Three Interesting Stories of Almonte's Past

The Rosamonds.

"For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would; Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails, Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales."

Every age, of course, has its dreamers. The Vision which Lord Tennyson expressed in "Locksley Hall" was written in the year 1842. The words have a prophetic ring about them, and might lead the incautious reader to impute just a little less than angelic insight into Tennyson, and a great deal more that human dreaming.

Yet, today, four-hundred passenger jet-powered aircraft zip in magic argosies through the purple twilight, wings outspread to span the continent in a bound, like eagles beating the air currents over a mountain pass. Nuclear power is no longer a maverick, but submits tamely to the harness. Occasionally too, after successful splashdown, men returning from a two-week rocket trip to the moon are greeted and welcomed back on earth as only ordinary heroes. It is the succeeding age that learns that dreams never do match stride with reality.

James Rosamond was a businessman in Carleton Place, but he became a dreamer in Almonte. It was thirty years after the Scots and Irish had arrived in "the place with a falls on the Mississippi" as Peter Robinson described in, and then years after Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" had been put into circulation, and only a few months before the suggestion was made that the village might be called after a Mexican general who was then prominent in the news of the day.

Three hundred people were living in the village situated above the falls in the Mississippi River. Daniel Shipman had a sawmill below the falls, and a square timber-making yard above. The place was usually referred to as Shipman's Mills. The age-old roar of the river in flood as it went crashing through the gorge, this was the sound that sang in the ears of the inhabitants both by day and by night. Only when summer came in and the river subsided did the roaring cease, and in its place the sounds of settlement took over, the rasp and scrape of the saw, the snick snick of the broad axe, and the clank of chains holding the boom logs together as they lapped so slightly in the current of the river above the falls.

James Rosamond emigrated from Ireland in 1827, and, after getting established, he formed business interests in Carleton Place in 1832 which comprised a wood-working plant, a grinding mill, and a custom carding plant. In 1846 he expanded the woollen end of things by adding spinning machines, and in this way he was responsible for the start of the woollen manufacturing business in Carleton Place.

In 1851 he ventured capital to become a partner in another enterprise, the Ramsay Woolen Cloth Manufacturing Company. The company's principal share holders were local people around Shipman's Mill. Daniel Shipman, of course, was one of them, and James Rosamond now found himself partnered with a vigorous enterpriser, and the reputed founder of the place by the falls on the Mississippi.

They acquired a mill site beside the cataract and then erected a frame mill and set to work. Demand for woollen products was very good amongst the people on the farms in Ramsay and Huntley, the mill was the first woollen mill in the place, and the future looked good. Their venture marked the beginning of what was to become the major industry of the place for the next hundred years.

Disaster, however, struck a scant two months after the mill had been put into operation. Fire broke out. The mill was totally destroyed, and the company was forced by circumstances to close down. Two years later, in 1853, James Rosamond bought the site and prepared to rebuild on the same spot. Mr. Rosamond, however was from Ireland, and this time he resolved to build in stone.

That winter of 1853 was eventful in many ways. Circumstances were just right to make an ordinary business minded person become a dreamer, and an ordinary dreamer become a prophet.

The name "Waterford" had been proposed for this place by the falls, but another locality in western Ontario had already usurped the Irish place name for itself. John Haskins suggested another to Major Gemmill. Almonte. The name was proposed officially, was accepted and remained.

For fifteen years also the Rideau Canal had been in operation and traffic moved regularly over the route from Bytown up the Rideau to Kemptville, Burritt's Rapids, Merrickville, and a place called Smiths Falls, and thence through the Poonamalee locks and the lakes of the Big Rideau chain to Westport, on to Brewer's Mills, Seeley's Bay, and over the height of land at Cranberry Lake before dipping down to Cataraqui and Kingston.

Oh the canal was a great improvement. No doubt about it. It opened up the hinterland between Kingston and Ottawa, but still, transportation was a problem. Everybody knew that. Everyone talked about it, but very few seemed to have any idea what to do about it. People in the villages along the Mississippi, and especially those at Almonte, needed a means of transportation to enable them to break out of the bonds of the primitive land. The bush and the river were holding them back. They needed roads.

That winter of 1853 they called a public meeting in Almonte. The need for something to be done about transportation, that was the idea that triggered the meeting. The people wanted to find out if it would be possible to build a macadamized road the Smiths Falls where goods and produce could be put aboard boats moving through the Rideau Canal. If they could get into the big markets of the United States by shipping through the canal, commerce would be stimulated and the village would go forward.

James Rosamond was at the meeting, and was doing a lot of listening. Someone asked what could be done about the number of Irish navies who had been hired to work years before on the building of the Rideau Canal, and had been footloose, many of them, in the country since the completion of the canal. Ostensibly they were looking for work, but, of course, anyone without regular employment was suspect.

James Rosamond knew the skills of the Irish. They could build in stone. They could build macadamized roads, and they could build stone woollen mills. It took only a moment's glance to tell there was lots of stone in the area around Almonte, and it was quite suitable for building purposes. Perhaps the Irish could be put to work on the mill he had in mind, or on the macadamized road, or both for that matter.

The someone at the meeting dropped a bomb. Heavens, the man said, why waste time on a macadamized road to Smiths Falls? Why not build a railway? In fact, why stop at Smiths Falls? Why not build a railway that would go straight through Carleton Place, Franktown, Smiths Falls, Jasper, right on down to the Front, to the St. Lawrence at Brockville? A railway would prove much more valuable for trade than the canal; it would open up the American market far more speedily than anything else for the goods and products that would come from mills now building and to be built to run from the falls of the Mississippi at this place now called Almonte.

A railway? The very idea intrigued James Rosamond. To Brockville on the St. Lawrence? Now there was vision. This Almonte was a forward looking place, and these were forward looking people. Just my kind of people, thought James Rosamond. The meeting broke up, but Mr. Rosamond, Daniel Shipman and a few others remained standing outside the meeting hall, looking at the river, the conversation continued about this new dimension in transportation. The men in the group seemed to be strangely taken. Something had come over them. Here they had come to a meeting to discuss building a macadamized road to Smiths Falls, and now, without warning, they found themselves in earnest discussion about a railroad to Brockville. For a moment Mr. Rosamond wondered if the scope of the venture had got out of control; yet, no denying it, the railroad idea had a lot of merit.

James Rosamond found his focus after the meeting had changed greatly from what it had been before. The Railroad now intruded on his mind so powerfully that he found he could neither shake free of its grasp nor swing this thoughts back to the mundane things like woolens, macadamized roads and stone mills.

In the end the clump of men outside the meeting hall decided to break up their discussion and return to their homes, but not before they took one firm resolve, they would make a journey to Brockville to discuss the matter with friends there at greater length, and, if the signs appeared favourable, to find associates in the town on the shore of the St. Lawrence, and enlist their support in sharing in a grand design, a railway to link the St. Lawrence River with the Ottawa River through Almonte.

The Railway

The first census taken in this part of Canada in the year 1851 showed the elements of a village clinging to the rocks and the falls on the Mississippi. The growth of the village had been modest indeed. Some thirty years before a man named Daniel Shipman had built a sawmill, and the place came to be know in the district simply as Shipman's Mills.

Then in 1821 a few venturesome Scots from the Lanark Military Settlement set out from Lanark on the Clyde onto the broader reaches of the Mississippi. They built a scow and floated down the river. They got past Ferguson's Falls and Ennisville. They got the scow out into the lake and the current took them on until once again they were in the narrow region of the rocks around Morphy's Falls. They got through this area, floated down past the picturesque spot they called Appletree Falls, and on again down river until they reached the big drop in the Mississippi. Here stood Daniel Shipman's place.

The Scots liked the look of the country and round about. Many of them had been Paisley weavers in Scotland, and, standing now at the head of the falls, they could look back up river the way they had come and see visions of sheep grazing in the upland meadows all dressed in pure wool which the woolly ones might be persuaded to share in time with friends who came from Paisley.

Two years later, in September 1823, Peter Robinson, Superintendent of Emigration from the South of Ireland, reached Prescott on the St. Lawrence with 586 emigrants from the districts around Cork. They were mostly distressed farmers and were skilled in the management of land and beasts. Anxious to get them located on their lands before the onslaught of the Canadian winter, Mr. Robinson decided to move overland with his charges from Prescott rather than proceed further up river to Brockville, where the Scots had landed two years before. He recorded this decision in his journal: "At Prescott I engaged wagons to take the settlers sixty miles across the country to a place on the Mississippi with a falls."

Now the 1851 census showed this little rude settlement of Scots and Irish had grown into a village of some 200 people. Furthermore, it showed that they had a number of mills in operation, a shingle mill, a grist mill, a sawmill, a square timber making yard. All these mills and the skills of the people who worked them served the needs of a well established farming community where fields, all nicely cleared now of the stumps of pioneer days thirty years before, ran back between cedar rail fences from the river. Great quantities of timber still stood ready for the felling in the bush land at the back of each farm.

Every day after the census of 1851 brought evidence of progress. In 1854 the first railway train in these parts made it debut running from Prescott to Bytown. Sparks from this event landed a few miles away at Brockville and fired up a group of local promoters with enthusiasm for railway building. They seized on a magical idea. They talked of running a railway line from the docks at Brockville way back into the country, past the Rideau even, yes, on into Lanark and Renfrew to get at the big timber of the fabled Ottawa Valley. A railway could get the timber down to the St. Lawrence at Brockville and it could be shipped off to feed the demands for housing in the mushrooming cities of the northern states. Meanwhile the trains returning could bring supplies of mess pork, and flour and beans and cant hooks and logging chains and even anchors for the painters, all the things that men would need in the bush camps and shanties up the Valley.

By 1858 they were on their way. They made a start at the docks in Brockville and immediately drove a tunnel through the rock, right under King Street, all the way up until them came to the surface again just north of the court house. Foresight persuaded them to install a big heavy wooden door on this exit of the tunnel so that cows wouldn't wander down off the court house pasture and start down through the tunnel to get a drink from the St. Lawrence River.

Their charter read "from Brockville on the St. Lawrence to some point on the Ottawa." Direct as an arrow in flight their route lay on the map from Brockville to Arnprior and Sand Point.

The work went on, and the rails were laid. Enthusiasm drove the enterprise on to Smiths Falls, to Morphy's Falls, to Shipman's Mills, which they reached in August, 1859. People saw the coming of the Brockville and Ottawa Railway was assured and at that moment the village began to grow rapidly. People began building houses on both sides of the river. The Irish tended to build theirs on the north side, and sometimes that section of the village got the name of Waterford. The Scots, on the other hand, tended to build their homes on the south side, and it was frequently referred to as Ramsayville. Still others continued to refer to the place as Shipman's Mills, until one day in 1854, James Haskins, who kept the timber slide, suggested to Colonel Gemmill the need for a single name for the whole community. The name of General Juan Almonte of Mexico came up, for he had recently played a very prominent part in the Mexican war of Liberation.

The name was accepted and brought Into use. So the railway came to a placed called Almonte.

The Volunteer

Ernie Little's horse leaned hard into the collar of the harness and strained, head down rear legs stretched back, left front hoof tipped forward and down so that he could drive the caulks into the pavement to keep from slipping with the load. The pull on the wagon seemed heavier than usual on the stretch of Little Bridge street from the subway to the roadway in from of the Town Hall.

Ernie sat up front on the upturned nail keg facing the side of the wagon with one arm on the rack. The lines were slack in his hands. He was content to let the horse move up the slope at its own pace. Ernie was happy as usual, smiling, looking around in full enjoyment of this day in early June, 1927.

Behind him on the wagon was a wooden crate which was nailed snug and hard all around. Although it wasn't so very big, it must have had something unusually heavy inside to make the horse strain as hard as it did coming up the slope from the subway to the town hall.

"What's in the box Ernie?" a man called from the street. "Dunno," said Ernie. "Sure is heavy though." Then, as a kind of afterthought he added "I think it's got something to do with Alex Rosamond."

The horse seemed to be wondering too. The box wasn't anywhere near the size of the thousand pound bales of wool that came from Australia and that were wrapped in burlap and tightened in like a corset with steel bands. Two of these bales filled the wagon and made up the usual load for the hose and wagon for the trip to Rosamond Woollen Company's No. 1 mill from the C.P.R. freight sheds, and sometimes in the other direction, from the mill to the railway. This was a regular route for the horse, and now as the wagon came to the level in front of the town hall the horse eased up the strain on the collar and started across to go up Water Street and on to the freight sheds. A small tug on the reins brought him up short. He stopped in his tracks for a moment, as if wondering, what now?

"Gee, Gee up there. Gee." Ernie called out. The horse drove his shoulders again into the collar, swung to the right and moved forward up Bridge Street towards the railway crossing. "Whoa now. Whoa." Ernie brought the horse and wagon to a halt in the space between the town hall and the tracks. He stepped down off the wagon to look over the site more carefully.

Men working there on a stone structure laid down their tools and came back to the wagon to inspect the crate.

Ernie returned to the wagon, picked up the lines and moved to the side of the wagon.

"Back up now. Back, back, back up." The wagon moved close to the stone base. Ernie again slackened off the lines and let the horse enjoy a rest while the men prepared to unload the crate from the wagon.

Ernie read the packing slip idly as he watched the men make ready to lift the crate. "The Volunteer" he read. "The Volunteer", he mused. "Just how does that connect with Alex Rosamond? I wonder."