Senator Haydon writes: “Sheppard’s Falls Shipman’s Falls Shipman’s Mills Waterford Ramsayville Victoriaville these have been the successive names in earlier days of a very picturesque hamlet on the banks of the Mississippi river in the township of Ramsay. For upwards of sixty years and over, Almonte has been its modern designation, and, through the activity of its woollen ‘ manufacturing, chiefly now represented by the mills of the Rosamond Company, the town has sometimes been described as “The Little Manchester of Canada.”
One hundred years ago the place was but one of the numerous “falls along the river”, always interesting and of unusual beauty, ever since the days when pioneer settlements first began to cluster around the rapids and “The Bay” the old-time name of the charmingly peaceful and half-hidden basin so snugly nestled at the foot of the falling waters, tumbling, as they still do, in foamy cascades from the upper reaches of the quiet river above.
Emigration of 1821 –before the township of Ramsay was surveyed, and prior to the emigration of 1821, at any rate, perhaps not more than half a dozen families had settled there, and these came chiefly from the earlier military settlements of Perth and Richmond, except in the neighbourhood of Morphy’s Falls, in the adjoining north-east corner of the township of Beckwith. This township was ready for settlement in 1816.
Three years later an emigration from the Scottish Highlands, carried in the three ships, Sophia, Jean and Curlew Fergusons, Dewars, McGregors, McDougalls, McDiarmids and Carmichaels, as well as scores of others who amidst the forest wilderness continued to remember with a yearning unexpressed, up the stream from Appletree Falls was Shipman’s Mills.
Here, as early as 1819, a young Scotchman, David Sheppard, had constructed the frame of a sawmill on his 200-acre lot, granted by the government on condition that the location should be improved by the erection of a mill.
Early in the following year a shanty was added, but never inhabited, and the mill was destroyed by fire..”A ‘Yankee from Brockville”, so runs an old account, by the name of Boyce, bought out Sheppard’s claim, obtaining the actual conveyance in 1829, when Sheppard was residing at Buffalo, New York, and divided the property between his son and son-in-law the latter, Daniel Shipman, who in 1820 had become the husband of Prudence Boyce, and who constructed a rude log house near what is now the business center of Almonte.
The next year Shipman built a sawmill and in 1822 a gristmill, and Sheppard’s Mills had grown into and out of Shipman’s Falls, and was already the hamlet of Shipman’s Mills. The name of Waterford was yet to come, and this because for many years the only crossing was by fording the shallow water a few rods above the upper fall.
In curious and half-forgotten records are to be found stray references which take us back again over the years, and we get occasional glimpses of the transactions and these early settlers and of the course of events by which the passing years tell out their fugitive story.
Writing in the Almonte Express of November 15th, 1861, the first year of publication of the first newspaper in Almonte, John McWhinnie, then of the Woodstock Sentinel, offers in a somewhat unexpected fashion a glimpse of the founding of the village. In 1822 we assisted the original owner of the place, the late Daniel Shipman, to clear off the forest for the site of his first dwelling and the erection of the first grist mill in the township.
When the Lanark immigrants arrived in 1821, some of those whose lands were to be granted in Ramsay set out through the woods to find their locations. Arthur Lang, in his diary and letters, offers an interesting and instructive narrative. He finally selected a lot on the east bank of the Mississippi river, adjacent to Shipman’s Mills.
“Thursday, July 19th”
I set out for Ramsay Settlement to pick out 100 acres, but after six days’ hard labor, travelling through swamps and untrodden paths through the woods, I had to return without selecting land, and now I have just to do the same thing over again. I have often heard it said that there were few stones in Canada, but it abounds in rocks and stones in the townships of Lanark and Dalhousie.
To give you an idea of the woods in this place is quite beyond my power. The greater part of the forest, the underwood or bramble, is not so thick as at home, but a great deal of it is worse to go through than the worst of Crucatone Wood. A swamp you can have no idea of it, but conceive Paisley moss, for instance, all grown over with large trees, some fresh and green, others half rotten, and a great many rotten from top to bottom, and almost as many lying in all directions as are standing, with not a living creature to be heard or seen, except a bird or two, and the owl screaming in your ears at night.
Wednesday. Nov. 7th.
My family came to my own house today. On the 12th the snow began to fall and continued till this day, which is the 15th. The 26th and 27th were very frosty and the river in some places was frown right across.
In a letter to a friend, writing some months later, he gives a more graphic description:
I have now arrived at the spot where Providence seems to have appointed me, and where, I believe I shall spend the remainder of my days. We are all healthy and well pleased with the situation, and that is what a great number can’t say. Some have lost all their children, others, two or three of their family. Most of these sufferers are persevering. Others who have never felt any such hardship have away at the very first appearance of the place.
It is strange what different impressions the same place makes on different men. But really, that town called Lanark has no charm for me. When I first saw it, and I was a little downcast at first, as there was nothing but rocky, stony hillocks, but there fine Indian corn growing among the stones and they say it grows best in such places.
There was one clearance in particular when I passed; but I couldn’t keep the din of the fiddlers out of my ear, and I have given it no other name since. The place was about three mile out of Lanark, and there were twenty-three of us who passed it on our way to the township of Ramsay to look out our land, and for this number there were fifty lots given to took at.
We were six days away, one going, one coming, and four in looking at the land from sunrise to sunset every day. You were sometimes in fine, clear woods. But, man, if you were in a cedar swamp, as we were, from three o’clock in the morning till dark night, and travelled only about two and three-quarter miles, I believe you would have been tired of America.
There were four lots we did not get looking at, for our provisions ran out and we had to come home. Out of the twenty-six lots we saw, only eleven were taken, and those who had not got lots had just to get new tickets and make the journey over again.
Senator Haydon continues: Some of the settlers went into Ramsay by another route. These, with a love of adventure perhaps, and not caring to leave behind them their wives and children, devised the novel scheme of transport by water. John Steele, John Black, John Downey, Thomas and James Craig, John Smith, William Moir, John Neilson, William Hart, William Paul and a few others, whose family names continue to our own time, improvising temporary scows of logs and rough timbers, conducted a somewhat perilous voyage down the Mississippi river from its confluence with the Clyde just below the village of Lanark.
With the current down the stream their rude crafts were borne onwards with the current past Ferguson’s Falls, through the Innisville Rapids, down the ten-mile expansion of Mississippi Lake to Morphy’s Falls (the town of Carleton Place today), past Appletree Falls, where the modern hamlet of Appleton still offers more than a memory of its old riverside beauty, and onwards to Shipman’s Mills, along a quiet stretch of river flowing between wooded banks, with here and there a grassy woodland plot, the earnest of some of the fair and prosperous farms that belong to the life of Ramsay township in these days.
These voyagers squatted near the site now occupied by the Almonte town hall. They here erected rough wigwams and shortly afterwards left to cut out homes for themselves in the then almost unbroken forest.
By 1822 the settlers were establishing their homes with some permanency, but with limited means and few agricultural possessions. They were in the unhappy situation of the African traveller: No cows had they to give them milk; no mills to grind their corn. But the greatest difficulty of all was to find the corn to grind. For in this year there is reported but one ox in Ramsay, owned by James Metcalfe, of the ninth line; one horse, by Robert Mansell, who also owned one of the two cows in the township, John Gemmill being the fortunate possessor of the other.