By MAGGIE M, Editor, Publisher, Wedgee-in-Chief, theWedge.LIVE
“Beauty itself doth of itself persuade the eye of men without an orator,” William Shakespeare.
This hamlet persuaded my eyes this October. It took my breath away.
You can sit on a bench at Henry Beach, run your toes in the sand and cast your eyes on the view (shown above). There shalt thou linger and feedeth thine soul.
I wrote not long ago about the tiniest beach in North America. I was wrong. Henry Beach usurps all with its Lilliputian scale. The beach is “crowded” with seven bathers. You might be lucky and rule over it solo for a little while.
Burritt’s Rapids was first settled in 1793 by Colonel Stephen Burritt, a United Empire Loyalist from Connecticut. That’s 226 years ago.
The rapids coupled with the Rideau Canal were perfect to power up a mill, but the railway in Merrickville squelched the village’s ambitions in the late 1880s. This is a story replicated endlessly in our regional history. Nevertheless, its 19th century buildings have survived, offering a visual experience somewhat out of a Dickens tale.
Two waterways surround the hamlet because in actuality it is an island. Their banks were raised fifteen feet above the river. The Tip to Tip Trail offers a perfect hike on its banks from one end of the island to the other with land markers still present in the soil.
A steel truss swing bridge built in 1897 with wooden planks to tread delivers a rustic experience as you drive into the hamlet over the Rideau Canal. It pivots by turning a crank manually below the bridge. Counter weights and a set of roller wheels mounted on a circular trade underneath make it easy to maneuver. Today, nearby lock staff turn the crank when needed.
Its design is not replicated on any other Canadian canal. It is unique to the Rideau.
I muse, the hamlet is a perfect backdrop for a period piece that should be on location scouts’ rolodexes (an old item from another era, twenty years past.)
It’s no surprise it was chosen for the 1986 movie, “The Boy in Blue,” starring Nicholas Cage and Christopher Plummer (trailer below.) The current Community Hall was featured and an annex was later built from set pieces left behind. Today, its musical performances and events keep the community and visitors connected.
The island is also recognized by locals as a creative haven. Some homes break with tradition and make bold statements.
One house offers a book sharing dispensary on road’s edge, a smaller version of the its progenitor in color and form. This is a public conversation piece. It appeared closed at the time of our visit, its hand-shaped knobs tied shut.
Burritt’s Rapids is so tiny and walkable that many street addresses end with a single digit. It is an outdoor museum, but also the impetus for a new magazine, “Hamlet Life,” perhaps.
This magical place is minutes from Merrickville and a few more from Kemptville accessed from Highway 43. Pack a picnic, a sweater and good walking shoes. Just do it.