By MAGGIE M, Editor, thewedge.live
I stepped onto terra firma in Renfrew, Ontario, a beautiful town in the Upper Ottawa Valley, for the first time in my life last week. The first man I met was tall, very tall, I’m guessing 9 feet, and wooden. His given name is, Big Joe Mufferaw, a French Canadian folk hero, and a title by Canadian country music artist, Stompin’ Tom Connors. He is a ‘welcomer’ as you enter the town from Highway 17 onto O’Brien Road.
From the same location you can see the water tower, a large white silo, which announces in large inscription, “Renfrew Welcomes You.” Nice touch.
Renfrew is only 20 minutes from Arnprior heading Southwest. It’s ten minutes removed from the Ottawa River, on higher ground; but, the Bonnechere River, a tributary, runs through it. The two communities know each other well, visiting and trading with each other. Their populations both exceed 8,000; so, they are close cousins from were I sit.
Renfrew offers things I had not imagined. Brace yourself for a tour of compounded surprises and secrets.
The town features one of only three swinging bridges in Canada. Mayor, Don Eady and Deputy Clerk, Jennifer Charkavi, took me to this exceptional landmark and attraction, mere steps from downtown. At 100 feet in length, the bridge swings as you walk on it, and the sway increases as others step in. The bridge hangs over raging waters delivering quite an experience to your senses–sight, sound and touch. We all inadvertently performed a little jig as we set foot on it. My camera on tripod swayed along as I braced myself. This man-made wonder warrants a trip to Renfrew on its own.
The earliest hanging bridge dating back to 1885, would have generated terror in anyone today. Look at the brave workers (right), either from a knitting or grist mill, crossing this thread-bare version, with their bicycles, nothing to hang-on to but dear life.
The dam was built by Lt. Christopher James Bell in 1853; so, crossing this bridge over water surges added extra risk to all. It was rebuilt with wood and cable in 1983, and updated in 2015; so, you can dance on it and be secure.
At one point we were four persons huddled closely on the bridge and I asked the Mayor, “How many can the bridge hold?” He answered without missing a beat, “three.” A collective guffaw ensued. This Mayor is witty.
Regretfully, these two dignitaries should never give up their vocations for an acting career; yet, I have not met such willing participants to my dramatic, directorial imaginings, capturing the excitement. Under my direction, Charkavi attempts to throw Mr. Mayor overboard, down into the dam’s raging waters (see feature image at top of story). “Look terrified!,” I howled to Mr. Mayor. One cannot help notice the lack of malice and terror in both actors respectively; but, it was a valiant effort. They were great sports and attractions in themselves. It was the highlight of my day.
On the subject of the dam and Renfrew’s ability to produce its own power, two significant outcomes enure to the benefit of its residents. The town is among few who own their power generation facility, Renfrew Power Generation. I quote the Mayor, “this results in substantially lower hydro costs.” Everyone is up in arms about the usurious charges by hydro corporations across Ontario. This is a powerful blessing, pun intended.
Prior to my visit with the Mayor, I met with NHL hockey aficionados inside the Hockey Museum. Jim Miller founded the Museum Committee in 2002 and opened the museum in 2012. Brace yourselves for another Renfrew claim-to-fame : it is the birthplace of the NHA/NHL. Hockey fans should light up on this fact.
I’ve been a hockey-mom in my past; but, you need not know much to be impressed with the museum’s contents. If all hockey enthusiasts, most Canadians, knew about this jewel, the town would surely run out of ice cream and parking spaces.
The Museum has the most comprehensive NHL library in Canada; guests can pull a number of items sit at a desk and spend hours reveling in hockey history and artifacts. Parties and school trips are frequent affairs.
The two delightful guides in full referee regalia (see below) greeted me with enthusiasm and aplomb. They spouted endless facts about the history, the artifacts, the hockey legends, ex-temporally. I learned, the Stanley Cup in 1893 was just the bowl that now sits atop its many rings. I also learned of the battles between early leagues and who won in the end, forming a single, powerful league, our beloved NHL. I don’t want to be a spoiler; but, it was nasty.
The museum is in the heart of historic, Downtown Renfrew, on beautiful Raglan Street. Some of its shops were established in the 19th century and still remain within their founding families. Wooden floors, tin ceilings are charming signatures; but, the voices of the ages speak through the walls, cornices, stones and pathways throughout downtown shops and residences. Renfrew is a camera lens’ desire. And you can visit all without the tyranny of parking meters–parking is free with a rare, 3-hour limit.
The first settler, John Lorn McDougall, arrived in 1820; but, the town was not incorporated until 1858, as a village, and in 1895, as a town. A 200-year celebration is surely at hand. In fact, I would venture to state that the annual agricultural and spectacular, Renfrew Fair, will be a big destination event in 2020. This fair is one of the oldest, most sustained events in Canada, the first having occurred in 1855.
To wrap up this first story on this wonderful town, one simply must feature its extraordinary health facilities, nine buildings in all. Chief among them, is the new, sparkling, Renfrew Victoria Hospital, with state-of-the-art technology, including a wing for dialysis.
A beautiful building for palliative care, housing up to eight patients, backs on a forest with occasional, meandering deer. Near the hospital a large, new heli-pad keeps a healthy distance from the buildings. The town is working aggressively to reducing patient load to 800 patients per doctor over the standard 1,200. New buildings are primed for their arrival. I have not seen this level of investment in health care in any town thus far. It was truly stunning and it is perhaps the town’s greatest secret.
“It’s a good place to retire,” the Mayor states as we toured the site, “But, families with children would be well served here.” This is an understatement. What town maintains fifteen parks, one of which is 147 acres, the famous Ma-Te-Way Park?
And finally, a pretty pose to honour our deserving dignitaries and gracious Hosts.