Visiting Manotick With a Dog – Ontario, Canada
The fall colours are out and it is with a fond farewell to summer that I present to you the last of my local summer jaunts.
Reminiscing is a great part of travel, even if that adventure is very close to home. Recall the smells and sounds of summer and think back to crickets, warm breezes, the smell of dry hay in the air, and sticky fur from spilled gelato … that is the lens to wear when reading this post.
Come with me to discover Manotick.
In a society that has easy access to the likes of Google, Flickr, travel books and amazing documentaries in Technicolor on TV, it is easy to believe that the world “out there” is more interesting than the one right on our doorstep. Such a belief is an unfortunate oversight. We are reminded of this time and again when we discover local gems such as Wakefield, Mont-Tremblant and other beautiful areas around Ottawa and Gatineau proper.
When our friend Karen (Hi Karen!) mentioned that Manotick has a pet friendly patio at a restaurant named La Piazza, we just had to go and check-it out: a pet friendly restaurant and a local gem? Turns out that Manotick was worth the visit for more than a simple (but very good) meal.
Note: By default, having a place to eat with a pet makes any outing pet friendly. Manotick boasts two such eateries: La Piazza, just mentioned, and the (appropriately named) Black Dog Bistro. How they get around the local bylaws to allow pets, I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care! If you want a lovely terrace and some great Italian food, we recommend La Piazza. We can’t comment on the Black Dog yet; we will have to try it out next time we are in the area.
Now where was I? Oh yes …
It was a hot summer day – typical for the region really – with a slightly warm breeze and crazy bluer-than-blue skies. With the return of rain after a horribly dry July, everything was lush again. We got in our car and drove off to Manotick, only about 25km (16 miles) south of where we live.
I don’t usually like to dwell too much on history in a post, but that’s the thing about Manotick: it’s is a living, breathing story of Canadian history and heritage. Never, in our area, have we been so pleased to come across a real grass-roots culture of restore and re-use. There is far too much tear down and destroy in our neck of the woods, so it was a happy surprise to find folks in Manotick very much attached to the town’s past and its preservation.
So please forgive me, Dear Reader, if I end up sounding a little like a history teacher – although a fun one, I hope. Let’s travel back in time shall we?
In the 1830s, a small settlement formed in the area of the newly constructed Long Island locks on the Rideau Canal. Yet the settlement really didn’t grow for a long time. In 1859, entrepreneur Moss Kent Dickinson and his partner, Joseph Merrill Currier, obtained the water rights for the rivers bank and constructed a stone mill on the shores of the Rideau River. In 1864, after some years of economic growth spurred on by the newly built mill, Dickinson named the new tiny village “Manotick” after the Ojibwa word meaning “island in the river.”
One of the original mills, Watson’s Mill, survives today and is open to the public. The working industrial heritage site features oak ionic columns and 64’ beams of white pine. The turbines are all still there; so are the pullies … all of it. The mill is well worth the visit; it’s simply amazing to watch it in action.
Just across the way from the mill is the Dickinson House, built in 1863. It was the first major building and served as a general store, bank, post office, and telegraph office. The Dickinson, Spratt, and Watson families, who owned and operated the grist mill – the one now known as Watson’s Mill – used Dickinson House as their residence from 1870 to 1972. The house, which is currently furnished to give visitors an interpretation of what the space was like when the Dickinson family was in residence, is not yet a protected site – something the locals would like to change. The House has lost a lot of its original architectural interest; yet, it is still well worth the stop. Besides, I love seeing adult bipeds all dressed up in clothing of a bygone age!
Outside of the House, we gathered around a young lady in period costume demonstrating how butter used to be made. A little later, we also got to see how ladies of the day did laundry. Trust me when I say, if I had to do laundry, I’d be glad the washing machine was invented!
There is a lovely walking tour of the old town that you can take. You can take a guided tour, or, like us, you can grab a map at the Dickinson House, follow the map, read the explanations, and simply meander on at your own pace. We certainly did – meander, I mean – snapping plenty of photos of interesting houses and meeting many friendly dogs and their owners. The locals all seem to know something about the area and are more than happy to share their stories. Don’t be afraid to ask!
There is a sad story to Manotick – a story about Watson’s Mill and a lovely ghost. The tale goes something like this:
Ann Crosby Currier, the second wife of Joseph Currier, was born in 1841. Ann was the daughter of a successful hotel owner and grew up with seven siblings in the village of Caldwell, New York. In 1861, Ann was married to Joseph Merrill Currier who, at that time, was a part owner of Watson’s Mill.
On Monday, March 11, 1861, six weeks into the marriage, coinciding with Joseph and Ann’s return from their honeymoon, Currier and Dickinson held a small party to celebrate their first successful year of operation at the mill. While making their way through the party congestion around moving equipment and machinery, tragedy struck: Ann’s crinoline and dress became caught in one of the turbine shafts on the second floor of the Mill. Ann was flung against a pillar and killed instantly. Following this tragedy, Joseph lost all interest in the Mill and eventually sold his shares to his partner Dickinson.
Since that time, there have been numerous unconfirmed sightings of Ann’s ghost in Watson’s Mill, resulting in the site being considered among Ottawa’s haunted buildings. Watson’s Mill currently runs a number of events promoting the haunted nature of the building including the Terrifying Tales at Twilight and visits by the Haunted Ottawa and Paranormal Society.
The story becomes even more interesting. After Mr. Currier sold his shares in the Mill, he moved to Ottawa. Some time later, Mr. Currier re-married and built his new wife a gorgeous house on a cliff above the Ottawa River. That house, Dear Reader, is particularly interesting because it is 24 Sussex, now the Prime Minister’s residence!
Sadly, as commercial traffic on the Rideau became less important, the population in Manotick declined. Watson’s Mill remained in the Dickinson family until 1928 when Elizabeth, Moss Kent Dickinson’s youngest daughter, sold it to Alec Spratt. Spratt ran it for a short period until his death. His wife continued with the business until it was sold in 1946 to Harry Watson. With the introduction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, it became cheaper to import wheat and flour from the West than to grow and mill wheat in Ontario. Spratt and Watson gradually transformed the Mill into a feed and seed operation to keep up with the changing times and to accommodate the local dairy and livestock farmers.
The rest you will have to go and visit and hear for yourselves. It’s a very interesting tale, which includes the stories of budding and soon-to-be prime ministers and so much more. All that, right here, in our own backyard!
It was such a fun day. We saw how ice cream used to be made, enjoyed the river and the old stones, and had a lovely meal. It was a charming outing – one we hope to experience again soon.
In Review: There’s a warm welcome awaiting you in Manotick, a charming village on the Rideau River where old-fashioned, small-town service is alive and well! With over- and rapidly growing development of housing in south Ottawa, Manotick is maintaining its character by working closely with developers to carefully managing growth in the area. We are ever so glad.
Have you ever discovered a gem of a place in your own city or neighborhood? Please share in the comments below.