BY SARAH BROWN
The picture-perfect historic village of Merrickville, on the Rideau Canal system less than an hour southwest of Ottawa, is a popular stopover on the summer boating circuit. Packed with antique shops, galleries, and cafés, this is a town that charms tourists while maintaining a laid-back hippie vibe courtesy of the many artists who have settled here.
Mill Street (at the lock station)
The blockhouse was originally commissioned by canal builder Lt.-Col. John By. Designed as a miniature fort, it’s strong enough to withstand small-cannon fire and also served as a house for the lockmaster. It’s now a museum, with the first floor dedicated to the history of the canal. The second floor is furnished as it would have been in the 1800s, when the lockmaster’s family lived here.
Yellow Canoe Café
108 St. Lawrence St.
In summer, visitors head to this simple café, just off the main strip, for the fine patio overlooking Merrickville and the Rideau River. Food has a hippie sensibility — home-cooked soups, sandwiches made with local ingredients, and a good selection of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Desserts run to carrot cake, scones, and date squares. Arrive early: it fills up fast.
The Grotto Artworks
110 Main St. E.
Merrickville certainly doesn’t lack for galleries — the committed art enthusiast could spend hours browsing the town’s main strip. What makes The Grotto stand out is that it’s a co-operative, carrying works by about two dozen local artists. That makes it a good spot for one-stop shopping for a wide range of fine-art and artisanal finds. It’s also housed in a lovely building, circa 1862, with classic tin walls and ceilings.
159 St. Lawrence St.
Designer/craftsman Michael Rowland has been producing handmade leather products (mostly bags) for nearly 40 years, his success a testament to his ability to adapt to the trends. This year it’s all about detail work — the most recent collection features little hits of glam with subtle inserts of colourful leather. Our pick: the iPad Bag is a classic design for the
Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Food Shop
311 St. Lawrence St.
Mrs. McGarrigle’s is an institution, founded on a mustard empire but now a retail store with shelves bursting with gourmet foods, kitchen gadgets, and housewares. Anglophiles will gravitate to the wall of English sweets and tins of Devon custard and sticky toffee pudding, but the store is also renowned for carrying dozens of lines of local mustards, jams, chutneys, sausages, and cheeses. Yum.