The Joy of Effort - A History of Physical Activity
Mill of Kintail Conservation Area
Almonte is a town built on effort. From the first settlers to the current residents, hard work and enthusiasm are no foreign ideas. Even the name, "Almonte", is representative of enormous effort and devotion. In this case, General Juan Almonte was devoted to the liberation of Mexico in the face of American aggression. Being a compassionate community, and conveniently finding themselves in need of a name during the period of his fame, the citizens came together to officially name their village Almonte.
Prior to this decision, the area had been known by several different names. Originally, it had been called "Shepherds Falls" after the first settler, David Shepherd, a United Empire Loyalist who received a crown grant to build two mills along the banks of the Mississippi River. The loss of one mill to fire, and financial problems caused Shepherd to lose his grant. It was re-commissioned to Daniel Shipman, also a Loyalist, from Brockville. In 1822, Shipman had succeeded in building the requisite grist mill, and locally the area was known as "Shipman’s Mills."
3On the other side of the river, Edward Mitcheson had built a grist mill and registered the official name of his land as "Victoriaville." On a map from 1855 the community was labeled "Ramsayville". In the meantime, the town’s post office existed throughout the various name changes under the title, "Ramsay." By 1856 the multitude of names had become too confusing. A town meeting was held to remedy the situation at which the name "Almonte" was chosen.
From this point on, the community was inexhaustible in their efforts to build a thriving town. In 1874, Almonte boasted thirty stores and thirty five other businesses. The town was commonly regarded as "The Manchester of Canada," for it’s advancement and status as a leader in the textile industry.
The same enthusiasm and effort put into creating this great community was transferred to the playing fields. There were innumerable teams and games played with vigor and passion all throughout the community. There were, of course, rivalries between this town and it’s neighbours, adding all the more to the drama and excitement of it all.
Gemmil Park, a true testament to the devotion to physical activity in the town. At any time, in any season you will find someone in the Park. Tennis courts, track, soccer fields, football field, play structure, baseball diamond, horshoe pits,
basketball courts and the recently added skateboard ramp. The hills beyond the tennis court are the site of winter fun; sledding here is the ultimate.
John Gemmil, prominent town citizen, once owned a stately home and farm where the park is today. After his death, the property passed to his daughter Winifred Gemmil. Upon her death in 1943 the farm or Homestead was bequeathed to the town of Almonte that they might "construct, establish and maintain a Public Park or Recreation Ground."
Today Gemmil Park is most frequented by soccer enthusiasts. Our residents are soccer fanatics and the increase in the number of players and teams in Almonte is staggering.
8Prior to this park being established numerous other sites through out the town had been used as playgrounds. The most used field in town was the N.L.A.S (North Lanark Agricultural Society ) grounds on Water Street in Almonte. The field was large and the grandstands provided good seats for spectators.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s sporting events were typically played on McCallum’s Sports Field.
10Almonte Cricket Club
Cricket was very popular and evidence of the Almonte Cricket Club dates to 1862. The Express, predecessor of the Gazette, our local newspaper, reported numerous cricket related details:
May 9th 1862 Express
Almonte Cricket Club rolling and sodding of the pitch with play to be held twice a week, invitation to new members opening game of the season to be May 17, 1862. Also an advertisement for a meeting of the Almonte Cricket Club.
The cricket grounds were at that time located at the rear of the B&O Railway Depot (Brockville and Ottawa Line)
Friday May 30th 1862 Express
"The Queen’s Birthday - Saturday last was generally observed in this village as a public holiday… About 10 o’clock a.m., the Cricket Club turned out for a practice on the cricket ground where they remained until noon. At 2 o’clock pm they returned, but having no other club to play against them, not even the "All England Eleven". Sides were chosen and a match was played between themselves, creating a good deal of excitement and amusement among the large number of spectators on the ground."
Friday May 28th, 1870 Almonte Gazette
"The 24th - Queen’s Birthday - A greater crowd went to Arnprior where a great deal was to see. A procession of firearms, games, footraces and free whiskey made the morning interesting. While the afternoon was filled by lacrosse, cricket and the "TERRIBLES". Altogether the celebration in Arnprior was very creditable to the managers."
12The games were typically played on the fairgrounds where spectators could watch in the grandstands. The ACC (Almonte Cricket Club) was one of the teams active in the Ottawa Valley Cricket Council. Teams would play every Saturday. Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa had a team and they were remembered by Stan Morton as a pretty good team. "All around the players were a great group of guys and a lot of fun was had." Walter Morton, Stan’s father, was an "average player, but the Captain of the team the year they won the cup."
Lawrence Woodhead, Lorrie as he was known, was an excellent player, "a cracker of a bowler". The bowlers were the most important members of the team and consequently they would practice hard. The rest would just bat and throw the ball around in practice.
The season opened in June and would run through August. Playoffs would begin in September. Stan remembers one memorable May when a group of club members had taken a day off to help get the pitch ready for play. They had come out with thier lawn mowers ready to work only to be interrupted by four inches of snow.
Players in the early days would travel by train to away games. With the advent of the automobile, the team would take a few cars to a match. "Alf Jackman and Claude Thompson had cars" so the team often piled into the two vehicles. It was quite a feat to haul the team up Bay Hill and they would make sure to get a good run at it.
13The Almonte Cricket Club. Winners of the 1925 Ottawa Valley Cricket League Championship.
14In the mid 1930’s the team disbanded as interest waned. In its place the lawn bowling club was formed, a group that still plays to this day. The cricket house was moved to Robert Street to be used as the lawn bowlers club house and it still stands today.
These memories were told by Stan Morton, born in Almonte in 1905. The son of Walter Morton, Rosamond Mill worker. Stan is a legend in this town and served as Almonte’s ambassador for many years. His store on main street was always a hub of activity. It was the place for news, toys, candy, you name it, he had it. "Almonte is a great town, none better."
Stan was born on Farm Street, lived on Farm Street and still owns his house on Farm Street "a true Farm Streeter". Farm Street was ideally located two minutes from the Rosamond Woolen Mill, where he and his father worked for many years.
The Almonte Club was formed in 1933, when the McCallum’s, John and his Father Peter moved the cricket clubhouse to it present home on Lisgar Street.
Lawn bowling is popular with the Almonte residents and is a game that can be played by men and women, young and old. Similar to curling, lawn bowling is played on a green which is a field of closely cut grass 120 feet square.
The Jack, a small white ball is rolled out first at the start of every end. The teams then take turns rolling their bowl (balls) at the jack. The object beign to have as many of your teams bowls closest to the jack. An average game lasts about two hours.
In the year of McKenzie’s birth the National Lacrosse Association was formed in Kingston and in the following years the sport grew rapidly. Both McKenzie and Naismith played recreational lacrosse in Almonte in their youth. There were numerous amateur and professional teams across Canada including both senior and junior clubs in Almonte. The Almonte Gazette reported the following August 11, 1899:
A team of young lacrosse players came down form Arnprior last Saturday and had a game with a junior team here. There was quite a crowd on hand to watch the little lads play to a tie, each club scoring two goals. The teams in the town often practiced on the fields near the high school.
Games were always held at the N.L.A.S grounds. The Almonte teams were a part of the Ottawa Valley Lacrosse League that included teams from Arnprior, and Pembroke.
The game of baseball evolved from the British game called Rounders. Cricket, another bat and ball game, also influenced the development of the game. As baseball gained in popularity in America it soon hit Canada and Almonte was not immune to baseball infatuation.
Baseball was a popular game with the men and ladies Almonte and the surrounding area. Its popularity stemmed from the fact that it did not require a lot of equipment, a ball and a bat, and a glove if you had one. It was a matter of pride to make the local team. To play with the guys, win a few games and defeat the local rivals. It was an outlet and a release from the hard work of the day.
The Almonte Gazette of June 9th 1899 states that the Almonte Baseball Club had had a meeting and officers and committee members were appointed. In the June 30 edition of the same year the Gazette reports that "While practicing baseball with the Ramsay Jovial Sports on Friday Mr. Alex A. Steele was playing on first base and received a hot one on the face a ball thrown to him by the pitcher. He came to town and had the wound dressed by his physician and is now making favorable progress."
John Early (b.1915) formerly of Pakenham remembers well his baseball days.
"It was the depression, we had no money for a glove, the only players who wore a glove were the catcher and the first baseman." John played with a tournament team called the Ottawa Valley Playdowns. A team that consisted of the best players from around the local leagues. The team would often travel some distance to play.
Jim McKay (b. 1920) played in a local league with teams from Cedar Hill, Almonte, Clayton and Union Hall. He remembers the team jersey’s generously donated by Ed Winslow Sprague, of the Shell Oil depot in town. The "Shell" team sweaters were red with black on the shoulders. The team would play on the main ball field on the Clayton Road. Erv Currie was the catcher, Gorden Currie and Keith Cavanaugh were the team’s pitchers. Ronald Gunn played first base, Robert Corn played at second, Bob Rivington in right field and Jim McKay in Left.
Jim played for about 6 or 8 years. The Currie brothers, avid baseball enthusiasts, founded the team and were helpful at keeping the league alive. The team would practice and play once a week.
Marjory Campbell (b.1915) also played baseball. When she was young she and a group of her girlfriends would walk all the way across town to the diamond at the High school to play baseball. A elderly lady that lived nearby allowed them to store their equipment on her porch so they would not have to carry it.
Skating has always been a popular pastime for Almontonians. Skating was referenced in poetry and around the town accounts in the town’s first newspaper the Express in 1861, 1862. Whether it was on the frozen Mississippi or Indian Rivers or the numerous small ponds that dotted the rural landscape skating was the thing to do on cold winter nights. Skating parties and carnivals were very popular social events. Skating was something men and ladies could enjoy together. When the first indoor arena on the Island was built it saw an endless stream of patrons both young and old.
35Almonte Gazette - Saturday February 19, 1870
Bonspiel - Last Tuesday afternoon, a very interesting game was played between junior members of the Mississippi Club, with Messrs. S. L. Davis and P. McArthur acting as skips. An additional window being required in the rink, it was previously agreed by the skips that the losing side would pay the cost of putting one in. The sides stood as follows: J.L.Reed, A. Sinclair, F.A.W. Lister, Dr. Patterson, Wm. Templeman, S.L. Davis, skip - 7.
37A group of lads pose with their sticks before strapping on the blades for a game of shinny.
38The Almonte Arena where it stands today, near Gemmil Park, was opened in 1950. Through the years it has seen its share of activity. Hockey players, Broomball players, Figure Skaters, Ringette Players, call this there second home in winter months. Roller hockey and ball hockey enthusiasts use the surface in the summer months.
Given that Almonte and the surrounding area are are located on the Mississippi River it is not surprising that our residents would use it in the spring and summer as well.
Canoes and rowboats were a vital form of transportation along the Indian and Mississippi Rivers. The Young family, cousins of James Naismith traveled by row boat to church every Sunday all year round.
The April 16 1870 Gazette reports that the Mississippi Jr. is swollen to unusual size by melting snow and that canoes "are paddled about from door to door."
Both McKenzie and Naismith fondly recalled their exploits at the local swimming hole.
"An Almonte Athlete has ridden to Pakenham in 39 minutes. A Pakenham cyclist has ridden to Almonte in 40 minutes. Who will lower the record?" Almonte Gazette, October 29, 1897
Not only a form of physical activity, cycling was a means of transportation as well. In a town where one cannot go to far without encountering a hill our cyclists manage to stay very fit indeed.
52Hunting and Shooting Contests
Hunting has long been a popular sporting activity for the men and a few women of the community.
An excerpt from the Almonte Gazette, October 29, 1897:
"This week several parties of Almonte sportsmen, with some from outside points, have gone or will to the haunts of the antlered denizens of the forest, and will spend the open season hunting for them (Nov. 1st to 15th) in that healthful sport- healthful for the hunters, we mean."
Almonte Gazette, July 9, 1870:
"A party of Smiths Falls gentlemen held a trial of skill in the use of rifle with an equal number of Almonters, on Dominion Day. The Almonte marksmen came out victors in the encounter."
In September of the same year another contest is held, Almonte reportedly won the contest, however an angry letter to the editor the following week refutes the report.
53A couple of sharp shooters pose with their awards and their rifles at the Young Farm.
A tennis tea was served by the ladies of the Pakenham tennis club Saturday May 24 1899. The Gazette reported that "a pleasant time was spent by the lovers of tennis." (picture of tennis club)
The June 16th 1899 edition of the Almonte Gazette reported that "The boys are practicing tennis these days, and a match with one of the neighboring clubs may be expected shortly.
59The Snedden family and friends enjoy a game of tennis at the Manse in Blakeney in the early 1900's.
The teacher and pupils of the rural schools would converge on the N.L.A.S fairgrounds in Almonte each fall for the Rural School Fair. The day long fair would include events such as a stock judging, weed naming, public speaking, school parade and stretching exercises as well as a program of sports for the boys and girls. Running races and sack races were popular. Lois Guthrie remembers these fairs and the sports program:
" I remember Miss Wilson, Ruby Wilson, I never saw anything like it" She would have participated in the race for teachers. I guess she was quite quick, even with the 15 yard handicap afforded the men.
63The students of SS number 10, before the parade of schools at the Rural School Fair in Almonte.
65Three legged race at the Junior farmers picnic at McCullough's landing on Mississippi Lake.
Croquet and golf originated from the ancient roman game of PAGANICA. Using a curved wooden stick a player would to hit a small leather ball into marked trees. The winner was the person who hit all the trees in the fewest possible strokes. This game evolved into golf and croquet.
Settlers from Great Britain or Ireland would have brought the game with them. The game is played with wooden balls, mallets to strike the balls with and hoops, set up strategically to form the course. It is both a sport and a pastime. In the Victorian era it was one of the few activities that allowed young ladies to be unchaperoned. The long skirts in those days could also have been used to move ones ball into a better position.
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