On a sunny, blustery day this week, my friend Liz and I set off for a day out in the country. Or to be more exact, we drove down some country roads and spent our day in the village of Merrickville, located about thirty minutes south on the Rideau Canal system.
Merrickville has been one of my favourite places for years. Built on the Rideau River around the turn of the nineteenth century, Merrickville languished for a couple of decades as a moderately prosperous mill village, with a few houses and two mills. But after the Rideau Canal opened in 1832, commerce and industry prospered for a time, resulting in the beautiful historic town we see today. Old stone houses, multi-story, gracious stone commercial buildings, stone churches. Stone facades are de rigueur in this town. As they are in many historic Ontario towns.
Back in the eighties, my friend Mary G. and I used to make regular excursions to Merrickville. Hunting for antiques, and a good place for afternoon tea. We had a rota of places where we knew we could potter among old things in a series of eclectic shops, and then partake of tea and scones. Metcalfe, Perth, Almonte… but Merrickville was our favourite. In the late eighties, it seemed that all the small villages surrounding Ottawa had a tea room. Even Manotick.
Sadly, our very favourite shop in Merrickville closed years ago. It was a small store located next to what was once Sam Jakes Inn, and it always had a wonderfully curated collection of vintage bits and pieces. Jewellery, vintage clothing and hats, small pieces of furniture. We loved that store. It was called Now and Again. I think. I’m laughing as I write that sentence. Neither Mary nor I could ever remember the name of that darned store. Was it “Then and Now”? “Time and Again”? No that’s the catering store in Wetsboro, actually spelled Thyme and Again. Was it “Time after Time”? No. “As Time Goes By” we chorused one day, and fell over laughing, singing “we must remember this.” Ha. Clearly not.
I still have a hat and several pieces of jewellry I bought in that store, whatever the name.
On Tuesday morning, after Liz and I had left my car on a side street, we proceeded to “do Merrickville” in a methodical fashion. We set off up one side of the central street, called St. Lawrence Street, stopping at the old Block House on the side of the canal.
Built to provide military protection for the Rideau Canal when it opened in 1832, the Blockhouse was also the residence of the lockmaster. It’s a museum now. Not sure how much military protection the canal needed. The war of 1812 was long over. Still, there were those pesky Fenians.
Liz and I paused on the bridge over the canal, to admire the scenery. Merrickville really is a beautiful little place. I snapped a selfie as we were “blowin’ in the wind” and we crossed to continue back up the other side of St. Lawrence Street. Past the United Church.
Past this impressive edifice. The Jakes-McLean Block was built over two years from 1861 to 1863. Sam Jakes, whose name is well known in Merrickville, ran a general store in this building from 1871. My research tells me that it was reputed to be the largest department store between Montreal and Chicago back in its hey day. You can read the rest of the story of this building here, and about some of the other historic buildings in Merrickville here, if you’re interested.
We hustled across Main Street, and headed south on St Lawrence. The fresh greenery in all the window boxes lining the street did not disappoint.
But we did not intend to stay outside admiring the streetscapes all day. We had browsing to do. In the Knock Knock Shop, we riffled through the crisp cotton, vintage-inspired night dresses. They looked so lovely neatly arranged on hangers, all clean and white, freshly pressed, and wrinkle-free. But as much as I enthused over them, I was not to be tempted again. I bought a long, white, vintage cotton nightdress years ago. So cool, and crisp, and lovely… until one has worn it all night. Ha.
Upstairs was more of what we were interested in. Room after room of furniture and decor. Some pieces were old, some not so old, all were interesting and worthy of a poke around.
This guy would certainly be a conversation starter. Makes me want to sing… “For it is, it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king.”
We loved this old phone box. It had a working phone too. This will be my third photo with a red phone box. One taken in Yorkshire in 2005, and the other in London in 2017.
Merrickville has had many incarnations over the years: home of early settlers, mill town, centre of commerce and industry, sleepy and mostly forgotten village in decline, then in the last couple of decades a center for tourism, known for local history, culture, and arts and crafts.
You can see evidence of both the prosperous and the not so prosperous times. Like with any town that has been in existence for a while. Not all the facades were as impressive as the Jakes-McLean Block. But that is what makes Merrickville charming, and real. People live here, work here, raise their families here.
I had to have a poke around in this place. The poor owner was well bundled up, but she looked as if she were freezing despite the propane heater behind the counter. This building had no heat, and it is the middle of November
Finally after working our way up one side of St. Lawrence Street and down the other, Liz and I fetched up at the Goose and Gridiron Pub for lunch.
You know, Liz and I could have, maybe should have, done our research before we set off on our day trip. I knew there were all kinds of historic houses on the surrounding side streets of the town. Lovely stone or timber houses that speak of the history of Merrickville. I could have downloaded the map of the walking tour of the town, to tell us a bit about each house and its location. And we could then have set about tracking down the various items on the map. Our day could have been so much more educational.
Instead, we had a lovely drive along the bucolic Rideau River. We made a couple of wrong turns because I am not used to talking and driving. In Merrickville, we wandered up one side of the street and down the other. We looked at the old buildings. And enjoyed the sunshine.
We laughed. And talked about life, and clothes, and our respective family histories. We poked around in the shops. And chatted with the sales staff. We talked about our former jobs. We marveled at the people we both knew back in the early eighties, and yet we didn’t know each other. And we wondered how it was we’d never met way back then when we both worked in retail on Sparks Street. A lifetime ago, it seems.
After lunch, we wandered back to the car. I bought a take-out latté for the drive home. And we talked the whole way. How is it Liz and I never run out of things to say?
So we had a great day. Maybe not as educational, as it was fun, but I made up for that this afternoon.
I started reading about the Rideau Canal, and Merrickville history. About William Mirick, and Sam Jakes, and what the holes for the guns in fortified buildings are called. And you name it. I listened to a bunch of songs from The Pirates of Penzance. And I’ve been singing “I am a pirate king” for hours.
Then I found this on YouTube. So good. Johnny Dep eat your heart out.
Now, it’s very late and I really must go and read my book before bed. I’m reading Tim Pears’ book In the Place of Fallen Leaves which I wrote about in this post. I’ve only started it, but so far I’m enchanted. His writing is magical and lyrical and rich. I’ll let you know if I feel the same when I’ve finished.
What have you been up to this week my friends? Doing any enriching and/or educational, or even non-educational, travel? Maybe touring your own town? Or somewhere nearby? Or even venturing further afield? Do tell us.