Great Falls At Almonte Started Woollen Industry

A group of sketches of origins of the communities of Ramsay township concluded here with notes of scenes and events in the early years of the town of Almonte.

First named Shepperd’s Falls and Shipman’s Mills, the town of Almonte, until its industrial growth which started in the eighteen fifties, was a small village which gained the name of Ramsayville.  Then, with the opening of its first woollen mills and railway transportation, it grew in a period of about thrity years to take a place among the leading centres of the pioneering days of Canadian manufacture of woollen textiles.

Shipman’s Mills on The Great Falls

Rights to lands now forming the greater part of Almonte were granted in 1821 and 1822 to John Gemmill, James Shaw, then of Lanark village, and David Shepherd.  John Gemmill’s land ran from Highway 29 to include the exhibition grounds in the southern part of the present town.  The grant to the absentee owner, James Shaw, was a corresponding downstream section of the ninth concession, extending on both sides of the river as far south as the foot of the bay in Almonte.  It was not until late in 1822 that under the special requirement of building a grist and saw mill at the falls, the central part of the future town was located to David Shepherd, together with another separate hundred acres at the town’s northern or downstream side.  James Wylie, who had emigrated from Paisley in 1820 to begin business as a merchant at Perth, removed to Ramsay where in 1825 he leased and settled on the next northerly two hundred acres (conc. 9, lot 17), a Clergy reserve, which he later bought.

John Gemmill, a Scottish society settler of 1821 from Ayrshire and forbear of Lieut. Colonel James D. Gemmill and of John Alexander Gemmill, Ottawa barrister, was one of Almonte’s first merchants.  James Wylie (1789-1854) was a merchant, Rideau Canal contractor, postmaster, farmer, county agricultural society president and builder of the Almonte residence Burnside.  He was appointed in 1849 to the Legislative Council of Canada in the period of the Baldwin-LaFontaine reform ministry, when riots by opponents of its Rebellion Loses Act led to the burning of the Parliament Buildings of Canada at Montreal.  Daniel Shipman, prominent in the founding days of Almonte and of American Loyalist origin, came in 1823 from the Brockville district and acquired the central properties of David Shepherd.  He completed the building of the future town’s first mills when Shepherd had failed in his undertaking and had fled to escape the imprisonment which awaited defaulting debtors. 

A traveler of 1841 made this brief report of his impressions of the settlement at the falls:

“James Wylie, Esquire, a majistrate and storekeeper, has erected a fine house, his son (William G. Wylie) another.  About half a mile from this, Mr. Shipman’s spacious stone dwelling, his mills and the surrounding buildings, present a bustling scene.  There is one licenced tavern here, and a school.”

Mr. Shipman’s last residence, built in 1837, became the Almonte House hotel.  It was from this house that Daniel Shipman, a sturdy and outspoken reformer in the days of the Upper Canada Family Compact, had escaped from a night search by ten armed men of the Carleton Militia led by over-zealous Captain George Lyon, Richmond mill owner and distiller.  During the alarms following the 1838 Prescott invasion they had ridden from Richmond, at the top speed permitted by bad and devious roads, on hearing false rumors that Shipman was sowing sedition and secreting two men supposed to have escaped in the Prescott battle from the stone windmill fortress of the defeated invaders and rebels.

Pioneer Almonte Industries

The first carding and fulling mill of the community was placed in operation by Mr. Shipman’s father in law, Mr. Boyce; the first planning mill and wagon making shop by John M. Haskin, and the first tanneries by Thomas Mansell and Smith Coleman.  A three storey flour mill built on the east side of the upper falls in the eighteen forties by Edward Mitcheson was bought some few years later by J. B. Wylie, and James H. Wylie.  The Hon. James Wylie’s eldest son, William G. Wylie, a magistrate and township treasurer, had died at Havana in 1851 on his way to the California gold fields.

Industrial growth at Almonte began in larger proportions in the eighteen fifties with the building of the Brockville & Ottawa Railway Company’s line.  Before the railway from Brockville reached the Ottawa River in 1864 at Sand Point, it ran for five years to a temporary northern terminus at Almonte.  The town’s woollen manufacturing had its start with the opening in 1851 of a mill with one set of machinery by the Ramsay Woollen Cloth Manufacturing Company, a company formed under the new Joint Stock Companies Act with capital raised in Ramsay and Beckwith among some forty shareholders.  The village of Ramsayville at this time had a population of little more than two hundred persons.  The next summer a fire destroyed the new woollen mill, gutted Daniel Shipman’s nearby unfinished and uninsured new gristmill and destroyed his old mill.  The loss in this Mill Street fire, one of a number of similar fire losses of following years, was about 2,000 pounds  to the company and 2,000 pounds to Mr. Shipman.  Daniel Shipman at once rebuilt his mill within its standing stone walls.  The building, later owned by John Baird, finally was torn down in 1902.

Start of Woollen Enterprises

James Rosamond of Carleton Place, a shareholder of the short lived Ramsay corporation, then moved his woollen mill operations, the first in Eastern Ontario, from Carleton Place to Almonte as the founding of Almonte’s leading manufacturing enterprise.  He bought the site of the Ramsay Company’s mill and built a four storey stone building, later known as No. 2 Mill, which he opened in 1857.  Before its erection Samuel Reid and John McIntosh opened a small woollen factory in 1854 on the former site of the Boyce fulling mill.  James Rosamond, who lived until 1894, gave the management of his growing business in 1862 to his sons Bennett and William, who doubled its plant capacity and in 1866 admitted George Stephen, Montreal woollen manufacturer, as a partner.  He became Baron Mount Stephen, president of the Bank of Montreal and first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.

The new Rosamond firm of 1866 began operations by buying the Island property of some sixteen acres and building its No. 1 Mill, then one of the finest in Canada.  Bennett Rosamond (1833-1910) was elected president of the Canadian Manufacturers  Association in 1890 and was Conservative Member of Parliament for North Lanark from 1892-1904.  He was president of the Almonte Knitting Company and in 1909 donated the Rosamond Memorial Hospital to the town.  He continued as head of the Rosamond Woollen Company until his death, when he was succeeded by Lieutenant Alex Rosamond (1873-1916).

A number of other woollen mills opened soon after the original Rosamond mill in Almonte.  Among the first were those of John McIntosh (1832-1904), a large frame building on the upper falls, and of John Baird (1820-1894) and Gilbert Cannon, all on Mill Street.  Sawmills, machine shops and iron foundries followed, including among the latter the foundry operated for a few years by John Flett (1836-1900).  A local real estate boom and flurry of inflated land speculation developed, only to collapse in a severe depression of the mid-seventies.  A fire loss of over $20,000 in 1877 destroyed the Cannon mill and the machinery of its lessee William H. Wylie, who moved to Carleton Place where he leased the McArthur (now Bates) woollen mill and later bought the Hawthorne woollen mill.  William Thoburn (1847-1928) began to manufacture flannels at Almonte in 1880 and became the head of the Almonte Knitting Company and Member of Parliament from 1908 to 1917.  Five textile mills in Almonte in 1904 were those of the Rosamond Woollen Company, William Thoburn, James H. Wylie Co. Limited, Almonte Knitting Company, and the Anchor Knitting Co. Limited.

Woollen Mill Party

In view of the claim that a people and its times often are best reflected in its songs, a Christmas Eve supper party given by the Rosamonds to their employees of 1863 may be worth recalling.  Its chairman was Thomas Watchorn, formerly of Carleton Place and later of Lanark and Merrickville.  A song by a member of the party was given between each toast after the supper, ending with the glee club’s Christmas carols at midnight.  The offerings of Mr. Hepworth, the principal performer, included The Cottage by the Sea, Dearest Mary, Little Tailor, The Factory Bell, A Merry Ploughboy, A Kish of Black Turf, Young Ramble Away, Stunnin’ Pair o’Legs, and The Sailor’s Grave.  Mr. Lowe offered Hard Times Come Again No More ; Mr. Douglas gave I’ll Marry Both Girls Bye and Bye, and J. Dornegan The Wedding of Ballyporeen.  The Irish wit George Bond contributed I’ll Never Get Drunk Again.  (George Bond, born in Carleton Place in 1837, was still singing in a celebration of his hundredth birthday by relatives and friends at his home in the Clyde Hotel in Lanark in 1937, when he “concluded the happy event by singing, in a fine clear tenor voice, When Billie Brown and I Slid Down Old Cram’s Cellar Door.”)  For the Christmas party of the men of the Almonte woollen mill, in the time of local recruiting and Canadian defense preparations which accompanied the progress of the United States Civil War, a fitting conclusion with the national anthem was guest Dr. William Mostyn’s The Banner of Old England.

Naming The Town

Almonte ended its changes of community names in 1856.  On the east side of the falls a section promoted by grist mill owner Edward Mitcheson had been given the name Victoria.  A bylaw of Lanark and Renfrew’s old district council “to define the limits of the Village of Ramsayville and Victoria, in the Township of Ramsay, and to extend the Act 12 Victoria Chapter 81 for the Regulation and Police of Unincorporated Villages and Hamlets to the Above Named Villages” was enacted in 1853 and renamed these combined limits as the village of Waterford.  The name most probably was taken from the town and county of Waterford in southern Ireland’s province of Munster.  There already was a village of Waterford in the Canadian province, and at the request of postal authorities  the name of the Ramsay centre was changed again.  The village population then was about five hundred.

The choice of a name of Spanish origin had a precedent in those which had been given to some of the townships of southwestern Ontario by Upper Canada’s Lieutenant Governor of the eighteen twenties, Sir Peregrine Maitland.  The Mexican general Juan N. Almonte had become his country’s ambassador at Washington and had gained his first fame in Mexico’s struggles to defend its territories from the encroachments of the United States.  An early source of his name, adopted by our town of almonte, may be found in Almonte, a village in the province of Andalusia in the southwestern corner of Spain.  It is near the Gulf of Cadiz and half way between the city of Seville and the town of Ayamonte.  Seven hundred years ago this part of Spain was raided often by the Moors, from whom it had been taken.  Near Almonte two centuries later a shepherd is said to have found a statue of the Virgin, hidden at the time of a Moorish raid.  The site of the find continues to be the place of a Pentecostal festival of the region.  Miracles ascribed to this statue of the Virgin, known as Our Lady of the Dew, include the escape of the inhabitants of Almonte in 1650 from a plague.

Almonte of Former Days

Lanark County’s Almonte was incorporated as a village of 2,000 persons in 1870 and as a town of 2,700 population in 1881.  It had somewhat more than 3,000 residents at each of the two next decennial censuses.  For record of its earliest township officers before its incorporation, references have been found as near the beginning of settlement as 1830.  Its first commercial bank, a branch of the Merchants Bank of Canada, later joined with the Bank of Montreal, was opened in 1869.  It gained a newspaper, the long-flourishing Almonte Gazette, in 1867, founded by William Templeman (1844-1914) who learned his printing trade with the Carleton Place Herald, went to British Columbia to found the Victoria Times, and became a member of the Senate, Sir Wilfred Laurier’s minister of inland revenue and the first Canadian minister of mines.

Almonte’s first Protestant churches, together with the municipal hall of the township, were located in the vicinity of the present Auld Kirk cemetery, more than a mile distant from the village community.  They were the St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland, completed about 1835 and still maintained in its original structural condition, the Canadian or Free Presbyterian church, built ten years later, and the Methodist church.  An Anglican church in almonte followed, and the parish of Almonte was separated in about 1860 from that of Carleton Place.  A Roman Catholic church built at Almonte in about 1840 was burned down more than twenty-five years later and was replaced by the present stone church building completed in 1876.  The Baptists built a small Almonte church and the township’s Reformed or Cameronian Presbyterians moved their place of services in about 1867 to the former Canadian Presbyterian church on the Eighth Line, later building their present church facing the Mississippi’s Almonte bay.

A number of the men whose names have lent luster to that of the town of Almonte, notably including pupils of Dr. Peter C. McGregor (1842-1916), Almonte high school teacher of distinction, are found to have had their youthful years coinciding with those of the present Almonte newspaper.  Among them were Dr. James A. Naismith (1861-1939) best remembered as inventor of the game of basketball ; Senator Andrew Haydon (1867-1932), politician, lawyer and author of the Lanark County history “Pioneer Sketches in the District of Bathurst” ; Dr. Robert Tait McKenzie (1867-1938), surgeon and sculptor, commemorated by an Ontario historical plaque at the Mill of Kintail near Almonte as well as by his sculptures (one is “The Volunteer,” located beside the Mississippi on the grounds of the Almonte town hall) ; Sir Edward Robert Peacock, born 1871, living 1961, financier, director of companies including the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, former head of the Banking firm of Baring Brothers and director of the Bank of England ; Dr. William Bennett Munro (1875-1957), American educator, historian and political scientist ; and Dr. James Mackintosh Bell (1877-1934), geologist, explorer, soldier and author, one of the noted descendants of the county’s pioneering Rev. William Bell.

Perhaps on a June night an imaginative viewer of the flood-lit beauty of the Almonte falls still might detect glimpses of the shades of Daniel Shipman, miller and loyal reformer, and the stern and affluent magistrate James Wylie – or of Scottish emigrants walking to John Gemmill’s barn for communion service – or of a band of Ballygiblins freed from the agonies of Ireland and gathered to the falls for mass.  The reflections of centuries of campfires and silent Indian portages past the falls probably would be lost.  The shadows below the falls might seem to hold a few of the host of bygone workers and employers of mills and shops ; or a crew of Scottish, Irish and French rivermen bound for Quebec City, pausing after the risks of breaking a great log jam.  And in the roar or rumble of the floodlit falls he might even hear the roll of wheels of farm wagons, mill carts and horse drawn carriages of a former generation crossing its stone arched bridge – or the rattle of a railway train with a high-stacked wood-burning engine as it drew to the northern end of its run from Brockville – or the shouts of crowds at lacrosse games and cricket matches, at the outdoor open polling of electors or in holiday parades and almost certainly a steady echo of the blows of The Builders, shaping the future of a new land.

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Victoria School Was First Town Hall in 1872, by Howard Morton Brown, Carleton Place Canadian, 11 Aug, 1960

The Carleton Place scene of the Eighteen Seventies is reviewed in the present section of a continued account. 

The larger industrial plants opened here in the Eighteen Seventies were the McArthur and Hawthorne Woollen Mills and the Gillies Machine Works.  Others included a lime kiln, which still remains in operation, and two planning mills.  As a village of 1,200 persons the municipality of Carleton Place was first incorporated in 1870.  A town hall was built and was converted within a few years to help meet the public school needs of an enlarged population.  A new high school remained unused during several years of municipal dispute.  A great fire destroyed a lumber yard stock valued at over $125,000.  A lengthy business depression placed severe limits on the country’s prosperity.  Western migration of the district’s sons continued, and began to reach the new province of Manitoba.

Building Boom

1870 – Carleton Place was first incorporated as a separate municipality by a county bylaw effective in November 1870.  Its future growth was assured when at the same time the Canada Central Railway line was opened for use between Ottawa and Carleton Place, connecting here with the Brockville and Ottawa Railway Company’s tracks which extended from Brockville to Arnprior and Sand Point.

Building of the first stone structure of the present Bates and Innes Woollen Mill was begun by Archibald McArthur and was completed a year later.  The central building was five stories in height.  Other building construction included the present Central Public School on Bridge Street, later enlarged ; the present Queen’s Hotel, also later enlarged, built for Duncan McIntosh of Perth, father of the late Dr. Duncan H. McIntosh of Carleton Place ; and about fifty residences.  The Carleton Place grist and oatmeal mills were taken over from William Bredin by Horace Brown (1829-1891), in partnership with W. C. Caldwell of Lanark, and were further equipped to manufacture wheat flour.

In the Fenian Raids of 1870 the Carleton Place Rifle Company, which had become No. 5 Company, 41st Regiment, served on duty at Cornwall under Captain John Brown of Carleton Place, and numbered fifty-three of all ranks.  It included the regimental band under Bandmaster J. C. Bonner, proprietor of a local music store.  Lieut J. Jones Bell (1845-1931) of the Carleton Place Company was serving at this time in the Red River Rebellion expedition.

Local Elections

1871 – Elected officials of this newly incorporated community were chosen in January 1871.  Those elected were Reeve Robert Crampton, general merchant, and Councillors Patrick Galvin, tailor ; John Graham, wagon maker ; Dr. William Wilson, surgeon ; and William Kelly, innkeeper.  School trustees elected were James Gillies, lumber manufacturer ; William Taylor, hardware merchant ; William Bredin, mill owner ; Patrick Struthers, general merchant and postmaster ; and Allan McDonald, woollen manufacturer.  Other officers were James Poole, clerk ; James Gillies, treasurer ; James McDiarmid, assessor ; William Patterson, tax collector ; Joseph McDiarmid, assessor ; William Patterson, tax collector ; Joseph Bond, constable and road commissioner ; William Morphy and Brice McNeely Jr., pound keepers ; and Finlay McEwen and John Brown, auditors.

Town Hall

1872 – The first Carleton Place Town Hall was built on Edmund Street and opened in 1872.  On the ground floor of the two storey stone building was the council chamber, a jail and caretaker’s living quarters.  The second storey served as a hall for public gatherings.

James Docherty built the Moffatt planing mill on the former Fuller foundry property at the south shore of the river.  In the McArthur cloth factory (now Bates & Innes) ten new looms were added.  Napoleon Lavallee removed his hotel business to his large new stone building at the corner of Lake Avenue and Bridge Streets.

John G. Haggart (1836-1913), Perth miller, was elected member of Parliament for South Lanark.  He continued to hold that seat for a record period of forty-one years and was a member of several conservative cabinets.

 

 

Lumbering

1873 – A lumber industry change in 1873 was the sale by John Gillies to Peter McLaren of control of the Carleton Place sawmill and Mississippi timber limits of the Gillies and McLaren firm.  The Gillies interests of Carleton Place bought sawmills at Braeside, together with some 250 square miles of timber limits at a price reported as $195,000.

Gambling

1874 – Members of the Carleton Place Council were John Graham, reeve, and William Taylor, John F. Cram, Dr. William Wilson and James Morphy.  Public billiard and pool tables were prohibited.  The next year’s Council permitted their operation under municipal licence.  A press report stated the Council of Carleton Place have passed a by-law prohibiting the keeping of billiard, bagatelle and pigeon-hole tables for public resort in that village, under a penalty of not less than $25.  The reasons for this stringent step as set forth in the preamble to the bylaw are contained in the following paragraph :  As gambling is a vice of a very aggravated nature, which encourages drunkenness, profane swearing and frequently causes the ruin of both body and soul of those addicted to it, and not infrequently murder, it should therefore be discountenanced and suppressed within the Corporation of Carleton Place.

The famous P. T. Barnum’s Circus was billed to appear here.  Claiming such attractions as the only giraffes and captive sea lions in America, Fiji cannibals, a talking machine and over a thousand men and horses, its announcement said :

P. T. Barnum’s Great Travelling World Fair, Museum, Menagerie, Caravan Circus and Colossal Exposition of all Nations will pitch its Mighty Metropolis of twenty Centre Pole Pavilions at Carleton Place on Wednesday, July 15 and at Perth on Thursday, July 16.

New Growth

1874 – A volunteer fire brigade, the Ocean Wave Fire Company, was organized at Carleton Place.  The municipality bought a hand operated pumper fire engine for $1,000 and a $200 hose reel cart.  Members of the committee appointed by Council to organize the brigade were William Patterson, William Kelly, A. H. Tait, James Shilson and Abner Nichols.  The new brigade’s initiation to fire fighting was the McLachlan lumber mills fire at Arnprior.

In the first stages of a five year business depression two new industries were started here.  They came with the building of the three storey stone structure of the Gillies Machine Works on the north side of the river at the lower falls, and the opening of the four storey stone woollen factory of Abraham Code, M.P.P., later known as the Hawthorne Woollen Mill.  Mr. Code was a member of the Ontario Legislature for South Lanark from 1869 to 1879.

Famous Struggle

1875 – A ten year losing battle was begun by Peter McLaren (1831-1919), owner of the largest lumber mill at Carleton Place, for monopoly controls over the navigation of logs on the Mississippi River.  It was fought between the government of Ontario and the Dominion, by physical force between opposing gangs of men on the river, and in the courts of Canada and England.

In the opening rounds of 1875, men of the Stewart and Buck firm brought their drive down the river to the Ottawa after cutting a passage through a McLaren boom at the Ragged Chute in Palmerston, and a twenty foot gap through a closed McLaren dam at High Falls in North Sherbrooke.  Boyd Caldwell & Son, which later carried this famous struggle for public navigation rights to a successful conclusion, was then employing seventy-five men on a ten hour day at its Carleton Place mill managed by William Caldwell.

Our Volume One

1876 – This newspaper was founded in January 1876, under the sponsorship of William Bredin of Carleton Place, with William W. Cliff of Napanee as editor and publisher.  There were 1,800 persons living in Carleton Place.

When adverse winds delayed timber drives for several days in the lower Mississippi, some 24,000 sticks of square timber lay in the river between Appleton and Almonte at the end of June.  Owners were the Caldwell, McLaren, Mackie, Campbell and Buck & Stewart firms. 

A Saturday vacation starting date for the province’s public schools was advanced from July 15 to July 7.  The Minister of Education addressed a meeting of the county’s school teachers here.  Carleton Place had five public and two high school teachers.

 

Local Taxes

1877 – The McArthur woollen mill, equipped to operate by waterpower of the lower falls, was leased and reopened by William H. Wylie when the country’s business depression became less severe.

The six largest assessments for local taxes were those of the railway company, Peter McLaren, lumber manufactuer ; Archibald McArthur, woollen mill owner ; Boyd Caldwell, lumber manufacturer ; Abraham Code, M.P.P., woollen manufacturer ; and Horace Brown, grain miller.  A tax exemption for the machine works of Gillies, Beyer & Company continued in effect.  The tax rate was 14 ½ mills.

O’Brien’s Circus visited Carleton Place, Perth and Smiths Falls, with its transportation provided by horses and two hundred mules.  Barnum’s Circus showed at Brockville and Ottawa.

High School

1878 – A separate High School of stone construction was built on High Street.  During the course of bitter and widespread disputes and litigation, based on a division of business and real estate interests between the north and south halves of the town, the new school, though much needed remained unused for nearly five years. 

A local option temperance statute of 1864 was brought into force in this area and retained for one year, prohibiting all sales of liquor in quantities of less than five gallons.

Alexander M. Gillies and Peter Peden, aged 21 and 24, were drowned in September while duck hunting at night near Black Point in the lower Mississippi Lake.

Great Fire

1879 – In continuance of prolonged controversy over the sites of the High School and Town Hall, the Town Hall on Edmund Street was converted in part into a public school, a step which brought a brief stage of physical violence followed by allegations of riot, assault and libel and a number of related court actions.

A planing mill was opened by Abner Nichols (1835-1905) on the riverside at Rosamond Street adjoining the Gillies Machine Works.  A lime kiln which continues in operation was built by Napoleon Lavallee, hotelkeeper, on his farm at the present site of Napoleon Street.  William Cameron acquired the business ten years later and operated it for many years.  With two local woollen mills remaining in operation, the closed Hawthorne Woollen Mill was offered for sale by Abraham Code.

A great fire destroyed over thirteen million feet of sawn lumber in the northern part of the Peter McLaren piling yards, together with a section of ties and rails of the Canada Central Railway.  The yards extended about three quarters of a mile along the railway line.  The lumber firm’s loss was recovered from $50,000 in insurance and $100,000 in damages paid when court decisions holding the railway company responsible were upheld five years later in England.  Fire engines and men came to Carleton Place from Almonte, Arnprior, Brockville, Smiths Falls and Ottawa, and hundreds of local helpers aided in saving lumber and checking the spread of the conflagration.

 

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