There are a couple of locally produced DVDs about Almonte’s history in our video library. The first one – called “Almonte’s Interwoven Past” – deals with the first 100 years when the town was a solid blue collar, lunch pail place. There were large woolen mills, a flour mill, a foundry and various and sundry minor industries that catered to the big ones. The railroad came through in the 1860s and was part of the CPR transcontinental line for decades.
The second DVD – “Transitions” – is concerned with the last 50 odd years when Almonte morphed from a mill town to its present status as a tourist destination, retirement haven and antiquers’ paradise. You can see a bit of that in the above photo which shows the former Thoburn Mill water turbine beside the old foundry which is now a pub.
It can be argued that Almonte’s changes are a microcosm of small town Ontario societal changes. For example 50 years ago the flour mill and a couple of wool weaving mills were still in operation with a bunch of industrial jobs contributing to the economy. The downtown was a typical mixture of food stores, clothing shops, hardware and pharmacy establishments. There was even a “frosty locker” spot where you could rent freezer storage. That’s all gone today. In its place are the boutiques, restaurants, antique stores and coffee shops to cater to the tourists and retirees. The railroad ceased to carry passengers around 1960 and disappeared entirely 50 years later.
And of course all those steady mill jobs are gone as well. There’s a bit of high tech industry and a couple of micro food processors but that’s it, The young people here leave for Toronto and Ottawa and work in social services or professional jobs if they’re bright, or in fast food McJobs if they aren’t. A lot of blue collar work around here today revolves around home building and I’m not sure that’s a sustainable long term thing.
It’s a good thing that Almonte has its natural beauty and proximity to Ottawa I suppose. At least it was able to change with the times and survive. Other small Ontario towns have found it far tougher.