The end of February will mark 10 years since our first visit to Almonte and our decision to buy here and settle in for our retirement years. We actually moved to Almonte in July 2005 but as you can see it wasn’t July quite yet when we first came to town.
As in most small towns, things move slowly but there have been a few changes of note. This fellow has had a refurbishment since 2005 and has been joined by another statue (of Dr. Naismith) nearby. Some other changes and events we’ve noted over time include the following:
- Renovation and Gentrification
The old downtown has had continuous upgrades over the years as property developers have renovated the old mills and Victorian streetscape. A number of new boutiquey shops have opened and Almonte has become quite an antique lover’s destination. As well some very nice white tablecloth restaurants have come to town to go along with the pub, tea room and family dining spots. The last of the “bread and butter” type stores – hardware, drugs, groceries have relocated to the eastern end of town.
- One Main Industry
In the 19th and early 20th century Almonte was a one industry town – mainly wool weaving and cloth making – but the last of this ended in the 1980s. Now the major industry appears to be building and selling houses for the many retirees and Ottawa commuters who want to settle here. The west end where we live has essentially been completed and development continues in the east end near the shopping area.
- Festivals and More Festivals
In keeping with its new found role as a tourist destination, Almonte continues to grow and develop its festivals – largely based on the heritage of the town. Celtfest, Fibrefest and the Naismith street basketball tournament are examples of this. Light up the Night is a big Christmas event, and The Puppets Up! Festival brings in folks of all ages.
- Boomer City
As the boomers retire, more and more of them are buying homes and settling here. The town has the security, community feel, and most of the necessities a retiree would want. We were on the leading edge of this retiree movement (at least as out of town settlers we were.) I expect this Boomer influx will continue for some time.
- From Paper to Online
In 2005 there was an actual Almonte Newspaper you could subscribe to (The Gazette.) Later on The Gazette was folded in with a Carleton Place newspaper and eventually was given away free as part of a shopping publication called EMC. The lost local news was soon found again online as an Internet newspaper called The Millstone came into being – and that’s how we get local news reported now.
- Bye Bye Choo Choo
For 150 years the CPR rail line ran through Almonte, crossing the river right downtown on a massive stone and concrete bridge built in the 1860s. At one time the rails were part of the CPR’s Transcontinental line – you could walk down to the station in Almonte and get a ticket to Vancouver. However, with the demise of CPR’s passenger service and the end of industrial cloth production here, the rail line became strictly an afterthought. No trains stopped in Almonte any more and the lone remaining rusty siding became the resting place of some decaying boxcars. CPR sold the trackage to a short line operator and – when things were slow during the Recession of 2008 – they stopped using it as a secondary freight route and took away 90% of the short line’s business. The train horns disappeared and in time so did the rails and signalling. About all that is left now are the trestles and underpasses, and the roadbed.
The counties of Lanark and Renfrew may buy the former rail line as a nature and snowmobile trail I suppose. If not, it’ll gradually be broken up as individual landowners buy pieces of it. What will happen with the bridge downtown is anyone’s guess. About all that will remain is the downtown memorial to the 38 people who died in the great Almonte train wreck of 1942.
- Fast Food Freedom
Yeah, yeah we have Tim Horton’s. However the rest of the town has remained fast food free as far as the major burger and pizza joints are concerned. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a decent pizza or cheeseburger here. We even have good Shawarma. But you have to go to the local independent joints to find it. That suits me just fine. There’s talk about a Dairy Queen franchise but I think that’s mostly hot air.
- Power to the People
The penstocks and water turbines that powered the mills have long since ceased to function, but the source of power in the Mississippi flow is still going strong. The public hydroelectric power generating company completed an expansion and power house relocation in the first decade of the 21st Century – doubling the power output to 5 MW. Although this expansion was in general seen as a Good Thing by the local populace, there has been considerably more controversy about an upstream power development proposal by the private contractor who owns the old flour mill.
The tripling of power capacity at the old flour mill from 300 KW to 1 MW will require dredging the river and constructing a new power house of questionable taste right in the middle of a touristy area. Whether the town is up for an industrial project like this remains to be seen.
There’s probably lots more stuff I haven’t though of that’s changed, but in a small town you’ll find that a lot of change is subtle. Not that we mind. We are getting a little old for revolutionary evolutionary activity.