From the Carleton Place Canadian, 01 September, 1955


Howard M. Brown


One of the earlier public libraries established in eastern Ontario inland from the St. Lawrence River, the Carleton Place Public Library, will reach its 110th birthday in March, 1956.

 When organized settlement of the area between the Rideau and Ottawa rivers was begun in 1816, the first townships occupied by the emigrants were in what is now Lanark County north to the townships of Drummond and Beckwith.  The settlers knew the value of books and education and sought both.  The best known pioneer public library in the county probably is the Dalhousie Township library, founded near Watson’s Corners in 1828.  The Governor General of the Canada’s, the Earl of Dalhousie, then assisted this early library of the Scottish settlement by becoming its patron and the donor of over a hundred substantial volumes.

 The Carleton Place Library was established in 1846, a year before the Bytown Mechanics Institute was founded as the first library of the present city of Ottawa.  A report of the beginnings of the Carleton Place library has been found in the Canadian Public Archives in Ottawa, published in volume 1, number 10, of the Carleton Place Herald of November 30, 1850, then called the Lanark Herald.  It follows in part:

“I would lay before the public a statement of the affairs and general rules of the Circulating Library of this place.  The Library was established on the 14th March, 1846, under the name of The Carleton Place Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute, professedly to provide a cheap and well assorted class of books, accessible to all classes of the community.  The terms were 2 s. 6 d. entrance money and 5 s. annual subscription, the payment of 25 years subscription constituting a person a free member.  The library was first opened with 16 volumes and as many members, the books increasing in the first year to 144 and does now consist of 363 volumes; 38 of them have been purchased in the last week.  They may be classed as follows:  Religion 89, Historical 67, General Information 49, Scientific 18, Agricultural 4, Voyages and Travel 19, Biographical 29, Narrative 11, Fictitious 41, and Miscellaneous 36.”

“The affairs of the Institution are conducted by a body of directors chosen annually by the members from among themselves.  As none of the officers receive any pecuniary compensation, the whole of the receipts go for the purchase and repair of books.”

“There is also provision for young persons who may wish to improve their minds by reading upon payment in advance of 5 d. per month, having use of the Library as long as they continue to pay that sum; but they are not considered members, consequently they have no right to vote at any of the meetings.”

“A few of the young men about the neighbourhood who are not of the orchard-robbing, bar-room-loafing hang-about-the corner class, have availed themselves of the opportunity of storing their minds with useful information, instead of their pockets with pilfered fruit, and are habituating themselves to habits of study that will materially forward their interests in the future.”

This libelous concluding blast accompanied the accession to the post of librarian by Johnston Neilson, stern village schoolmaster.  David Lawson, local pioneer librarian, had resigned his library duties in 1851 because of increased demands on his time in operating the community’s post office.

Officers of the local Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute for 1851 were James Duncan (blacksmith) president, William Peden (storekeeper) vice-president, David Lawson, secretary and Robert Bell, M.P.P., treasurer.  The additional 1851 directors were James C. Poole (newspaper editor), George Dunnett (store-keeper), and Duncan McGregor (blacksmith), all of Carleton Place, and Thomas Patterson and John McCarton (farmers), both of Ramsay township.

Public schools and school libraries also began to improve in the 1850’s with the introduction of municipal institutions with locally elected officers.  A local newspaper editorial in 1851 titled “The Fool’s Penny” reported the purchase of  “178 neatly bound octavo volumes, containing from 300 to 400 pages each, for school libraries of the Township of Beckwith out of the Tavern Licence money of last year, which was set aside for that purpose by the Township Council.”

These books were allotted among the 11 school sections of the township according to their populations, which totaled 2,354 persons.  The largest school section, No. 11, with 525 inhabitants, included the village of Carleton Place, where its school was located.

A contemporary of the Dalhousie library of Watson’s Corners was the Ramsay and Lanark Circulating Library, also apparently founded about 1828.  It served the area immediately north and north-west of Carleton Place.

Minutes of its 1847 annual meeting, held at the residence of Edward Leary (Lot 19, Con. 1 Ramsay) with Alex Stevenson as chairman, included a motion by John Robertson Jr. and J. Rath “that the library be removed from the house of Mr. Edward Leary and taken to the Episcopalian Church situated on Lot 16, 1st concession of Ramsay.”

A  January 1847 letter to the Bathurst Courier, Perth, reporting this meeting, stated in part : “Monday the 25th instant being the natal day of Scotia’s bard, the annual general meeting of the Ramsay library was held.  Another has been instituted in the township with success, yet the numbers of this have increased in the last year and it is at present in a thriving condition, numbering upwards of 600 volumes.”

“The business of the day being over, a number of the members and admirers of Burns retired to Mr. Edward Houston’s Inn to celebrate the birthday of the poet and the 18th anniversary of the Society.  Mr. James Bryson was called to the chair.”

Ramsay township, into which the borders of the village of Carleton Place expanded after its early years, had as its second library that of the Ramsay Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute at Almonte, corresponding to the similar organization in Carleton Place.  An account of its 1857 annual meeting, held at the schoolhouse at Almonte, shows its library then contained 750 volumes. Its president, James Hart, and secretary, David Campbell, reported votes of thanks to James D. Gemmill of Almonte, then visiting in Europe, for a donation of forty volumes and to Robert Bell of Carleton Place, North Lanark M.P.P. , for “procuring to this institution the annual Government appropriation of Fifty Pounds.”

A decline in the Carleton Place library’s operations in the 1860’s is seen in the critical note of an 1864 local editorial calling “the attention of the inhabitants generally, but more particularly the young men, in this vicinity, to a notice in today’s Herald calling on them to reorganize the Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute.  We understand there are six or eight hundred books in the Library which have been almost unlooked at for several years.  Our young friends have abundance of time to read, and the knowledge so acquired will be far superior to that obtained at the corners of the streets.”

Public appreciation of the works of great authors was further encouraged by a long-lived series of open meetings during the winters, popularly known as Penny Readings.  These were sponsored locally under the name of the Carleton Place Mutual Improvement Association, formed at a meeting at innkeeper Napoleon Lavallee’s Carleton House (later the Leland Hotel) in December 1868 to promote a weekly course of public readings, with the admission set at one penny.  Among those attending the organization meeting were James Poole, Robert Bell, Robert Crampton, William Peden, James Gillies, and Rev. James Preston.  A principal supporter of this latter enterprise was Robert Bell, whose own library in Carleton Place was described in the Toronto Mail in 1887 as “the largest and best chosen private library in the Ottawa Valley.

In 1887 the Carleton Place Public Library, still associated with the Mechanics’ Institute of the village (population 3,600) was again in a thriving state, following a reorganization five years earlier.  Its position was described in a valuable and generally accurate history of Carleton Place in the Christmas number of the C.P. Herald, containing the following:

“For the Mechanics’ Institutes, as they exist throughout the Province, we are largely indebted to the Provincial Government, which makes grants of money for their maintenance.  The subsidies are regulated by the amount of subscription raised from private or municipal sources, by the extent of the libraries and by the various facilities that are afforded.  Provision is made for giving instruction in the mechanical sciences, such as draughting and mathematics, through practical teachers as well as through books of latest publication.”

“Our Institute has a membership of a little less than 200.  Mr. Lacy R. Johnson, who at the time of its re-establishment in 1883 was mechanical superintendent with the C.P.R. here, Robert Bell Esq., W. H. Wylie Esq., Mr. A. C. McLean and other citizens were the leading spirits in its establishment.  The library contains some 600 volumes.  The reading room contains about thirty of the leading newspapers and popular magazines as well as current scientific periodicals.  The Institute has given instruction to a large number of our mechanics and others, principally young men employed in the C.P.R. shops, in mechanical draughting, bookkeeping and general mathematics.  Some of the drawings were sent to the great Indian and Colonial Exhibition held in England last year.  The executive judges forwarded bronze medals to the draughtsmen, and to the Institute a diploma of merit and bronze medal.  The officers at present are: President, Wm. Pattie; Vice-president, Rev. A. Jarvis, Secretary, A. C. McLean, Treasurer, J. A. Goth.”

Peter McRostie, librarian of the Carleton Place Library from April 1887 to December 1909, symbolizes the public library to the elder residents of this town.  Born in Carleton Place in 1832 and raised in the old McRostie home on the riverside recently bought and renovated by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Dack, he became a farmer in Bruce County and later in Ramsay township, where he was assessor, school trustee and treasurer for some years.  After his return to Carleton Place he became librarian of the town library.  When the present Town Hall was opened in 1897, the library was changed to a municipal public library.  Mr. McRostie continued as librarian until within a year of his death at the age of 78.  He was succeeded in that office by his daughter, Miss Emma McRostie.

With the 110th anniversary of the founding of our library approaching, some fitting recognition of its origins and its principal representatives of the past, such as a display of historical pictures and other exhibits of the stirring days of early district history, might perhaps be considered by the citizens of this area and the Library Board of the town.


The Carleton Place Arena, 1965

From The Carleton Place Canadian, Thursday, July 8th, 1965 :

To the casual observer the steel structure of the old arena, that is now being demolished, appears to be in good condition: however, “all that glitters is not gold.”

As the wooden covering of the building was removed, serious defects in the steel structure began to appear.  Rust and frost heaving were the main causes of trouble, but some of the steel sections were bent badly out of shape due to excessive loading caused by rotting of the wood framing.  Sections of steel columns that were until recently concealed from view are rusted beyond usefulness.  In fact the inspection of the rusted base of one column disclosed a hole roughly four inches long and two inches wide.

All in all the building was in much worse condition structurally than was discovered by the inspection which led to its closing last February.  The citizens of our community can be thankful that the structure did not collapse and perhaps, now in retrospect, appreciate the worry that faced the men responsible for operating the old rink.  Special thanks must be accorded Mr. Arnold Weedmark, the safety inspector, who had the wisdom and courage to make the unpopular decision to close the rink in the middle of the skating season.

It is now apparent that rebuilding the arena around the old steel structure would have been impossible and the decision, taken several months ago by Town Council, to build a completely new building has been further strengthened. 

Demolition of the old building is proceeding rapidly and it should reach its final stages by the weekend.

The Arena Fund Campaign is moving briskly with two of the larger men’s organizations now having made pledges to the Fund, the cash on hand, post-dated cheques and the above mentioned pledges total $25,197.42 dollars.  This however, is only a start towards the campaign objective of $100,000 dollars and everyone in our community will have to dig down and give until it hurts before this project will become a reality.

We no longer have an arena, we need an arena, so now let us build it this year, not the next or the next.  The campaign will have to reach 75 to 80 percent of its objective by October in order for construction to begin in time to provide some skating during this coming season.  Please take this into consideration when the Arena Fund Canvasser calls on you.

The Arena Committee takes it hat off this week to the ladies of the Carleton Place Home and School Association, the Men’s Organization of St. James Church, the Cubs and Boy Scouts of St. Mary’s Church and to an enterprising group of young residents of theLake Ave.region who have been selling their comic books on behalf of the Arena Fund.

It goes without saying that we bow especially low to the still aching members of the Lions and 100 Club who performed valiantly in a soft-ball (?) game last Thursday.  The fireworks provided by the Jaycees were fitting climax for the reassuring demonstrations put on by the Ocean Wave Fire Company.

Further on the H & S bake good sale, Evelyn Sadler reports that the cooking skills of about 40 Prince of Wales district mothers were a big hit with theLakeParkcottagers last Saturday.  The total score for the Arena Fund was 48 dollars.  This week it is the turn of Victoria district ladies and we know they are just waiting to set a new record.

 Editorial by the Arena Committee (1965).

Carleton Place Stirring Village Back in 1840’s, by Howard Morton Brown, Carleton Place Canadian, July 7, 1960

Carleton Place in the times of the Eighteen Forties is recalled in the present installment of a year by year listing of local scenes and events which had their part in shaping the present character of this section of Lanark County.

The first signs pointing to this community’s growth to the proportions of a town began to show themselves in the Eighteen Forties.  Still in the handicraft era, the district after its first twenty-five years was gradually leaving behind it the kinds of hardships its people had known in their first years of settlement in the woods.  In the sixty year old province of less than five hundred thousand people, substantial government reforms in parliamentary, municipal and educational institutions began to be launched.  This district and this young community shared in promoting their reforms and in their benefits.


1840 – A district agricultural society, the parent of the present North Lanark Agricultural Society, was founded at a January, 1840, meeting at Carleton Place, with James Wylie of Ramsayville as president, Francis Jessop of Carleton Place as secretary and Robert Bell as treasurer.  Its activities for the improvement of farming methods and products have included from the beginning an annual exhibition, held until the late Eighteen Fifties at Carleton Place and thereafter at Almonte.  Carleton Place exhibitions were continued for some further years by a Beckwith Township agricultural society.

Ewen McEwen (1806-1885) in 1840 became clerk of Beckwith Township and postmaster at Franktown.  He held both positions for forty-five years and was township treasurer for twenty years.  His son Finlay McEwen for many years was Carleton Place municipal treasurer and postmaster.


1841 – Dr. William Wilson, graduate of Glasgow University and son of a district settler, began in 1841 a medical practice of about fifteen years in Carleton Place, building later his stone home which remains on Bell Street.  Edward M. Barry, M.D., trained in London and Dublin, opened a briefer medical practice here a few months before Dr. Wilson, as another of the town’s early surgeons.

A visitor in 1841 recorded this description of the section between Carleton Place and Almonte :

Carleton Place, about seven miles from Ramsay (Almonte) and eighteen from Perth, is a stirring little village.  By Franktown it is twenty-four miles from Perth, by Bellamys (Clayton) it is eighteen.  It has advanced greatly of late years, and the active enterprise of the Bells, merchants here, have contributed in no small degree to this.  They have several buildings themselves, one being a large two-storey stone dwelling.

There are three churches in Carleton Place – one Episcopal, a new Presbyterian and a Methodist church.  The Rev. Mr. Boswell officiates in the first, none yet appointed to the second but suppose Mr. Fairbairn will occasionally preach in it, and Mr. (Alvah) Adams is the stationed Methodist preacher.  The interests of religion are much attended to in the whole township, as well as in Carleton Place.  The Mississippi river runs through the village, and if it prevents the place from being as compact as desirable it at least contributes to its beauty and loveliness.  There are mills here by one Boulton, and more taverns I think than necessary for comfort or accommodation, numbering about five or six.  Mr. John McEwen has opened his home again for respectable travelers.  He is a man much esteemed, his fare excellent and his charges reasonable.

The township of Ramsay is well settled, very prosperous, and can boast a goodly number of experienced practical farmers – men of extensive reading and sound knowledge.  Its appearance plainly proves this, by the number of schools and churches within its range which are erected and in process of erection.  About the centre of the Township is a substantial Presbyterian Church of stone in which a Mr. Fairbairn officiates, also a Methodist meeting house where a Mr. (Alvah) Adams preaches – with a Catholic Church where Rev. Mr. McDonough of Perth officiates occasionally.  The great number of substantial stone houses erected and being put up speaks more favorably than words of its growing prosperity.

James Wylie Esq., a magistrate and storekeeper, has erected a fine house, his son another.  About half a mile from this, Mr. Shipman’s spacious stone dwelling, his mills and surrounding buildings, present a bustling scene.  There is one licenced tavern here, and a school.


1842 – Residents of Carleton Place in 1842 included about twenty tradesmen engaged in metal, wood,  textile and leather trades, in addition to farmers, merchants, innkeepers, labourers, two surgeons, two teachers and one clergyman.  Of the present Lanark County’s 1842 population of a little over 19,000 persons, Beckwith township including Carleton Place had some 1,900 inhabitants and 330 houses.  Ramsay township with 390 inhabited houses, had a population of 2,460.  Each of the two townships had eight elementary schools.  Half of the number of children of ages 5 to 16 in the two townships had attended school within the past year.

An elected council assumed duties of county administration for the first time in 1842, under legislation of the new united Parliament of Upper and Lower Canada.  District council members elected for Beckwith township were Robert Bell and Robert Davis.  Those for Ramsay were John Robertson Sr. (1794-1867) and Arthur Lang. 

A convention of district teachers of common schools met in the fall of 1842 at John McEwen’s hotel, Carleton Place.  A long-lived local Union Sabbath School was commenced in this year.


1843- Justices of the peace in Beckwith township authorized to act as magistrates included James Rosamond and Robert Bell, Robert Davis, Peter McGregor and Colin McLaren.  Those in Ramsay township included James Wylie and his son William H. Wylie, William Houston and William Wallace.

The Rev. Lawrence Halcroft (1798-1887), a resident of Carleton Place for over forty years, came here by call in 1843 and for eleven years was minister of the local Baptist Church.  He combined farming with his religious duties, and was a man of broad and liberal views who afterwards preached to all denominations.


1844 – Malcolm Cameron (1808-1876), supported by the large Scottish reform party element of this district and by others, was re-elected member of Parliament in a general election after the capital of Canada was moved from Kingston to Montreal(?).

The Rev. John Augustus Mulock, uncle of Sir William Mulock, became rector of the Carleton Place Anglican Church after a two year vacancy.


1845 – Dissention and division in the organization of the Church of Scotland was followed here in 1845 by the construction of the present stone building of Knox Presbyterian Church at Black’s Corners, parent of Carleton Place’s Zion Presbyterian Church.  In Ramsay township the frame building of a Free Presbyterian Church was erected at the 8th line of Ramsay, which for about twenty years served the congregation of the later St. John’s Presbyterian Church of Almonte.


1846 – James Rosamond in 1846 was manufacturing woollen cloth by machinery at Carleton Place.  His mill at the foot of James Street with two looms operated by water power, was the first of its kind in Eastern Ontario.

The Carleton Place Library was established in March, 1846 as a subscription library under the management of the Carleton Place Library Association and Mechanics Institute.  Napoleon Lavelle began his hotel business which he continued here for nearly forty years, commencing as the Carleton House in the Bell’s stone building on the south side of Bridge Street facing Bell Street.  The three, two-storey stone structures among the sixty occupied dwellings of Carleton Place were this building, plus Hugh Boulton’s house (later Horace Brown’s) on Mill Street, and James Rosamond’s home (later William Muirhead’s) on Bell St.


1847 – District wardens, previously appointed by the government of the colony, were first chosen by election in 1847.  The warden elected by the council of the Lanark and Renfrew district was Robert Bell of Carleton Place.


1848 – Samuel Fuller in 1848 opened a stove foundry here which he ran for ten years.  Its first location was near the site of the power house now owned by the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission.  The bridge over the Mississippi River was rebuilt.

A stone schoolhouse building was erected at Franktown.  In the United Counties of Lanark and Renfrew there were 1,069 inhabited and assessable houses and 120 public schools.  Most were log buildings.


1849 – The Hon. James Wylie (1789-1854) of Almonte was appointed to the Legislative Council of Canada.

Local school trustees James Rosamond (1804-1894, John Graham (1812-1887) and Brice McNeely (1794-ca 1878) advertised for a classical teacher for the Carleton Place School.

Robert Bell, elected as member of Parliament for Lanark and Renfrew Counties in the previous year, when the reform party attained power and responsible government arrived, was present when the Parliament Buildings of Canada were burned by an influentially backed Montreal mob.  He is said to have made his escape by a ladder from the burning building.  Delegates from district points including Beckwith and Ramsay townships were received at Montreal by Lord Elgin, governor general.  They delivered resolutions prepared at local meetings which supported his reforms and condemned the outrages committed by his opponents.  One of the addresses presented was that of the Carleton Place Library Association.