Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fibrefest 2010 in Almonte

Post Office designed
by Thomas Fuller

Almonte is notable for being the boyhood home of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, but the village's history reaches further back than that.

In a region where the early settlers' Irish, English, and Scottish origins are prominent in the names of the communities they founded -- Lanark, Corkery, Glen Isle, and Scotch Corners to name a few -- it is interesting that Almonte's namesake is Mexican.

Burnside House
The combination of Canadian Loyalists and American Revolutionaries led to tensions between the two countries.  The War of 1812 did nothing to help the situation, nor did US military incursions into Mexico during the 1840s.  The border skirmishes between Mexico and the US during this time were seen by Mexicans as a land-grab, and this worried Canadians that the American Republic was ready and willing to use force against its neighbours to achieve its territorial goals.

Mill Street (c. 1910)
At this time, Mexican General Almonte was primarily a diplomat as well as the ambassador to the US.  He was recalled to Mexico, and served in the field against the invading US forces.  He was taken prisoner, later released, and died in 1869, lauded by the English press at the time as "a kindly and accomplished gentleman".  In the political climate of the day, this lead the British citizens agreeing to rename the village to its present-day name.

Rosamond Woolen Co.
In 1819, David Shepherd obtained a Crown grant of land, and he began construction of a grist mill and sawmill in the area that would later be named Almonte.  Sadly, fire destroyed the sawmill the following year, and he gave up the entire project.  The Crown re-granted the land to Daniel Shipman, who successfully developed the grist and sawmills, among numerous other ventures.  By 1870, Almonte boasted 30 stores and nearly 40 other businesses.  Chief among these were the textile mills that gave Almonte its reputations as the "Manchester of North America".

North Lanark Agriculture Hall
(c. 1910)
The rapid expansion of the nation rail system, combined with the emergence of an industrialized middle-class spurred the growth of Almonte's textile industry.  By the turn of the century, there were seven woolen mills in operation.  However, by the 1950s, competition from foreign producers had shut the flow of textiles from Almonte down to a trickle, and the mills closed or were converted to other uses.  The massive mansions (formerly belonging to mill owners and business men) lends to Almonte's historical past and demonstrates how lucrative and important the textiles industry was.  The village has incredible 19th century architecture.

The Running Stitch Kiosk
Almonte was the perfect location for Fibrefest 2010 which was held at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum (MVTM) and the North Lanark Agriculture Hall.  MVTM is located in the annex of the former Rosamond Woolen Company.  Constructed in 1867, this National Historic Site of Canada now houses static and working displays of textile equipment, focusing on the region's heritage, culture, and the role of the textile industry in the development of Canada. 

The Running Stitch Kiosk
Fibrefest itself was quite the event.  There were demonstrations and textile art exhibitions of spinning, weaving, lacemaking, and smocking just to name a few.  William Hodge was the featured artist.  There were also a wide range of vendors (including The Running Stitch!) in attendance, and it made for a great weekend.


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