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.
36 thoughts on “Scenes from a Day Out in Merrickville”
Sewing has been a theme this week and I have now finished making a coat for a friend. And listening to whodunnit/thrillers as I do so, a fine combination. And hitting copper with a degree of (successful) trepidation. And looking out at the autumnal colours as I drink coffee and smell the white hyacinths on the windowsill. Excuse me: I must return to listening as Derek Jacobi narrates Sherlock Holmes. Sigh. BTW I would have very much enjoyed that Knock Knock shop. So much to burrow through.
“Burrow” is a good word. I love to do that in antique shops. Although I could have wished that the Knock Knock Shop was piled a bit more haphazardly, all the better to dig through. I am going to see if I can find that version of Sherlock Holmes with Jacobi narrating.
It’s on YouTube
You’re well supplied with gorgeous historic towns – how lovely. After nearly 2 years of pandemic living I think days of fun and laughter are a good thing. I caught up with a friend today and we talked for a bit over 3 hours and we could have continued had I not had an appointment to keep. Thanks for taking us to Merrickville.
There are a few towns like this around here. And differing in character depending on the region, which is really interesting.
What a lovely little town to wander around . Big historic cities are very impressive with their fine buildings but towns & villages give us a view of how most of our ancestors lived .
Those shops full of old bric a brac took me back to our days of antique hunting . I miss it but I couldn’t bring anything in now without dumping something I love -otherwise home would look like one of those shops .
I’m currently enjoying listening to BBC Radio 4 Bookclub talks with authors . The last one was Elizabeth Strout discussing Olive Kitteridge . Not sure if you can access it where you are ?
I much prefer small towns and villages to the cities as well. Especially when travelling. I’m sorry I didn’t get any shots of the back streets of Merrickville. Too busy talking, I guess. Next time, though.
Aw, beautiful and interesting-I love your excursions-how lovely little historic cities are! This is the way to enjoy some company and better know places around us,half an hour or one hour drive with car…or just walk in nature
Love your new coat-I have a similar one,pretty old now but still pretty
Did I mention that I visited Vienna this month? It was lovely but there was always “what if”…
So happy that you were able to get to Vienna, Dottoressa. I hear you about the “what ifs.” I am flying down to new Brunswick in a couple of weeks and am sure I will be nervous when I have my lay-overs (however short) in big city airports. Especially Toronto.
I really must stop next time I am headed to Russell. We are always in a hurry to get there to see my friend. I have not strolled those lovely streets for years. It has been the perfect Fall for strolling with friends.
Next time I go tp Merrickville I’ll stroll the back streets. It’s been ages since I was there. Plus some of the restaurants and shops weren’t open on a Tuesday. They don’t open until later in the week. I might take a run down in December when the streets are all dressed up for Christmas.
Wish I could be in Ontario right now. Wish I could be there for a happy, fun visit. My cousin just lost her husband (not covid) and I can’t be there for her and his celebration of life service this morning. All I do is cry, but reading this post gives me hope, that someday, hopefully in the not too distant future my cousin and I can wander around in her neck of Ontario. Rattling around antique shops and coffee will be balm for the soul. Still well all.
Oh gosh, I am sorry, Heather. You have had your share of trials and tribulations this year. Sending virtual hugs. 🙂
A good wander with a good friend is balm for the soul…as you clearly have described it.
My DH’s birthday is this Saturday so I have planned a brief weekend excursion to the beach–a three hour drive away. He doesn’t know where we are going. He likes surprises. Was even able to find a dog-friendly hotel (in a quiet, dog-friendly town) so our pup will go along–which makes DH even happier. Another way to have a good wander.
Wandering the beach with your hubby and dog sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate his birthday. The husband’s not the dog’s. Although that would be good too. 🙂
What a lovely way to spend a day – thank you for taking me along with you! And, isn’t it especially wonderful to spend a day with a kindred spirit? Good for both of you. Loved the photos – makes me wish we had a tea room and a Goose and Gridiron-style pub here!
Thanks, Donna. The plethora of tea rooms in our valley seem to have been replaced with coffee shops. Still… I do love a good latté.
That looks like such a fun day out with a girlfriend!
As you know, I’m just back from three weeks in France and Italy, and it’s a good thing I’m very content to be back home because we’ve been asked to stay put for a bit, here in Vancouver. . . or, at least, not to be trying to travel East. And this time not because of Covid, but because highways and rail lines are drastically damaged from flooding. So a vicarious road trip was a much better option for me, and I thank you for it!
Our news reports are telling us how bad the flooding is around Vancouver . It sounds really nasty . I’m glad you are safe & hope your family & friends are too . Our city is one that floods often , though never near us , so I know a little of what you are going through . Take care .
We’ve been watching the news footage of the flooding. Including those poor people who were trapped on the highway between two mudslides. The daughter of a friend lives in a part of Vancouver that is perched on a hillside, and that is a bit worrisome for her mum. Hope it lets up soon. Like Wendy, I know about flooding, from afar. We had yearly floods at home in New Brunswick but were never directly affected except for school being cancelled because roads were closed. For several years running when my sister flew home from Calgary half the roads up to my mum’s were flooded. She felt like a jinx.
Not to make a joke of a serious situation… but… reminds me of a line from the Charlottetown Festival Anne of Green Gables we saw on stage years ago. Between scenes, they had “rustic” characters come out in front of the curtains and talk or say funny things. One was a postman and a farmer. And one said that the fog was so bad that “the mainland was cut off.” So I guess in your situation Canada is “cut off.” Okay… not funny. ;(
Thank you for sharing your day. Your words enabled me to feel like I was there with you. I so enjoy your posts.
What a wonderful trip with your friend. Merrickville seems like a lovely town. I like the idea of not having a strict agenda and wandering as the mood struck. I love the shops full of items to browse. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
Wandering and browsing are favs with me too, Dottie.
Sue, it doesn’t matter where we are, I always enjoy spending time with you!…. thanks for planning our outing, I am ready for another anytime!😊
I will definitely take you up on that, my friend.
Loved your trip, but the highlight for me was the Pirate King …” And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a Pirate King!”
Off to play G&S some more. It is impossible not to sing along and feel good. Thank you.
Isn’t that song good?
Love Merrickville! Had planned on a road trip there after I retired but Covid put the damper on that. The son of dear friends of ours actually rebuilt a few of the old stone houses there back in the ‘70’s and won several awards, I think he wrote a book about it too.
Back in the ‘80’s my husband had the bright idea that we should buy a tea room in Stittsville sort of glad that plan fell through..I was the ‘summer cook’ at the Miller’s Oven in Manotick when I was in college and it’s a LOT of work and that place wasn’t exactly a ‘for profit’ operation. Can’t imagine keeping body and soul together on the profits of a tea room, they do look great in British mysteries though:)
Although tea rooms in Eastern Ontario are dwindling they are making a resurgence in Central Ontario. There is an Ontario Tea Room Trail https://www.ontariotearooms.com/home
As of 2020 the trail did not extend to the East, oh well we do have the Chateau Laurier! In early December we are heading to the Eastern Ontario village of Gananoque to spend two nights at our favourite B&B the Woodview Inn. The old mansion is charming anytime but positively magical over the Holiday Season.
You both look like you had a great time in Merrickville maybe we’ll drive down there next week! That Christmas shop is always worth a peek.
I will for sure check out that tearoom trail. Maybe I can convince someone to go further afield with me. 🙂
I cannot say enough times how much I enjoy reading your blog! And your readers’ comments are also very enlightening and delightful!
We are just going back to traveling after, like you, spending a long time “cut off.” As someone said last night at choir practice, we’ve gone from zero to 100 kph in no time at all, and it seems a bit too much sometimes.
I love the small towns, and each one seems to have its own particular charm. Right now we are looking into going to both upstate New York and Vermont in the future to explore.
Right now we’re a few weeks from going to Portugal, and there we will also explore the “little places.”
Thank you for making your blog a daily treat for me!
Thanks so much, Eva. Have fun in Portugal. I am envious.
It looks like a few things have changed since I lived on the St. Lawrence. Merrickville is where I took my son for canoe lessons one summer and I had quite a few hours to fill while he messed about in boats. I loved going for tea and wandering through the shops. The sign was particularly amusing as you often hear “oh my Grandma had one just like this,” from shoppers poking around a shop like that. I enjoyed your tour and update and have added a day in Merrickville to my holiday excursion list, maybe even a girls day with my daughter in law.
Glad you enjoyed the post, Colleen.
What a lovely wee trip! I envy you your wanderings and poking about antique shops. Small towns are wonderful for that and I enjoyed the trip with you.
We are still in lockdown – getting up to 100 days now and at this stage no chance of getting out of our region until at least the middle of December. Also no cafes, tea rooms or restaurants open to sit down in and worst of all no hairdressers open yet.
Oh gad… 100 days of lockdown. That is tough, Kenzie. 🙁
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