Colina Street a Tea Shop and Holly Agnew

Colina Street a Tea Shop and Holly Agnew

Photo From 2018.JPG

Text and Photos all by Holly Agnew

It all started with a cup of tea.

But that cup of tea led to a minor miracle where the past and the present came crashing together in a glorious symphony of serendipity.

First I should say that I am a history junkie who is like a kid in a candy store here in Almonte where history comes alive for me every day. When my husband and I moved here in 2008, we bought a century home in Bay Hill and I’ve always been interested in its history. In fact, I used to scour for a photo of it but never found one… it’s not a grand home or anything. But I knew it was built around 1874 so I thought there may be a random photo of it out there, and I was going to find it if it existed.

In March, I took our three boys on a trip to Collingwood, ON to visit some friends. While we were there, my friend gave me some delicious Cream of Earl Grey tea to drink and I loved it. I asked her where she got it and she directed me to a local tea shop called the Blue Mountain Tea Co. It is located in downtown Collingwood. On my way out of town, I remembered that I wanted to pick up some of this tea so, even though we were running late, the boys and I decided to make it an adventure and we detoured back to the downtown area to find the tea shop.

We meandered through stores and took our time, eventually arriving at the tea shop. As I was making my purchases, the cashier asked us where we were from and I said, “Almonte.” At that exact moment, a woman was walking behind me towards the front of the store and she stopped and said, “Did you say Almonte? My parents were from Almonte.” I asked her if she got back there very often and she said yes, she had been there the previous summer because she was doing some genealogical research. I love hearing stories about genealogy, especially if they revolve around our home town, so I asked her a few more questions. Eventually she told me a fascinating story about her great-grandma, a woman by the name of Sarah Johnstone.

The story goes that Sarah Johnstone was probably a “kept woman” in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She had three children out of wedlock, which caused great shame to some of her descendants. The children, it was said, all had the same father and it was a grand love affair. The father was Dr. Raines, a dentist in Almonte in the late 1800s. He was also Almonte’s first mayor. In fact, he married Almonte “royalty” – Lucina Rose, Daniel Shipman’s granddaughter.

But he must have been quite the guy because his obituary contains some colorful details about women and children lining his funeral route. The obituary even states that he helped women and children in Almonte out of the kindness of his heart and not for any selfish reasons whatsoever, or words to that effect.

I was fascinated by this story so I asked her if she knew of any houses or landmarks in Almonte that I would recognize. She said that she had been past Sarah Johnstone’s house with her mother but she couldn’t recall the name of the street. Instead, she proceeded to explain how to get there.

What happened next blew my mind – she gave me directions to our own house.

At that point, I was very excited but I think she had her doubts about me. It seemed too incredible. We went on Google Earth and she confirmed that we live on the street she had visited – Colina Street. I will never forget that moment as long as I live. I was standing in a tea shop in Collingwood, speaking with a perfect stranger, yet she seemed to have a historic tie to my own house.

Her name is Katherine  and she actually owns the Blue Mountain Tea Co. in Collingwood, ON. You never know what a good cup of tea is going to do for you.

In the end, I’m sorry to say that it wasn’t exactly our house that Sarah Johnstone owned – it was our neighbours’ house across the street. We confirmed it by looking up the title records. But the most amazing thing came out of this encounter. After we got home and exchanged e-mails, Katherine sent me a photo, dated May 7, 1926, of her father at age 5 in front of his grandma’s house. In the background, plain as day, is our house – 115 Colina Street. Colina Street is just a dirt track. The house does not have a bathroom window yet, or a front verandah, but it is definitely our house. I almost wept when I saw it – I had been looking for a historical photo of our house for ten years! And here I found it in a tea shop in Collingwood in the collection of a random stranger. The odds against finding that photo must be astronomical.


PHOTO FROM 1926.jpg

Sadly, we have sold our much-loved century home and the new couple will take possession in a matter of hours – this is my last job as its owner, to share this story. I will miss this house so much. I feel like its walls are alive with all the happiness, love, sorrow, and family drama it has witnessed over the last 144 years. We have added our own history to its walls in the ten years we have lived here.

And I have added a photo that I hope will always remain on one of the walls of this sweet house – of a little boy taken on May 7, 1926 in front of a wooden house on a dirt road. It’s a miracle that it found its way home.

Holly Agnew




Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place and The Tales of Almonte

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About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

One response »

  1. Great write-up Holly! Love the photo, will miss the house. Several lovely lunches there with you and the boys. Onward to the next adventure! xo Jen Carroll


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