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Arts & CultureJohn Dunn's StoriesA Name for This Place: a John Dunn story

A Name for This Place: a John Dunn story


In May of the year 1857, readers of the Carleton Place “Herald” were struck by a new advertisement which appeared in the paper for the first time. They had been used to reading James Rosamond’s regular advertisement during the preceding five years, informing readers, and especially the farmers of the district, that his Victoria Woolen Mill in Carleton Place would do custom carding and Cloth Dressing, both for Cash and For Trade.

Then, in May, 1857, Mr. Rosamond announced a new mill, and in a new location, but with the same Victoria Woolen Mill title. In the paper it said:

Victoria Woollen Mills,
Almonte, Ramsay, C.W.

As the subscriber’s new factor is now in

He will purchase any quantity of WOOL, for
which the highest price in CASH will be paid or
CLOTH given in exchange.

James Rosamond,
Almonte, May 22, 1857

Lt. Col. J. D. Gemmill
Colonel Gemmill

Since the name of this new mill in Almonte was identical to the name used for the familiar one in Carleton Place, subscribers to the “Herald” wondered, and asked themselves if this meant the Rosamond enterprise would be leaving Carleton Place, or if it were expanding to Almonte. The following week James Rosamond put the uncertainty to flight by announcing to the subscribers that “the woollen mill of James Rosamond has been removed to Almonte and is now in working order.”

In effect, the Rosamond romance with Almonte had just taken firm root after a spring transplanting, and the inhabitants of the village of 250 people by Mr. Shipman’s Mills, first tasted the two names in association, Rosamond and Almonte. The former would take little time to get used to, since Mr. Rosamond was now removed to the village permanently, but the other, Almonte, that was another matter for them, for, after all, it was a foreign name, which had a faint Spanish ring to it, the inhabitants though, even though rumour told them the name was really Mexican. All they knew for certain was that Colonel Gemmill had proposed the name at a meeting of the inhabitants, and they had accepted the proposal, and began to use it just as the work on the Rosamond mill was getting under way.

Indeed, in 1854, a full year before the crack of chipping hammers and the scrape of masons’ trowels became commonplace sounds along Mill Street, talk of the need for a single name for the growing village took first place in all the topics of conversation along the street. An air of sharp expectancy hung over the village, and the need for a name was high in everyone’s notions of urgency.

Another topic was the railway, and men spoke of work along the railroad line, and about the contracts that were being let by the Brockville and Ottawa Railroad for brush-clearing and fence-building, and for material for ties, tamarack, yellow birch and black oak. “Clear the track: the cars are coming” echoed in men’s talk all the way from the foot of the street where Mr. Rosamond’s mill was under construction up as far as Mr. Shipman’s house at the top of the street. But, in spite of the talk of the railway, no topic was more avidly debated in the year 1854 on the senators’ corner in front of Mr. Shipman’s house, than a single name for the bustling village.

A name for this place. A single name. A name in keeping with the notion of progress through the wheels of industry, a name to reflect the abundance of goods which reward honest labour, a name to echo the virtues of an industrious population who had found steady work in the mills along the river. A name had to be found which would ring down through the centuries telling the pride of the people of this place with the freedom they enjoyed in this part of Canada West, for it was a fact that many of the leading men of the village and the surrounding farming districts had fought years before in the struggle of England to preserve its freedom against the tyranny of Napoleon. Since that time these citizens had seen other peoples languish in spirit and fall in turn in chains to usurpers of their freedom. Not for this had these leading men come to this part of British America. A name for the village must show not only the works of the citizens, but their heritage as well.

Officially, that is, for post office purposes, the place was Ramsay. Daniel Shipman, however, a few years earlier, had used the name “Ramsayville” for the layout of a townsite which he had prepared for his land adjacent to the falls of the Mississippi, land which he and his brother-in-law, a man named Boyce, had obtained from the estate of David Shepherd, the original crown grantee. Daniel Shipman’s townsite covered the extent from Bridge Street to Country Street, and from these two axes to the river’s edge and the falls.

In the late 1840’s, John Haskins arrived in the village – from Quebec, it was said – and he purchased the property from Daniel Shipman, as well as the rights to the water power on the south side of the river near the foot of the falls. There he built a planing mill, and set about making window sash and doors, door frames, and shingles.

Mr. Haskins became active in the new and growing business life along the river and the falls, including the woollen manufacturing business, for, as Colonel James Dunlop Gemmill later wrote to Dr. J.T. Kirkland:

“One day in the spring of 1851 Mr. Haskins and Mr. ….. late in the employ of the Rosamond Woollen Company of Carleton Place, called on my father, John Gemmill (who died the following year) on the subject of establishing a mill at Almonte. The project was looked on favourably by Mr. Shipman. Mr. Robert Scott and Mr. Hugh Rea also favoured it.

The result of this was the formation of a company called the Ramsayville Woollen Cloth Manufacturing Company. A mill was built there where No. 2 Mill now stands. It ran a short time, then was burnt.

This was the beginning of the industry in “Almonte.”

In 1854, however, Scobie’s “Canadian Almanac” still gave the name “Shepherd’s Falls” to the village proper, and “Ramsay” as the post office, James Wylie, Postmaster. In spite of this, most people called the place “Shipman’s Mills” after the successor to the original grantee who had set up the grist mill, and the timber-making yard, even though Daniel Shipman himself preferred the name “Ramsayville”.

In 1855 Scobie’s Almanac gave the name “Ramsayville” to the village, even though that was the very year in which the need for a single name had to be brought to a resolution. Perhaps an indication of the growing Irish population of the place can be derived from the fact that many emigrants who had survived the famine in Ireland, the emigrant ships, and the cholera, which they arrived destitute in this land of promise, went to the closest place where work for wages could be found. And, since work in all the various aspects of woollen manufacturing requires very short periods of time for learning, the Irish refugees gravitated to the places along the Mississippi where mill sites were starting to be taken up. With their arrival they tended to settle in homogenous groups by themselves, principally on the north side of the river, and consequently, in 1853 at a village meeting, a discussion of names considered suitable for the village was resolved with the choice of Waterford. Not only was it the name of a town and a county in the south of Ireland adjoining the County Cork from which the Emigrants under Peter Robinson’s superintendence had come in 1823, but it was also literally true that a man and a horse could easily ford the Mississippi just above Mr. Shipman’s timber-making yard without finding a depth of more than fourteen inches of water during periods of low or slack water.

The choice of the name “Waterford” was duly put into use, and the name was forwarded to the government of the United Counties of Lanark and Renfrew for approval. The villagers thought that that was the end of the matter, and that game of name-choosing was at an end. Little, however, did they reckon on the ways of government, and their joy turned to chagrin when word came back in the early months of 1854 that the name “Waterford” had indeed been taken up elsewhere, and was, in fact, already assigned to another village in Durham County, Canada West.

John Haskins broke the news to Colonel Gemmill, and another meeting of the villages was called to find a substitute. Many suggestions came forth, many of them Irish, including Doon, and Roscommon, but all suggestions this time met with opposition of one kind or another.

Next the leading men of the village searched among the familiar place names of classical Greek mythology, but gave up that notion early when they realized that Upper New York State had already picked off Utica, Troy, Syracuse, and even Rome itself.

Names of modern European capitals that might be used were then taken into consideration. Paris, London, Dublin, but even these had already gone to places in Canada West. The Old World seemed to have little to offer by way of choice any more.

What about North America then? The village was located on the Mississippi River, and it was well known that somewhere in the vast territory of the mid-continent, there was another river of the same name.

With that notion, however, the caution flag ran up swiftly on the jack-staff. Few people in this part of Upper Canada, a mere sixty miles from the boundary separating British America from the United States, could ignore the fact of the great republic. Indeed, youngsters in school had it constantly dinned into their heads that the booming republic had sprung out of revolt against the authority of Queen Victoria’s predecessor on the throne of England.

The parents of these youngsters held firmly to the proposition that treason should not be blessed with the fruits of righteousness, but that, by heaven’s design, these fruits should fall only to the good, the just and the loyal. It was more than wormwood and vinegar for them to stand and gaze across the River St. Lawrence at Brockville, and reflect, partly in envy, and partly also in dismay, that heaven seemeth perforce at times to favour the rebellious and to smooth the parts in the way of the unrighteous.

Many persons too were still living who, like David Campbell, clerk of the township of Ramsay, took especial pride in the shiny medals they had received from a grateful monarch for service as soldiers in the Duke of Wellington’s armies in Spain during the wars against Napoleon. These men hankered after a name from that terrible time of conflict, but found that the best of them had been taken up also. Indeed, the surrounding townships, Pakenham, Dalhousie, Ramsay, Beckwith, spoke with daily, through mute testimony to that fact. Even the villages chimed in with this chorus in the names Rosetta, Hopetown, and so on. Besides, a generation and a half had passed since the spectre of Napoleon’s conquest had finally been laid to rest at Waterloo. That time therefore was past.

So, back again to a search for a name in North America. Now take that Mexican fellow in Washington. Name of Almonte.

Most people knew the name from newspaper accounts of the time, and knew also that Mexico, the biggest jewel in the crown of the old Spanish Empire, the Pearl of the New World, had been lost forever to Spain when Napoleon Bonaparte installed his brother, Joseph, on the throne of Spain. And everyone was also aware that immediately after Joseph’s coronation revolt had broken out in the former Spanish colonies in the New World, accompanied by the most frightful horrors of civil war. A succession of republican presidents – heavens, they thought, about sixty of them in forty years – one after the other seized control of Mexico and tried to govern through private armies and large doses of the three t’s, terror, treason, and treachery. Was that any kind of government to hold up as an example for decent, honest, hard-working people in this part of British America?

Republicans indeed! Vae, res publicae.

As if the Mexican experience with presidents weren’t enough to show intelligent people the horrors of that form of government, why even those provinces of the former Spanish Empire, those excellent provinces of Texas, Arizona, and Colorado, had been snatched up and were now states of the United States, a republic too that was made in the image and likeness of that awful French regime that had shouted about Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, and at the same time had sent to the guillotine the crowned King of France and his gentle lady, Marie Antoinette.

On the other hand, there was this fellow, Almonte, and he seemed to be pretty much of an exception to the general rule, and John Haskins reminded Colonel Gemmill of him again.

“Almonte? Is that it?”


“It’s a Spanish name?”

“No. Mexican.”


“Yes. Mexican.”

“What’s the name again?”

“Almonte. Juan Almonte. General Juan Almonte.”

True, not all that much was known of him around the No.2 Falls of the Mississippi. For all they knew, John Haskins said, he might be a half-breed, or Indian, or more Indian than Mexican, perhaps, or even, well, he stopped short of saying more.

Who indeed was this man recommended to lend his name for generations to come to a village he never heard of in the British America, by a river called Mississippi?

Born at Valladolid, Mexico, in 1804, during the days of the Spanish Empire, Juan Nepomucene Almonte was given a name which, to military strategists always suggested an escape route, “al monte”, a retreat to the mountains. In fact, it may also have been given to the baby as a device to conceal his true identity from the Spanish authorities. For his father headed one of the frequent uprisings against autocratic Spanish rule in Mexico, and, for this service to his people, the father was captured by the authorities, and, of course, executed.

Young Juan, three-quarters Indian, with the round face and high cheek bones of his ancestors, spoke Spanish as well as the tribal talk of his Zapotec nation, and showed considerable promise of intellectual capacity, a mark of achievement not ordinary in the Indian brotherhood of that day.

To save the youngster from his father’s fate, young Juan was sent to be educated in New Orleans in the Louisiana Territory at the mouth of the other River Mississippi, and there, of course, he fell under the spell of the languid Louisiana air which sixty years before had cast its spell on a whole group of exiles, people who called themselves Acadians, from the name of their lands in Nova Scotia from which they had been expelled by the British. Young Juan was not the only exile in the Louisiana town of New Orleans on the Mississippi.

At the same time Juan Almonte could hardly have known that the languid air of the delta country encourages the spread of philosophy. Nor could he be expected to know that the language of instruction used by his teachers, French, is the best vehicle yet invented by man for taking rough political ideas, smoothing them out, polishing them, and making them round and attractive to people in exile anywhere in the world. Accordingly, young Juan became proficient in the language of Moliere and Montesquieu, and added to that some facility in the use of English to go along with his Spanish and native Zapotec.

Mexico declared its independence in 1821, and the following year Juan Almonte returned to his native land. He became a soldier, and the education he received in Louisiana stood him in good stead, for promotion came rapidly, in spite of the chaotic conditions of the country and the procession of presidents.

Twenty-six year later, the United States sent a military expedition into Mexico to bring some kind of order out of the chaos, since Liberal forces there seemed to be trying to outdo even their Conservative opponents in ferocity and barbarous treatment of captive and hostage alike. The American forces included an artillery captain named Robert E. Lee, and an infantry lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant. When the Texans inflicted the final defeat on Santa Anna in 1836 at San Jacinto, Almonte was already a colonel.

In 1840 he became Minister of War under President Bustamente. In 1853, now a General, he came to serve as Mexican ambassador at Washington and served his country with distinction in a time of very difficult and strained relations between the two neighbouring countries. The difficulty centred around the “Gadsden Purchase”, a deal by which the United States in 1854 purchased 45, 535 square miles of territory of the former Spanish Empire, an area extending from the Colorado River to the Rio Grande, and for a price of $10,000,000. The move caused such outraged feelings in Mexico that Almonte’s leader, Santa Anna, had to flee into exile.

However, during the negotiations with the United States, General Almonte captured the admiration of many Canadians for his courage in standing up firmly, and even insisting on the rights of his country and the Mexican people.

Any man, irrespective of the antecedents of his birth and race, or even religion, who stood up to Uncle Sam’s power and might in that way, the way General Almonte did at Washington, was bound to captivate the imagination of the people and the leading men in the village by the falls of the Canadian Mississippi.

Furthermore, in 1854, when the discussion about a name for the village was at its height, General Almonte had just completed two of a normal three years tour of duty in Washington, and it was rumoured, was to be nominated to take up a new post in Paris as Mexico’s representative at the court of the Emperor of the French, Louis Philippe and his wife, Princess Eugenie, who had strong family connections with both the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs. Everyone spoke of the fact that General Almonte might be carrying secret plans to seek out European help to restore a monarchy in Mexico. The man, therefore, in the eyes of Colonel Gemmill and John Haskins, had proven himself a soldier, a statesman, a fighter. If now he proved himself a royalist too, well, in spite of his high cheek bones, round face, and black hair of the Zapotec, John Haskins said to the Colonel, a man with those records and credentials couldn’t be all bad.

“Plucky,” John Haskins said to describe the man, perhaps with undisguised admiration for the tenacious qualities that Almonte had shown as the underdog in the negotiations between Mexico and the United States.

Colonel Gemmill nodded in agreement with this assessment.

“What about Almonte for a name for this place?” Mr. Haskins, laying the proposition before the colonel with a pronunciation on the first two syllables only.

The colonel’s mind rummaged around for a while with the idea in tow. Obvious advantages in the use of the name stared out at the colonel. There was the background and stellar career of the man, but, in addition, other advantages of a more practical kind showed up too. Almonte was a short name, it was easy to pronounce, and it was even easy to spell. It had no local association, for the General had never visited in this Mississippi valley, and so nothing in the name could arouse either favourable approval or outright animosity.

The Colonel nodded his head in the affirmative way. The idea was good.

Another meeting of all the inhabitants of the village was called, and again the subject of the town meeting was the need to choose a name for the place. Everyone knew that delay could not be tolerated, and consequently, the meeting took place in May, 1855.

With the authority of the colonel behind the proposal, and with no local animosity to cloud the issue, the name Almonte won easy acceptance. Accordingly, a request went forward to the council of the Township of Ramsay for approval of the change of name, and forwarding to the county council. However, in view of the bustle of building activity taking place, and the evident rush of people that would take place when the new mill was in operation, the villagers thought it would be wise to make the request to council for two purposes: to change the name of the village to Almonte, and to extend its boundaries.

At the regular meeting of the council of the combined counties of Lanark and Renfrew which was held in Perth on June 21st, 1855, Greville Toshack, representative of the Township of Ramsay moved, seconded by Mr. Shaw, the following resolution:

RESOLVED: That the petition of the inhabitants of Waterford praying that the name of said Village be altered to “Almonte”, and that its limits be extended to referred to a committee of Messrs Shaw, Hannah, McAdam, Moffat and the mover.

In the following day’s session of council, i.e., that of June 22nd, Mr. Toshack again moved, seconded by Mr. Shaw the effective resolution covering both the name of the village and the extension of its boundaries:

RESOLVED: “That the By-Law to repeal part of the By-Law “establishing the limits of the Village of Ramsayville and Victoria and designated said Village by the name of Waterford,” and extending the limits of said Village and changing its name to hat of “ALMONTE” be now brought up and read a first time.”

The by-law got first reading. Then second reading, short. Then, on motion of Mr. Toshack, seconded by Mr. Smith, the 33rd Rule of Council was suspended, and the By-Law extending the limits of the village of Waterford, and substituting the name of “Almonte” for Waterford, was read the third time and passed unanimously.

There it was. All neat and tidy. Passed by Council and made official.

The place on the Mississippi with a falls, as Peter Robinson had referred to it his report of the emigration of 1823, and addressed to Lord Bathurst, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, would henceforth be known as Almonte, after a patriotic Mexican general of that name.

James Rosamond never used the name Waterford for his mill. In May, 1857 his Victoria Woollen Mill went into Full Operation in the Village of Almonte.

The census for 1842 and that for 1851 listed the Rosamond name in Beckwith. The census listed the Rosamond name in Almonte, and there it remained for a romance of a hundred years.

Post Script by Michael Dunn

In this story, my father refers to the “No.1 falls”. My father and I were looking at the falls immediately adjacent to the Millfall Condos years ago. At one time he explained, the post office was situated nearby and anyone looking at the scenery would have their eyes immediately drawn to these falls. Therefore, from left to right, the falls straight ahead were the No.1 falls (giving rise to the term “No.1 mill” for the building beside it), No.2 falls beside the, what is known now as the Victorian Woolen Mill and the No.3 falls under the old railroad trestle.





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