June 2014 Field Trip
Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
Log Fence

In warmer weather, the patio would offer an idyllic view. Instead we huddled inside, grateful to be out of the elements. The meal was devoured with gusto.

Our last stop combined multiple attractions. The Mill of Kintail Conservation Area is well worth seeing in and of itself. Within the mill is a small, but lovely gallery, detailing the art of Dr. Robert Tait McKenzie (1867-1938) a renaissance man of many talents. The basement is devoted to displays on the life and contributions of another Almonte native son, Dr. James Naismith (1861-1939) the inventor of basketball.

Dr. James Naismith, inventor of Basketball.

Dr. James Naismith, inventor of basketball

As described in this excerpt about “the joy of effort”, from the Virtual Museum.ca, both men hailed from Ramsay Township (now Mississippi Mills):

"When he was only three or four years old Robert would meet James Naismith at the farm of Robert Young. They would remain friends their entire lives. McKenzie spent a good deal of his childhood and youth on the Young farm.

"On the farm the spirit of competition found its outlet in the daily task of the harvest field and in them Jim Naismith, the eldest, was the hero. Our heroes were such men who could make their team of horses pull a load where another had failed, who took pride in lifting the heavy end of the log, who could tame a wild colt, run a straight furrow with his plow, handle a canoe, shoot straight, or make a tree fall where he wanted it to lie."

McKenzie went on to be a noted athlete, physician, surgeon, soldier, philosopher and sculptor. He and his wife, poet and musician Ethel O'Neil, bought the debilitated mill in 1932 and restored it to striking beauty as a summer home and artist's retreat. Their spirit of inspired hospitality continues with the site's current role, as host to many local events and activities.

Display of the sculptures of R Tait McKenzie

For his part, Naismith took a degree in physical education at McGill before moving to the U.S., where he invented basketball at a YMCA in 1891, as a way to combat being cooped-up in winter. (Some concepts of basketball are said to be inspired by “duck on a rock” a tossing game played in the schoolyard of Naismith's childhood.)

Naismith spent most of his adult life in America as an educator, coach, athletic director, minister and military chaplain, eventually taking up U.S. citizenship. This helps explain why, growing up in the U.S., I never heard that the inventor of basketball was Canadian. Both nations are happy to claim his accomplishment!

Having lived in this region for 15 years now, it is embarrassing to admit that was my first visit to the Mill of Kintail - proving yet again the value of RTHS exploratory expeditions. If you've never been to these attractions, or have not gone in some time, they are well worth seeking out.

Thanks to Ruth Wright for making trip arrangements and organizing a very successful day. We hope to see you on next June's adventure of exploration and appreciation.

If it's June it must be time to board a bus and see more heritage-related sights. Twenty-eight of us participated in that annual exercise, this time to a number of worthwhile attractions in Almonte.

Once again, Brenda Rybiak provided cheerful driving as our group gathered at the Client Centre on Roger Stevens Drive. The day looked fair, but that proved deceptive. Conditions became cool enough to wear jackets with real appreciation.

Our first stop included a face familiar to Archive volunteers. Former summer hire Sarah Chisholm is now the Project Coordinator at the North Lanark Regional Museum. She and fellow staffer, Stuart Douglas, led us through diverse displays, which include: · 

 A pioneer cabin c 1850

A pioneer cabin, circa 1850 at the North Lanark Regional Museum

There was pretty much something of interest for all. A number of the toys on display brought back fond memories. The pioneer cabin reminded the viewer of many modern comforts we sometimes take for granted.

Our next stop was the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, where we were welcomed by Administrative Assistant Mathew Moxley. The Museum depicts Almonte's history as a mill town and showcases today's focus on fiber arts and crafts.

The original factory of the Rosamond Woolen Company has been converted into attractive private condominiums, near a scenic spillway. The Museum is sited in what had been an annex for company brass and office staff. Rosamond Woolen operated from 1866 to 1985. At its peak, it was among the largest woolen mills in Canada, employing 400 of the town's 3,000 people.

The spacious ground floor includes the front office, an unusually tasteful gift shop (full of high-quality yarn and crafted items) and the Norah Rosamond Hughes Gallery, where changing exhibits are staged. June's showcase was: “A Collaboration” featuring weaving and fabric art by Jean Down, Pattie Dolan and Roberta Murrant.

Animals from which wool can be made.

Wool from many animals was used in the mill

The second floor's permanent display is called the “Fabric of a Small Town”. Sequenced stations demonstrate taking wool from various animals to different end products. Attention is also paid to  social history: what living and working in Almonte was like as a mill worker. That might be summed up as long hours in noisy, tedious — and sometimes dangerous – conditions, for very modest pay.

Please note the Museum is hosting their 19th Annual Fibrefest Sept 13-14. More info at:

For lunch we gathered at the Barley Mow, housed in yet another lovely stone building, so typical of Almonte's core. (Full marks to Rybiak for figuring out how to get us there in a somewhat confusing section of streets.)

The June 2014 Field Trip

Almonte, Past and Present
Article and Photos by Lucy Martin