R. Tait McKenzie

There is one historical date almost any Canadian student will recall in a flash.  ​​A federation of colonies in British North America – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario – joined together to become the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. Only months before that date R. Tait McKenzie RCA was born. I live in the municipality in which he was born; and, I am acquainted with the homes in which he lived in nearby Ramsay Township and the Mill of Kintail.

Robert Tait McKenzie RCA (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.

The additional fortuity of my acquaintance with R. Tait McKenzie is his friendship with Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.  McKenzie and Naismith had not only their personal commonality; they extended their celebrity to the United States of America.

Known as the Brothers of the Wind, McKenzie and Naismith were lifelong friends.  These two pioneers in their own right lead incredibly similar lives.  Both attended McGill University as directors of Gymnastics and became medical doctors.  They held similar values when it came to the importance of developing both mind and body – that they went hand in hand.

Born and raised on a farm near Almonte, Ontario, Naismith studied and taught physical education at McGill University in Montreal until 1890 before moving to Springfield, Massachusetts, United States later that year, where in 1891 he designed the game of basketball while he was teaching at the International YMCA Training School.

The number of well-known people from the Town of Mississippi Mills is quite extensive. The artistic community runs a close second with the athletic achievers. People like Stephen Brathwaite, Dale Dunning and Sue Adams have distinguished themselves by association with vaunted galleries throughout the Dominion of Canada.

The bucolic environment in the Town of Mississippi Mills has contributed to the influx of retirees from the nearby City of Ottawa (itself a collection point for senior government and military leaders). Angus Morrison who owned Burnside mansion in Almonte was the former president of the Rideau Club in Ottawa.  Maj. General Lewis MacKenzie now lives in Almonte. And of course Leonard Lee of Lee Valley Tools fame also made Almonte his home.