An Artist’s Notes: Bay Hill

Eileen Hennemann

We’ve lived here long enough now that we aren’t referred to as being from “away”. It’s nice to feel we’re part of the town we love.

You get to know most of its ins and outs and ups and downs. And we know well which town exit gets us to Carp, Appleton, Franktown, Pakenham, Blakeney, Middleville and Lanark. I was amazed this week chatting with strangers in a waiting room in Ottawa that they had never been to Almonte. How can that be! I shared some of our history and what we have to offer so maybe they’ll visit us soon.

Bay Hill is likely not the road they’d arrive by however, but it is a road we’ve taken countless times. And it isn’t just an ordinary road that we’d drive up to leave town or down after a drive in the country. There’s lots going on on that road.

First I have to share a couple of memories of Bay Hill. A few years ago my mother ran out of gas in her little Echo halfway up the hill. She did not have a cell phone. She wasn’t sure what to do. She just stayed in the car and waited. Sure enough, a local stopped and somehow got the car up to the gas station at the top. She never was quite clear on the details. I’m just grateful to live in a small town of good people.

Another time I was determined to bike up that hill to prove how in shape I was. Won’t be doing that again. Real cyclists must have special pistons in their legs.

Zipping down the hill on my bike is absolutely exhilarating – no piston legs needed for that – but, really, it is crazy dangerous. The kid in me awakens at the top and all I want to do is gather speed and slingshot out at the bottom. Obviously not a very mature thing to do, so my brakes are red hot by the time I get to Metcalfe Park, and another dream of flight has been shattered.

There are rocks at Metcalfe Park, one of my most favourite things, and I can’t resist stopping for a bit to look at them. What a privilege it is to have Canada’s first municipal geoheritage park. Their website says “A visit to the Park will take you on a journey far back through time to colliding continents, towering mountains, changing ocean depths, and a landscape locked in ice.” It does that and more if you let wonder and curiosity get the better of you.

The bay is also a perfect spot to put in with your kayak or canoe. In those you can get up close to the other falls (yes, there are more falls!) and enjoy the peace and beauty as you paddle down river. Eventually you will come upon rapids which you can either brave or portage the short distance, and then continue on your way to Blakeney which, by the way, is an almost perfect place to picnic.

On the other side of the road, a bit down from the Hillside church, you can sneak off in to Spring Bush which is what the locals call that part of Gemmill Park. There used to be a spring there, fresh and clean and cold, ready for kids to drink from after playing in the woods.

From there you can walk up through the park to the arena, or veer to the right and follow the path back to the top of Bay Hill. There’s a little stream that runs through the woods. Someone once put popsicle sticks with googly eyes stuck on them into the short grass there. That got a big smile out of me. Little stick creatures waiting for someone to notice them.

I have to admit something though. Being from Montreal, it is really me who is from “away”. My husband is seven generations Lanark County, the past three in Almonte. His father was born in the house up beside the gas station on Bay Hill. There’s usually a chip wagon there in the parking lot. Little do they know that Allan’s father was the first person to open a chip wagon in Almonte in 1946.

Imagine that, having that connection with your town. I think I’ve been riding on my husband’s heritage coattails. I’ve heard so many stories about Almonte and Lanark County from him, most of them on our drives out in the country. There are always new and old things to learn.

Eileen Hennemann | ekhennemann.com | thetencollective.com