Store which was subsequently purchased by two brothers from Ottawa. Eventually Stephen Brathwaite would consume many of the older properties on Mill Street including notably the Old Post Office and Thoburn Mill directly across Little Bridge Street. It is thanks to Stephen Brathwaite and his many financial supporters that Almonte has preserved its historic downtown area.
Naturally what made Almonte terrific was not only its riparian location along the Mississippi River, its grand old homes on Union St N, Church Street and Elgin Street, the immediacy of a hospital, doctors, dentists and chiropractors, churches and retail stores, lawyers, surveyors and architects but most significantly its people, its characters, its friends and acquaintances.
My stunning introduction to Almonte’s social fabric was through Mr. Justice C. James Newton QC who lived on Elgin Street not far from Stewart Lee and John H. Kerry (who also was a noteworthy light of Almonte acclaim). Each of these men molded the fabric that was to characterize my entire Almonte experience for which I shall be always grateful. They in turn associated and cavorted with others, men and women, who complimented and completed their private social gatherings, among them Nicholas and Jean Magus, Bob and Joyce Hill.
Laughably I have become one of those dinosaurs of Almonte society whereby I unwittingly look down my nose at new arrivals as I must remind myself I once was 45 years ago! It still takes time to get to know people, especially amid this isolating pandemic. But alliances are gradually forming and imperceptibly strengthening. Almonte remains unequivocally my favourite location for socializing, even if only in the garage, on the elevator or in the aisles of the grocery store.