Merrickville, known as the Jewel of the Rideau, is a thriving community and a very popular destination spot for visitors coming by either land or water. The many stone buildings in town have been restored to their former glory and are now populated by a variety of shops. Those interested in arts, crafts, antiques or collectibles will find Merrickville to be a treasure trove of opportunity.
The village itself is a wonderful place to tour. It won a Communities in Bloom award for the Prettiest Village in Canada. A major feature in the village is the set of three locks on the Rideau Canal as it passes through town. You will find these adjacent to the blockhouse, built in 1832 to guard the locks. The blockhouse features a moat and drawbridge and it is open to the public. The locks operate today just as they did in 1832. Just across the bridge over the locks you will find the Industrial Heritage Complex, the site of some of the original mills.
In addition to in town shopping and sight seeing, there are several golf courses located in the area. Stop by The Depot, located on the waterfront in Blockhouse Park. It is a Rideau Canal interpretive centre run by Friends of the Rideau. There are a variety of accommodations available in or near Merrickville.
The first settler in the area was Roger Stevens who, in 1790, with his wife Polly and their three young children started to homestead on the shores of the Rideau River, near the border of Montague and Marlborough townships. Roger built a sawmill at the site of the "Great Falls" (today's Merrickville). He drowned in the fall of 1793, apparently having sold his sawmill and property to William Mirick prior to his death. It doesn't appear that Mirick did much with the sawmill at that time, likely because there was some issues with Mirick's ownership. But by 1802/03 Mirick had settled here with his family and either rebuilt the original sawmill, or built a new one and had also constructed a grist mill. In 1804 William Mirick received full title much of the land that underlies present day Merrickville (he received another grant for more land in Merrickville in 1810).
The small community that had developed around the mills was known as Mirick's, Mirrick's or Merrick's Mills. Mirick is the original Welsh spelling of this branch of the family. The post office, established in 1829, used the name Merrickville. However, the names Mirick/Mirrick and Merrick were used alternately. In 1860 the village was incorporated as Mirickville. In May 1862 the spelling was formally changed to Merrickville. The Mirick family also changed its name to Merrick at that time.
In 1815, Merrick's Mills was connected to the St. Lawrence by a road extending from Prescott. However, given the condition of roads of that day, the primary means of transport was still by water. The building of the Rideau Canal was a boon for Merrickville. It was to be the site of three locks. These locks were positioned to the south of the main river and falls, in an excavated cut, so as not to disrupt the existing mills. A.C. Stevens was granted the contract for the lock work. Initial clearing was done in 1827, but it was not until 1828 that significant rock work was started.
When the canal opened in 1832 Merrickville thrived on the new commerce it generated. Goods could now be easily shipped to and from Kingston and Montreal. By the time of village incorporation in 1860, the population had grown to almost 1,000. The railroad, connecting Montreal to Toronto, reached Merrickville in 1887 and allowed a healthy commerce to continue.
By the early 20th century, Merrickville, like many rural communities, was in decline. The population was decreasing as the young left town to seek work in urban centres. In the 1970s and 1980s Merrickville underwent a transformation. The lovely architecture of the town was an obvious tourist attraction. Work was done to preserve and enhance the historic values of the village. Businesses shifted to catering for the tourist trade, making Merrickville into what it is today.
Merrickville hosts many historic buildings. It has more buildings classified under the Ontario Heritage Act than any other village of its size in the province. The most distinctive is the Blockhouse, built in 1832, the largest along the Rideau Canal. In 1939 the Merrickville Blockhouse was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. It is a now a museum run by the Merrickville and District Historical Society. The Depot, located just upstream from the Blockhouse, was built in about 1868. The main mill industrial area is on an island on the north side of the bridge over the Rideau locks. Destroyed by fire, only the foundations remain, but Parks Canada has an interesting interpretation area describing the area's past glory. Continuing father north, you will encounter an operating foundry (open to visitors), the oldest continuously operated foundry in Ontario. The buildings that house the present day Alloy Foundry date to the mid-1800s.
Continuing on the north side of the river, there are several heritage buildings. William Mirick's third house, located at 129 Mill Street was built sometime between 1821 and 1839. It attests to William Mirick's prosperity. The Merrick Tavern located at 106 Mill Street, now a private residence, is one of the earliest surviving buildings in Merrickville.
Moving into the downtown area, south of the locks, the Jakes Block at the corner of St. Lawrence and Main Street dominates the downtown. Construction of the building was started by E.H. Whitmarsh in 1861. In 1863 it was taken over and completed by George Montgomery. In 1871, it was purchased by general merchant Sam Jakes who ran it as a thriving general store. The churches in town mostly date to the late 1800s and early 1900s when new imposing stone structures were built to replace earlier wooden or smaller stone building. The Merrickville United Church on St. Lawrence Street was built in 1890. The St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church on Main Street was built in 1901. The Holy Trinity Anglican Church on Church Street was completed in 1909.
In addition to stone buildings, there are many interesting wooden frame buildings. These include the Petapiece-Dowdall House at 212 Brock St. East, built in about 1900. The Samuel Langford House at 306 Elgin Street was built in 1863. The Carman Knapp House at 506 Elgin Street was built in 1890. The list goes on. You will just have to visit Merrickville to discover it all for yourself.
For detailed information about the history of Merrickville, read "Merrickville, Jewel on the Rideau" by Larry Turner, 1995.