So much fun to be had so close to home!
The surest way to test the charms of a small town is to visit it during winter. If it seems appealing – or even impressive – at that time of year, then you know it will be even more alluring when the snow is gone. This measure applies perfectly to Carleton Place, one of the jewels of Lanark County. Located just over 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa, Carleton Place is celebrating 200 years of settlement 2019, so it seemed the perfect time to take a closer look.
I had a hunch that Carleton Place would be the perfect spot for a little close-to-home romantic getaway for my husband and me, in honour of a milestone birthday he was about to celebrate. We like to visit places that offer a range of indoor and outdoor activities, good food, are walkable and have loads of friendly people to talk to. We found all this and more in Carleton Place, which made us wonder frequently during our time there why we’d not stayed for more than just a quick visit all the times we’d been previously.
Steeped in history
It takes mere moments to begin to appreciate Carleton Place’s storied history. Moore House, home to the Visitor Information Centre, Roy Brown Museum and Chamber of Commerce is a great first stop, offering up a friendly welcome, maps and advice about what to see and do. The log home is one of the oldest original buildings in town, built around 1850 by the son of one of the area’s first settlers. The First World War era artifacts on display have been curated by the Roy Brown Society, a volunteer organization dedicated to researching, preserving, and telling the story of Captain A. Roy Brown, a military pilot from Carleton Place who is credited with having shot down the Red Baron. Moore House was donated to the town in 2006 and moved to its current location on Bridge Street in 2007. If you’re interested in ghosts, be sure to ask about Ida.
A short walk from Moore House leads to the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, housed in a beautiful limestone building constructed in 1872 which saw previous duties over time as the town hall, local jail and an elementary school. Home to over 10,000 artifacts, the museum provides a great snapshot of settlement in the area and aspects of local life and industry through the decades.
The museum’s friendly and knowledgeable manager, Jennifer Irwin, is a great source of interesting information virtually every aspect of local history including early settlers, the logging industry and much more. She explained that the museum is a vibrant place, hosting many events and activities including workshops and fundraisers including the annual “Junk and Disorderly” sale (china, quilts, books and more) sale in March and antique clothing sale in April. I’m looking forward to returning for one of the museum’s guided walking tours in the summer, as well as an opportunity to visit the Victoria School Gardens and labyrinth located behind the museum building.
Another fascinating aspect of Carleton Place’s rich past and present can be found at the Canadian Co-Operative Wool Growers (CCWG) facility, beside Junction Park (soon to be home to the town’s communal, outdoor Friendship Oven, a 200th anniversary project). Established in 1918 by the sheep farming industry to collect and market members’ wool, the facility continues to receive three million pounds of raw, Canadian-grown wool from across the country each year, with the majority coming from Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. The fleece gets weighed then graded by hand before being sold to wherever the best prices are available (typically international buyers).
General Manager Eric Bjergso told us that while the volume of wool produced in Canada is not as great as some other countries, Canadian wool is particularly prized for the springiness of its fibres. As a life-long knitter, I was entranced watching grader Pat as he efficiently assessed the fleece passing under his hands on a conveyor belt; he noted that he typically grades about 12,000 pounds of wool each day. The wool processing takes place in what was a former Canadian Pacific Railway roundhouse and machine shop, built in 1890.
There’s more than just the fleece operation there – there’s a ton of railway memorabilia as well as the extremely well-stocked Real Wool Shop with its impressive selection of fashionable women’s and men’s clothing, accessories, blankets, yarn, outdoor gear, western wear and more. On top of all this, you’ll also find the eclectic CCWG Livestock Supplies and Equestrian Centre. I’m eager to check out the Lambs Down Festival in June; it’s an annual family-friendly celebration of the wool industry featuring sheep shearing plus demonstrations on the spinning, weaving and knitting of wool and lots of other activities.
Although the weather was quite frosty during our stay, it was still fun to walk through town and along the picturesque Mississippi River; it was easy to imagine the waterway bustling with boat traffic and people fishing during the warmer weather. Outside of town, we visited the historic Mill of Kintail Conservation Area which boasts many kilometres of beautiful nature trails, through woods and along the banks of the Indian River.
Our time in the woods was made quite unforgettable thanks to our fascinating guide, Chad Clifford, who gave us a taste of what one might experience during his outdoor adventure workshops. A well-trained expert in nature lore and bushcraft, he led us on a meandering journey to identify animal tracks, learn firestarting and other useful survival techniques, understand wild edibles, discover how to make a spile for tapping maple trees out of a sumac branch and so much more. I’m now very eager to participate in one of his many workshops offered throughout the region during the year.
Room to relax
Now called the Grand Hotel, the building that was originally called the Mississippi Hotel was erected by Napoleon Lavalee in 1872, using locally-quarried Beckwith limestone. In its heyday, it was called one of the finest hotels between Ottawa and Toronto.
Stompin’ Tom Connors performed and stayed at the hotel in 1967, where he also wrote his hit song about French Canadian folk hero Big Joe Mufferaw. The hotel passed through a series of owners but fell into disrepair over time and was at risk of being demolished in 1990. Contacted by local residents trying to save the building, Stompin’ Tom wrote a note describing the Mississippi Hotel as “the Grand Ole Lady,” adding his voice to the chorus of those demanding she be saved, which she was.
Stompin’ Tom’s connection to Carleton Place and the hotel is depicted in a mural on a nearby building; it’s one of many well-executed, interesting murals in the town – finding them all would make for a great self-guided walking tour. (If you’re into murals, Pembroke is another great place to visit – you can read more about my mural-hunting experience in this Ottawa Valley town here.) In addition to searching for outdoor murals in Carleton Place, be sure to take time to look up as you enter many of the old buildings throughout town; there are some gorgeous old tin ceilings to be found in many of them.
The hotel’s current ownership group includes Rod Scribner, Steve Moodie and Janice Mathers who executed significant renovations and refurbishments before reopening her as The Grand (a tribute to Stompin’ Tom’s description) in September 2017. The hotel forms a key part of the team’s shared mission to make Carleton Place an appealing destination, with the Evermore event space and Boulton House restaurant among their individual and group holdings. With an onsite pub, formal dining room and elegant ballroom/event space, plus sixteen guest rooms, The Grand is once again a true hub for Carleton Place. The décor harkens back to an earlier era, with gracious comfort at the heart of the operation.
We were fortunate to stay in the 1200 square foot Imperial Suite, which includes a living room with gas fireplace, separate sitting room, spacious bedroom with its own fireplace and enormous bathroom with rainfall shower and two-person tub. The suite was a decadent treat we’d be delighted to enjoy again.
While we were reluctant to leave the Grand Hotel after such a comfortable and relaxing stay, a trip to the nearby Mahogany Salon and Spa for some pampering made our departure a little easier. The sister location to Mahogany’s Stittsville facility, the Carleton Place location opened in 2012 in a beautiful large building that resembles a mansion, with its sweeping staircase, wide hallways and myriad smaller rooms. On hand are capable, attentive staff who were a big part of the reason we felt an aura of calmness the moment we walked into the spa. While Mahogany offers a full menu of services and treatments, we opted for facials in a double room with two treatment beds; it was really fun for me to listen in as my husband enjoyed his first-ever spa experience. Our elite facialists Jordyn and Aida provided exemplary service as they assessed our needs then delivered the appropriate treatment (Hydrolifting for me; Alpha Vital for him) to leave us happy and super relaxed, with glowing skin and tips for improved routines at home.
The option to linger a little longer and enjoy charcuterie and cheese boards (prepared by Black Tartan Kitchen) along with a glass of local craft beer or wine made our time at Mahogany Spa even more relaxing and convinced us we had yet another good reason to return to Carleton Place.
Stay tuned for a second post coming soon, in which I’ll share delicious details about about some of the amazing food and drink to be found in Carleton Place.
Note: We were invited to visit Carleton Place as guests of Lanark County Tourism and the Carleton Place & District Chamber of Commerce. Opinions, as always, are my own.