United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, est. 3,135 residents
Merrickville, Ontario, known as the “Jewel of the Rideau,” is a lively small town that attracts many tourists to the area because of its preserved historic buildings, incredible shopping, and stunning views of the Rideau River. The region was first home to the Algonquin Anishinabe people, who used the Rideau River as a portage route before Roger Stevens and William Merrick settled there in the 1790s.
Merrick was a loyalist from Massachusetts who moved to Canada after he acquired a sawmill at the “Great Falls” on the Rideau River from Stevens. Due to Stevens’ untimely death, Merrick was left as the prime settler of the area. He was able to complete Stevens’ mill, as well as build others and encourage more entrepreneurs and settlers to move to the region. Merrick’s persistence paid off as he formed the small community of “Merrick’s Mills” around 1816 before changing to Merrickville in 1829.
Building the Rideau Canal
The establishment of a community and more settlements beginning to pop up around the Rideau River led to the eventual building of the Rideau Canal in 1826. The purpose of the waterway was to provide the British army with a safe route for supplying its inland garrisons and avoiding the direct but more exposed St. Lawrence.
Despite the possibility of war and the blockhouses doted along points of the canal, the role of the Rideau has always been peaceful. Many settlers used the waterway to travel to new communities to make their home, and goods were often shipped by boat until other modes of transportation became available. When the canal opened in Merrickville in 1832, goods could be easily shipped to and from Kingston and Montreal, generating more prosperity for the area.
The 202-kilometre waterway was made navigable by 47 locks grouped at 22 stations all across the canal. Merrickville is home to three locks that, for a time, vastly helped businesses transport their goods to and from the industrial centre. Today, they are mainly used by recreational boaters.
An Industrial Town
Even before the Rideau Canal was built, Merrickville had transformed into an industrial town, shipping many materials and goods to Ottawa, Brockville, and the United States by road. After the canal was finished in 1832, Merrickville’s economy boomed, allowing for goods and materials to be shipped by boat, cutting the travel time in half.
By 1850, around 700 people lived in Merrickville, which was also home to a post office, two flour mills, a cloth factory and other industries. The town continued to grow as a bustling centre for business, becoming incorporated as a village in 1860.
Five years later, in 1865, Merrickville’s population soared to 1,200, with more than 200 businesses operating there. There were around 14 mills, tanneries and woolen factories, as well as four hotels and a “private boarding house” for those visiting on business.
Merrickville also welcomed one of the area’s first railroads in the 1880s. This time was a unique period for the town as the line fostered only limited industrial growth. Instead, many chose to do business through the Ontario & Quebec Railway’s main station in Smith’s Falls, helping that community flourish. At the same time, the number of merchants using the Rideau Canal for business also decreased, leaving Merrickville with no choice but to pivot.
Development in the region slowed until the 1960s when citizens from Ottawa began to travel and see Merrickville and the surrounding area as a desirable retirement community. This change allowed the area’s population to grow again, and the village rebranded itself as the Jewel of the Rideau, an idyllic tourist destination.
The Blockhouse Museum was originally constructed as a defensive building to protect the Rideau Canal from a possible invasion. By the time the structure was completed by Lieutenant Colonel John By in 1832, the threat of invasion had already passed. The building was repurposed as the home for the lockmaster, Sergeant Johnston, and his family, who lived in the blockhouse from 1833 to 1855.
Besides the lockmaster’s quarters, the blockhouse also served as a church and a canal maintenance building before opening as a museum in 1967. Despite being designated a National Historic Site in 1939, the largely abandoned building would have been torn down if it weren’t for the Merrickville and District Historical Society and community members who raised funds to renovate the blockhouse in partnership with Parks Canada.
The Baldachin Inn is the spot to stay for anyone looking to step back in time. This commercial and residential building dominates downtown Merrickville and was constructed in 1862 by E.H. Whitmarsh. As such a large project, the building wasn’t completed until later in the 19th century when Samuel Jakes became owner. It was the last stone commercial block constructed in the town and became the largest department store between Chicago and Montreal.
During the 1940s, entrepreneur Harry McLean acquired the block for his company offices. After a while, the building fell into disrepair until the Ellis’ purchased it in 1988, making it their goal to restore the entire historic hotel.
Today, the Baldachin Inn adds to Merrickville’s historic charm. Not only do the rooms offer a look at the past, but the addition of a stunning courtyard and beautiful ballroom are just some of the amenities that make the Baldachin Inn many couples’ first choice for weddings around the Ottawa area. The building also has a restaurant offering superb European cuisine.
Stella Luna Café sells heavenly gelato that’s made daily by using unique flavours and fresh ingredients for an optimal gelato experience. A true love story, Tammy and Alessandro Giuliani met in Italy in 1985 and would spend their weekends searching to find the “Ultimate Gelato.” After moving back to Canada, Tammy decided to return to Italy to attend the most reputable and successful artisan gelato training centre in the world in the hopes of opening her own family business. With a true passion for gelato and a dream, the couple first opened a cafe in Ottawa in 2011 before expanding to Merrickville in 2018.
The cafe is located in the original Pearson House, which was built in 1890. The home was constructed by the Pearson family for Mary Pearson before she donated it to the village in 1938 to become the area’s public library. When Tammy and her family took over the space, they completely transformed the inside of the building to become the charming Stella Luna Café that we all know and love today.
The Goose & Gridiron serves up tasty British pub-style food in a homey setting. The building was originally opened as the City Hotel in 1856 and was owned and operated by James Armstrong until 1884. It changed hands multiple times, eventually becoming The Goose & Gridiron in 1993, offering delicious comfort food with an old-fashioned atmosphere.
Dubbed one of Canada’s most beautiful villages, Merrickville is one of the most historic communities in Ontario, with more heritage-designated buildings per capita than any other town in the country. The Rideau Canal allowed the area to become an industrial centre, but today, tourists visiting from all over have allowed the community to continue to flourish.
A big thank you to David from the Baldachin Inn for the wonderful sponsored stay and Tammy from Stella Luna Café for the incredible gelato.