by Danielle Donders
Even before we moved to Manotick a few years ago, I knew it was an intriguing place. About 25 kilometres south of the Parliament Buildings but part of the city of Ottawa since 2001, Manotick has a reputation for good restaurants, interesting shops, plus an eclectic mix of sprawling waterfront mansions and tidy old clapboard houses built early in the century. We always knew it was a great place to visit, but not until we moved here did I realize what an incredible place it is to live and raise a family.
Manotick has a colourful history that’s indelibly linked to the history of the Rideau Canal. It sprang up around the grist mill now known as Watson’s Mill that was built by Moss Kent Dickinson, who also founded the village in 1859. Mr. Dickinson named the village from an Ojibwa word that means “island in the river.” Did you know a good portion of the village sits on an island that’s about 2.5 kilometres long? Long Island divides the Rideau River into the main channel, where boats pass through as part of the Rideau Canal system, and the non-navigable back channel.
In the 1860s, Manotick was a thriving and self-sustaining village a full day by horse away from the big city of Ottawa. However, the little village went into decline in the early part of the century when the railway line bypassed it. Then the advent of the automobile contributed to its revitalization in the 1950s and 1960s as Manotick became a viable option for those who wanted to live in its idyllic, semi-rural location but commute to work in Ottawa — exactly what I do today. In 1945, the population of Manotick was 400, but today more than 5000 people call the village home.
Manotick of the 21st century has retained not only its historic character from the turn of the 20th century but also the imprint of its 1960s and 1970s renaissance. I’ve often said that it sometimes feels as though we moved back to 1975 when we moved out here. There’s a strong sense of community and kids play safely on many of Manotick’s quiet streets. Since many of the houses are still on wells and septic systems rather than city water, the density of the housing is far lower than in suburbs such as Barrhaven, Orleans and Kanata, and it’s not unusual to have a lot that’s one-third or one-half of an acre, often graced with towering old trees.
Another lovely characteristic of life in Manotick is the vibrant village core. Within leisurely strolling distance of our home on the island there are specialty shops and a locally-owned grocery store, a hardware store, several excellent restaurants, a beer store, a butcher, an ice-cream-antiquesand- candy-store (all in one!), a discount department store and a library, to name but a few destinations.
If you’re not quite ready to uproot and move the family to Manotick, you should certainly consider coming out for a visit. You could easily spend a full day wandering in Manotick and still not sample all the village has to offer.
Why not bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it in one of Manotick’s many parks, or on the Rideau River at the Long Island Lock Station? Did you know it was here at the Long Island Locks that a village first sprang up after Colonel By built his canal? The original village of Long Island was laid out just east of the lock station, but petered out when the mill was built at what was to become Manotick a few decades later.
No visit to Manotick would be complete without a stop at the mill itself. Built in 1859, Watson’s Mill is the most photographed and painted building in Manotick. And speaking of painters, did you know Group of Seven founding member A.Y. Jackson once lived here? There’s a park named after him across the channel from the mill where a sawmill once stood.
Watson’s Mill is a gorgeous old building, but it’s also a working grist mill. Come out on Sunday afternoons in the spring through fall to see how the water from the Rideau River turns the giant turbines that help move the millstones that grind wheat into flour. Be sure to ask about the resident ghost of Watson’s Mill when you visit — if you dare!
Just across the street from the mill in the old carriage house, volunteers run a huge used book sale every day from May through October. With a constant supply of fresh material, I’ve found many affordable treasures there! Next door to the carriage house, you’ll find historic Dickinson House, which has recently been converted into a free museum; it focuses on the history of Manotick and the region.
Wander down Mill Street to the Miller’s Oven for a unique — and delicious — meal. The restaurant is run entirely by volunteers and everyone is always greeted as a friend. Then explore the nearby streets to discover Manotick’s many locally-owned boutiques.
Manotick has many seasonal festivals and celebrations that make a trip to the village even more fun. In the summer, you can experience Dickinson Days, a Taste of Manotick and the annual Picnic in the Park featuring the fun new Soap Box Derby Race. Fall showcases the Harvest Festival and winter brings An Old Fashioned Christmas to Manotick every year, while Shiverfest invites the village outside to play in January.
Manotick is a wonderful place to visit in any season, but it’s an even better place to raise a happy family.