Visiting Smiths Falls in Canada With a Small Dog
One morning in August, Dad woke up and, just like that, announced, “Let’s go discover Smiths Falls.” Since Mom and I are always up for a little adventure, we quickly got ourselves ready and off we went: me with a dried sausage treat in my mouth, Mom and Dad with their morning vegan protein shakes.
While in the car, Mom pulled out her smart phone and did a quick Google search. This is what her search found:
Located in a parkland setting along the Rideau Canal, located on Hwy 15, Smiths Falls is within easy commuting distance of Ottawa, Kingston, Western Quebec, Upper New York State, and all of Eastern Ontario. Smiths Falls’ history dates from the American Revolutionary War (United Empire Loyalists) and was established as part of a strategic defence plan against invasion from the south. [The town as we know it began] in the late 1700’s when UEL Thomas Smyth received a gift of 400 acres from the Royal Commission. Later Smyth, as well as other settlers, used the many falls in the region to build sawmills and other water-powered businesses. By 1860, there were approximately 1,100 inhabitants.
Nestled in a picturesque setting along the Rideau Canal, today Smiths Falls is a modern community with old-world charm. There is a great wealth of Canadian history, architecture, and culture to be found in Smiths Falls.
- Discover the heritage.
- Experience the adventure.
- Explore the waterways.
- Participate in the festivals and organized activities.
- Enjoy the entertainment.
- Kick-back and relax.
Well now, that sounded promising! Seemed we were about to discover another local treasure. After only an hour’s drive from our nation’s capital, we pulled up to the old town centre, only to discover the main street was closed to cars. An odd thing on a weekend! Curious to see what all the fuss was about, we parked the car behind a mechanic’s shop closed for the day and went to snoop. What we discovered absolutely delighted us to no end!
We had stumbled across a soapbox derby! And not just any soap box derby, but the oldest one in Canada. How about that? Once again we had impeccable, and totally accidental, timing.
I had the pleasure of sniffing a few of the “wheels,” doing my own inspection. I watched as the potential champions got weighed in and registered. Funny enough, I was drawing some attention too. Next thing you know, I was invited to do the ceremonial opening run! Holy Moly! I met Branden, who would be driving, and got myself comfy on his lap and … with Mom acting a little nervous … off I went!
Oh, Dear Reader, the Exhilaration! The wind in my fur, the sun, the excitement! No wonder these kids take it so seriously. It is oodles of fun! My request for a re-do was denied. (Poo!) Instead, I was taken to safety on the sidelines and the real races started. We watched for a bit then headed off in the direction of the locks. Little did I know I would end up mentioned in the papers a few days later! Ha! How about that?
By far the most picturesque and interesting part of Smiths Falls is the canal and its locks. We took our time and strolled around the expansive terrain, all of it glorious and green. The sun was shining and the day was perfect. It added a wonderful vibe to our walk.
The grounds have a nice park complete with a water feature – a shallow pool where humans and canines alike can cool their feet or paws. And there is an airplane there too! The “Yellow Peril” is an example of the basic trainer plane that thousands of young man (and only a few women) learned to fly in defence of their country. It’s pretty cool and although you can’t touch it or get in, you can get pretty close.
The locks in Smiths Falls are a little different than the ones in Perth or even Ottawa. For example, Smiths Falls has one part of the locks – the biggest lock – automated. That must make life a lot easier for everyone!
he other thing different about the locks here is that in addition to the boats moored at the different docks, there is an RV camp ground right next to the water. It’s a pretty fancy pants place to stop! I met a few canines who were enjoying their summer vacation time with their owners this way. I was told RVing is pretty pet friendly. Good to know!
The Heritage Trails along the canal eventually lead you to the Bascule Bridge. It’s a movable concrete bridge that was used to move rail traffic over the Canal. Built in 1912, there it is – still standing and working in 2014. I think it’s amazing that it’s still there. It’s one of only a few left in Canada.
We also found a beach. We assumed that, like all beaches (this one man-made), there would be a “NO DOGS” sign. We were pleasantly surprised to see there was no such thing! Yay!
Truly, the grounds are beautiful. And there is a lot to see, from flowers to trees, to the Canal proper and its locks – both those that are manual and the one that is not. There are fountains and old homes to visit. The big water tower looms overhead. Give yourself time or you will end up missing something. Enjoy the quiet pace that the place seems to suggest.
Where things get a little complicated in Smiths Falls is when it comes time to eat. I have to say, this is where we met some trouble… and came across the sad part of the town.
I can’t sugar coat it for you, Dear Reader: Smiths Falls is really struggling and it’s obvious. I can only guess that the closing of the Hershey’s factory has something to do with it. Not only were jobs lost, but buses of tourists also disappeared.
The old main street, although charming at one time, now looks run down. The historic buildings are now home to such atrocities as dollar stores and fast food joints. There were no shops that even remotely held any interest, choosing to sell “Made in China” wares rather than local samples of art, items, or produce. There were no fun antique shops, no unusual clothing, shoes, or accessories on offer. There was … nothing.
The building that broke our hearts the most was the old hotel – a beautiful, now derelict, 1901 piece of architecture. There is a need for repairs, paint, and some serious tender loving care.
On top of that, we were saddened to see that no restaurant in the downtown core had a pet friendly patio… or even a patio for that matter. Heck, with the soapbox derby on, you would think that the local pub would be open. But it wasn’t. A business decision we could not comprehend, even if it was a Sunday.
The coffee shop looked promising, but with no sun umbrellas, there was no way we were going to roast like chickens while we ate. And they didn’t have a real espresso machine – a big no-no in a coffee shop for Dad. So, after a disappointing walk in the town’s centre, we re-traced our steps to the Canal and walked a little further beyond where we found what we were looking for.
The Kilt and Castle pub is an old Victorian house, once known as Roclyn House. It …
- Was open for business
- Had a decent menu
- Had a pet friendly patio, and
- Although on a busy street, offered a view of the Canal and Victoria Park.
Yes, this would do nicely. Very nicely. So although we aren’t big on pub food, we settled down to enjoy our lunch. It was extra special in that we were the only patrons. Not great for the pub’s bottom line, but pretty darn nice for us! Food was good. Service was lovely.
After that we made our way back to our car, enjoyed a last scenic moment at some picnic tables (where we could have eaten a lunch if we had brought one), and headed home. It was a perfect way to spend a half day, all full of new scents and sights.
In review: A great place to get in touch with a big piece of Canadian history. You can discover the legacy left behind by those who settled Eastern Ontario. Smiths Falls’ locks are truly a historical monument to be seen in all their beauty and great to explore with your canine companion. We sincerely hope that business will pick up and that the old downtown core will be revitalized. I also hope that in time, more pet friendly patios will be available. Overall, the town itself has little to offer these days, but the locks are well worth the visit. If you want to do a walking tour, print this handy guide to make it more interesting and informative!