The Transformation of Authentic Almonte
Once a sleepy farm town, today Almonte is anything but. The past five years have seen abandoned mills transformed into upscale condos, luring urbanites looking for a taste of country life. A lively artists’ community flourishes here, with galleries and unique boutiques lining historic and downtown streets. An astounding number – given Almonte’s still relatively small size – of fantastic gastronomic establishments and charming B&Bs and country inns are here for the taking throughout the year.
Still firmly rooted in its community traditions – as exemplified by its famous agricultural fair – Almonte has evolved into one of the quaintest villages in the province.
Almonte Riverside Inn and Kitchen
While there are several great B&B options in the region, the Almonte Riverside Inn and Kitchen exemplifies the youthful revitalization of this village (plus, you can’t beat its central, yet serene location).
After years of working at some of the best hospitality establishments in the country (including the Elora Mill Inn and Deerhurst Resort), Rob Prior (hailing from Carp) chose to open his own inn in Almonte in 2012. Charmed by the village’s friendly vibe and artistic community, Rob purchased one of the original grand homes, built in 1882 by Almonte’s first town councillor and lawyer. He painstaking-ly renovated the stone manor to hold six relaxing rooms, keeping as many of the original features as possible – such as moldings and flooring – while still modernizing to create high-end bathrooms and other comforts.
Dinner is overseen by Chef Trisha Donaldson, who served as chef in restaurants from BC to Ottawa, including the Black Cat Bistro and the Oz Kafe. The philosophy here is to have many of the bases and sauces be gluten-free and vegan, and then add meat and dairy as options. This means that there isn’t just one token option for those with dietary restrictions.
One of the best parts of a stay at the inn is the amazing breakfast menu. Choose from healthy, yet decadent, options such as a peameal bacon and egg-filled croissant or a baked dish of shirred eggs, brie, and greens topped with bread crumbs. Choices are made the night before, so everything’s all ready when you come down for breakfast in the open concept kitchen-dining room. Here, you can chat with Rob as he cooks your breakfast, and you can mine his knowledge of fun, local finds.
For a community of a few thousand people, Almonte is overflowing with artistic talent. One of the best studio tours in the Ottawa area is the Crown and Pumpkin, held annually on a weekend in mid-October. In particular, you’ll want to visit Chris Van Zanten (glass), Richard Skrobecki (clay), Clement Hoeck (pottery), and Hyesuk Kim (Korean paper and textile art).
In town, a must-visit destination is The General, a retail art gallery opened earlier this year by Skrobecki and ceramic artist Chandler Swain. Featuring work by Ontario and Quebec artists, the gallery also has a wonderfully, curated and themed monthly exhibit – including topics as diverse as puppetry and body adornment.
Events with Country Charm and Quirky Distinctiveness
For 15 years, Almonte has hosted Celtfest, a music event celebrating Celtic culture in early July. Performers from as far away as Wales and British Columbia headline the fest’s concerts with fiddles, banjo, and even electric guitars.
If you’re looking to hit up a classic fair, Almonte’s is one of the best and longest standing. Held in late July, the fair offers crafts and food created by local farmers and artisans, contests (best pie, preserves, etc.), horse and farm animal shows, and sheep shearing demonstrations.
You might associate a quirky puppet festival with the streets of Montmartre rather than Lanark County, but Puppets Up! is a great family and artistic event held in August. The festival is overseen by Almonte’s own award-winning puppeteer and puppet builder, Noreen Young (a designer, writer, and executive producer of Under the Umbrella Tree). Ten puppet troupes put on 60 performances (including one in French) in tented theatres and historic buildings, and there are also street performances and an afternoon parade through downtown.
Shopping Mill Street: Something for Everyone
Almonte’s main drag offers everything from women’s clothes to children’s toys. A few spots to hit up include Blackbird (funky home finds), the Tin Barn Market (stylish reclaimed and repurposed items for the home), and Kehla Design (beautiful jewellery made on-site).
Mississippi Valley Textile Museum: The top floor of this national historic site is a permanent collection of mill machines and explanatory text on how wool was turned into fabric and garments during the 19th century. However, the first floor of this former Rosamond Woolen Company building is where the excellent temporary exhibits are displayed. These showcase talent from around the world and display textile artwork typically only found at urban galleries. The current exhibit is Unravelling Tension, a colourful, modern art knitting display.
Heirloom Café: In Almonte, you can not only visit or live in a former mill, but eat lunch there as well. Heirloom Café offers a fresh menu of gourmet flatbreads and massive salads, served in the beautiful Victoria Woolen Mill.
Mill of Kintail: West of Almonte, this 1830s grist mill was the summer home and studio of Robert Tait Mackenzie. This attractive museum has a picturesque setting on the Indian River. Displays chronicle Tait’s fascinating career as a military doctor, physical education specialist, and artist (the second storey displays some of his fine works). The picturesque mill is also a popular wedding venue and a great place to get some photos. There are also trails through the forest and along the river to be enjoyed.
Whatever the season, Almonte is a perfect place to visit. You’re sure to take home great memories and probably a new glass vase or hand-made quilt as well.