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Mind the TimeLittle Bridge Street, Almonte

Little Bridge Street, Almonte

by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

It is hard to imagine a more quaint name for a street than “Little Bridge Street”. Little Bridge Street is part of what was formerly the Town of Almonte and which as of January 1, 1998 is part of the Town of Mississippi Mills (a conglomerate of Almonte, the Townships of Pakenham and Ramsay, including the Villages of Appleton, Clayton and Pakenham). Little Bridge Street is shown on a “Plan of the Town of Almonte in the County of Lanark made in accordance with Section 87; Chapter 114, R.S.O. 1887 complied from original plans assisted by actual survey” prepared by E. Wilkie, Ontario Land Surveyor on December 1, 1893 and “duly registered in the Registry Office of the North Riding of the County of Lanark in Book R for the Town of Almonte at Two o’clock in the afternoon of the 10th day of March AD1894 as Number 6262, J. Menzies Registrar”. Little Bridge Street is part of what was originally the West Half Lot 14, Con. IX, Township of Ramsay. It is important to note that because Plan 6262 is a “compiled” plan, it does not reflect the date on which many of the earlier surveys on which it is based were prepared.

Because Little Bridge Street is on an angle from the Almonte old Town Hall (corner of Bridge Street and Little Bridge Street) to the former Thomas Fuller Post Office (corner of Mill Street and Little Bridge Street) it is difficult to determine precisely where it ends and where Mill Street begins; however, it is safe to say it includes all of what is now Baker Bob’s business (both the main store at 75 Little Bridge Street and the sitting area – formerly called Bread ‘n Butter – at 73 Little Bridge Street) and the adjoining tenement property to the northwest. A bird’s eye view illustrates that the north end of Little Bridge Street is situate at the confluence of Mill Street, Little Bridge Street and Brae Street. Mill Street (below Little Bridge Street) begins with Kentfield Kids and Doree’s Habit at 65 Mill Street next to Baker’s Bob sitting area.

Apart from the Town Hall (75 Bridge Street) and the Old Post Office (73 Mill Street) already mentioned the other buildings on Little Bridge Street are:

  • . Thoburn Mill (83 Little Bridge Street) which is now a series of residential and commercial condominiums;
  • . former residence of Dr. John Kelly (77 Little Bridge Street) now housing commercial offices and residential tenancies; and,
  • . commercial office at 80 Little Bridge Street and back of Blackbird shop at 79 Mill Street.

Little Bridge Street has always hummed with commercial activity. Where Baker Bob now is there was once a book store (Valley Book Store), an insurance company (Kevin Guerard’s London Life agency), a flower shop (Donna Fallak) and a Sear’s outlet (Pearl Dodd). Thoburn Mill housed a huge collection of antiques and used furniture on several floors; the business was operated by the late Garry and Mary Davis. The metamorphosis of the building to its current upscale condominiums was promoted by Mr. Johannes Hill, Ms. Inez Kettles, Mr. Stephen Brathwaite, Mr. Al Potvin and his late wife, Barbara. Initially Thoburn Mill was the site of Rosewood Studio.

Severing Little Bridge Street is the “CPR Right of Way” which of course is responsible for the distinguishing feature of Little Bridge Street, namely its underpass (now sadly redundant with the prospect of the tracks being uplifted).

The Town Hall, Thoburn Mill and the former Iron Works building (later a restaurant by the same name and subsequently the Barley Mow) are all Little Bridge Street properties which have frontage on the Mississippi River. It is not insignificant that the former Iron Works property had lawful access to and from Little Bridge Street along a Lane which was perpendicular to Little Bridge Street from the shore of the Mississippi River. This was a public laneway and was in keeping with the common practice of ensuring that the local population preserved access to the water’s edge. That lane has since been lawfully stopped up and sold to the adjoining land owners so it is no longer a public thoroughfare. Long before it did so in law, the Town of Almonte recognized this in fact by foregoing the privilege of plowing snow on the laneway.

If you examine the buildings at 73 and 75 Little Bridge Street you will notice a similarity between the two; namely, aside from being almost identical in overall construction, they both have a secondary entrance to the left of what is clearly the main point of access. The secondary entrance was likely a stairway which led to the upstairs residential accommodations; whereas the main entrance was probably for the primary commercial enterprise on the ground floor. Typical of the many buildings along both Little Bridge and Mill Streets, the ground floor was reserved for commercial enterprise; residential use was restricted to the upstairs level. Note however that this usage (now captured in the restrictive area by-law of the Municipality) does not prohibit commercial use in the upstairs level; rather, it is the residential use which is prohibited on the ground floor. Except for the larger riparian land holdings on both Mill and Little Bridge Streets adjoining the Mississippi River (most of which holdings were originally for the operation of woolen mills and timber slides), the more compact lots along the same corridor were for the use of shop keepers (both commercial and residential). As I have pointed out elsewhere it is noteworthy that the building at 77 Little Bridge Street (former residence of Dr. John King Kelly from 1902 – 1946, with the green porch and pillared veranda) is the only building on the entire corridor which is not built precisely to the street line. I suspect the reason for this anomaly is that it was the only building which was exclusively a residence and enjoyed a small garden area at the front adjacent the veranda.

If you lived or worked on Little Bridge Street you were in good company. The underlying large tracts of land were divided into sections named after the apparent original land owners, “McIntosh”, “Colin King” and “Shipman“, all distinguished early settlers of the former Village of Almonte. Most of the buildings were probably constructed between 1883 – 1886. It appears obvious that Little Bridge Street was so named because both it and its larger adjoining cousin Bridge Street connect to the bridge (now called the Maclan Bridge) over the Mississippi River to Queen Street.

Little Bridge Street, because of its diminutive size and its resemblance to a town square, has always enjoyed an element of singularity in the Town. When the bronze statue of Dr. James Naismith was installed in the summer of 2011 it added a meaningful boost to what is called Centennial Square. The excellent stonework of Cooney Construction further augmented the delight of the area.

Local historian Michael Dunn has added an addendum to this article. See it here.


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