Set along the banks of Canada's mighty Mississippi River, highlighted by a roaring waterfall and historical architecture, the quiet town of Carleton Place sits mostly undiscovered by the rest of the world. While the town hasn’t quite taken off with Ottawa’s day-trippers the same as the nearby communities of Almonte and Perth, there’s a lot to be found in Carleton Place and this might be your chance to gain some hipster cred by saying you knew about it before it was cool.
The site of Carleton Place was first settled in the early 1800s, when the British government encouraged European immigration to Lanark County. The Morphy family were the first to see the potential power in the waterfall and fast-moving rapids of the Mississippi River (an offshoot of the Ottawa River), and they established the settlement of Morphy’s Falls in 1819. Like most early villages in the Ottawa area, it was built up around a mill that powered textile and lumber industries.
As the economy boomed, the settlement grew in size and was renamed Carleton Place in 1829 after a city square in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1862 the Findlay Foundry opened, manufacturing cast-iron cookware and stoves, which they continued to produce up until 1974. Carleton Place was incorporated as a village in 1870 and officially became a town in 1890.
The town’s most notable resident, Arthur Roy Brown, born in 1893, was known for his heroism as a military pilot in the First World War. He is also credited with shooting down the Red Baron, Germany’s top ace pilot who was so revered in battle that he has been immortalized in modern media. Whether Roy Brown fatally wounded the Red Baron is a matter of controversy among historians, but there is no doubt that he was a skilled and heroic pilot.
In 2012 the town of Carleton Place commissioned a very large and beautifully painted mural to honour Roy Brown. It depicts a scene from his famous aerial battle with the Red Baron and can be seen from Bridge Street, just across the river from downtown.
These days, Carleton Place is a rapidly growing town, just west of Ottawa’s city borders along a quick drive on Highway 7. Don’t be fooled by the big-box, commercial district found along the sides of the highway; the real character of the town is found within.
The town centre is built around a classic main street, lined with shops and restaurants, built mostly in the late 1800s and early 20th century. Standout architecture from the masonic temple, historic churches, and bell towers highlight the scenery, but the real star of the show is the Town Hall building. Sitting on the banks of the river, the limestone building is unmistakable with its high clocktower, as well as pointed window turrets and a steep roofline that is reminiscent of Ottawa’s Château Laurier.
EAT, DRINK & WALK
The foodie scene in Carleton Place is fairly new and pretty small, but there is some really great stuff going on that is worth checking out. At the Black Tartan Kitchen in the heart of downtown, award-winning chef Ian Carswell is drawing praise from critics for his delicious takes on simple, classic dishes (be sure to read more about Ian in the food section, page 55).
Boulton House is located in one of the town’s oldest buildings that was originally a waterfront milling operation. Their food is focused on fresh, local ingredients with lots of Italian dishes on the menu, and the restaurant’s spacious patio sits right at the edge of a roaring waterfall.
The Good Food Company has been a staple of the Carleton Place main street since 1997, and the reason they’ve stuck around so long is all in their name with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients of the highest quality. The small cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch (the kitchen is closed by 2:30 p.m.), so plan accordingly and do not miss out.
The craft beer scene arrived in Carleton Place with Stalwart Brewing, and they have been a big hit with beer lovers across the Ottawa area. Their passion for brewing strong IPAs and rich stouts began in the kitchen of Ottawa's Wellington Gastropub and they now occupy a funky garage-style space on the high street. They've since been joined in town by Braumeister Brewing, crafting authentic German-style beers.
Another attractive feature is how well connected the town is to recreational trails. The Great Trail (formerly Trans Canada Trail) takes you from Ottawa to Carleton Place all year round by foot, bike or x-country skiing depending on the season. Additionally, the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail on the former CPR rail line connects to the nearby town of Almonte (best known as the setting for dozens of Hallmark Christmas movies), and goes on to the lovely small town of Pakenham.
If you’re arriving by people power, it’s best to stay overnight, and Carleton Place has that covered with The Grand Hotel. This 16-room hotel is located in an 1872 stone building right in the centre of town, and adds to the classic, old-world feeling that comes with any visit to Carleton Place.