This charming Ontario town overlooking the Rideau River
has an interesting mix of ghosts, artisans, quaint shops and English-style pubs.

Like a lot of people, I’m fascinated by the prospect of ghosts which is part of the reason I made a spring trip to Merrickville, a delightful community 90 minutes southwest of Montreal. It was just before the annual stream of summer tourists was expected to descend on the town’s unique collection of shops and artisan studios. Moreover, it was not by happenstance that I booked in to Sam Jakes Inn, an historic limestone building that dates back to 1861.

I was on a mission to see if the ghost experience I had there a couple of years ago would repeat itself. During my previous stay I awoke one morning, just after dawn, to find an amorphous entity seemingly observing me from the end of my bed before abruptly evaporating in a manner so odd I rarely discuss it lest people might label me daft.

In fact, the 33-room Sam Jakes Inn has a history of non-threatening ghost encounters mostly involving unexplained noises and objects being inexplicably moved. Only a few have been visual sightings and mine was one of them. Some say the ghost is the first wife of Sam Jakes who died in her early twenties but was unable to rest in peace because soon after her death her husband rushed to the altar with another woman. One staff member, however, believes the ghost is Sam Jakes himself and recalls seeing him late one night walking along one of the hotel’s corridors wearing a stove-pipe hat and an outfit consistent with the period in which he lived.
I was unable to determine whether the ghost that paid me a visit in Room 305 was male or female. What I do know is that the apparition was truly real but it did not reappear during my most recent stay. However, my travel companion who was lodged in a room across the hall from me said her sleep had been disturbed by the noises coming from the floor above. “Sounded like they were moving furniture or something,” she said. I gently reminded her that our rooms were on the top floor and there was nothing above us but roof.

Ghosts or no ghosts, Merrickville is a marvelous little town that ranks as one of the best preserved and restored 19th century villages in the country. Named Canada’s Most Beautiful Village in 1998 by Communities in Bloom, it was once the largest industrial centre on the Rideau River canal system boasting several grist mills, woolen mills and sawmills. Some say that back then the town was even a contender to become the capital of Canada. Not only did it fail to receive this designation but by the late 1800s Merrickville had fallen into decline with commerce gravitating to centres closer to the newly developed Canadian railway line.
Following its industrial heyday, the town slumbered for many years, however, over the last decade its fortunes have changed dramatically. Merrickville has gone from a sleepy, rural centre to a quaint and delightful community with, among other things, more than 30 professional artisans working from studios open to the public, all of them within easy walking distance from the town’s centre. They include nationally and internationally renowned painters, sculptors, potters, silversmiths, leather workers, wood craftsmen and metal smiths. For instance, on the day I visited in May, I watched Giovanni Voltolina, a Venetian glass master from Morano, Italy, blowing glass at the Kevin Robert Gray Gallery. Here, where masters blow 200 to 300 lbs of glass a day, there are all-day demonstrations year-round. The Gray gallery, in fact, is one of three Merrickville glass artist studios with shops attached where people can buy a variety of blown glass items made on site.

In addition to artisan galleries, St. Lawrence Street (the main street) and several side streets are lined with a host of stores where shoppers and treasure hunters can find anything from a Mennonite quilt to a Tiffany lamp. There are purveyors of specially chosen clothing, souvenirs, china, jewellery, antiques and garden ornaments, plus unexpected finds like the large inventory of model train paraphernalia at the Lark Spur Line store. Moreover, one of the most popular shops on the main drag is Mrs. McGarrigle’s, an old fashioned general store selling modern gourmet products like hand-made chocolates, award winning mustards made on site, chutney, preserves and fine imported European specialities like balsamic vinegar from Spain. McGarrigle’s also sells a large selection of kitchen tools and an attractive line of home furnishings.

Dining in Merrickville is also top drawer. There are about a dozen eating establishments in the village with several of them like the Goose & Gridiron and Gad’s Hill Place replicating English-style restaurants. On the corner of St. Lawrence and Main, the Yellow Canoe Café combines a very good restaurant with an art gallery. It’s easy to find: just look for the yellow canoe out front. Same Jakes Inn probably has the finest dining room in town along with the Baldachin Inn which likewise embodies a distinct British flavour. There’s everything in eating spots from fancy to plain including a couple of establishments selling good old English-style fish and chips.
One of the things I like best about Merrickville is that no matter how many times I visit; there is always a new surprise. This last time around, I discovered that a full-fledged psychic has set up shop on Main St. right next door to Sam Jakes Inn. Connie Adams, who classifies herself as a medium, operates the Merrickville Psychics Parlour and she’s the first person to tell you she’s the best psychic around which I soon learned was probably true. Connie does tea leaf and Tarot card readings, séances and haunted walks. I don’t personally go to psychics fearing they will tell me something I don’t want to hear, however, my travel companion paid $60 for a 40 minute reading and came away feeling like it was the best money she had ever spent.

On its own, Merrickville has plenty of entertainment for a day or weekend getaway that can also incorporate a number of area attractions. Just 12 minutes down the road at the town of Smiths Falls visitors can tour the Hershey Chocolate Factory, Historic Railway Museum and the Rideau Canal Museum.

For more information call the Merrickville Chamber of Commerce at 613-269-2229 or go online at www.realmerrickville.ca. For Sam Jakes Inn call 1-800-567-4667 or check the internet at www.samjakesinn.com. For the Baldachin Inn call 1-877-881-8874 or go online at www.baldachin.com.

Related Posts