Did you know that in a nation-wide, Communities in Bloom competition addressing a variety of community issues including heritage preservation, floral displays, landscape development and environmental effort, Merrickville was officially proclaimed Canada’s most beautiful village?
But Merrickville, as visitors soon discover, is more than just a pretty place.
Situated along the historic 202km Rideau Canal, almost halfway between Ottawa and Kingston, Merrickville is a splendid blend of unique shops, restaurants, lodging establishments, artists’ studios, galleries, recreational activities, year-round festivities and cultural celebrations and of course, history.
Gothic-style churches, still-stylish stone houses and Victorian homes adorned with gingerbread trim and wraparound verandas line the village streets. Visitors frequently remark that they feel as if they have stepped back in time to another era.
Indeed the heritage, legacy and lore of the village has been carefully maintained and preserved. But, while still very much a charming and friendly 19th century Victorian village, it is able to offer its visitors all of life’s contemporary comforts... or at least all the ones that truly matter.
Whether you are visiting for the afternoon, overnight, the weekend or longer, you are sure to enjoy your time in Merrickville - the Jewel of the Rideau.
Merrickville’s Historic Past
Merrickville was named after William Merrick, a United Empire Loyalist from Massachusetts, who settled in the area around 1788. Realizing the Rideau River was an excellent source of power, he and other entrepreneurs developed the village into a centre with over 50 water-powered industries. Parks Canada displays detailing the actual industry sites can be found in a park setting near the Rideau Canal. The Canal, opened in 1832, was built under the direction of Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Intended as a safe route to transport goods between Kingston and Ottawa, it was the most ambitious project undertaken by the British military at the time. The Canal further enhanced the commercial development of the village.
Overlooking the Canal stands the largest blockhouse on the Rideau. The Merrickville Blockhouse, built after the War of 1812 when tensions between Americans and what was then Upper Canada were high, is an impressive and imposing structure with its cannon portholes, gun ports and stone walls; it reassured settlers of protection in the event of an enemy attack.
Today the Merrickville Blockhouse is a museum and a National Historic Site. Standing at the centre of the village, it still guards, but now also warmly welcomes approaching visitors from all over Canada, the United States and the world.
The Rideau Canal, whose military purpose was never tested, is now a designated National Historic Site and a Canadian Heritage River. It continues to be a favourite waterway, not for barges and steamers as in the past, but for yachters, recreational boaters and canoe enthusiasts who follow the same routes established well over a century and a half ago. A visit to Merrickville during "Canal Season" (Victoria Day Long Weekend through the Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend) would not be complete without stopping to watch the boats pass through the locks. Like most along the Canal system, the Merrickville locks are operated, by hand, just as they were in 1832, when the Canal was completed.
Unique Shops, Artists, Restaurants and Accommodations
A trip to Merrickville would also not be complete without visiting its unique shops and galleries, many of which are located in Merrickville’s historic buildings. Just follow the "yellow banners". These bright, sunny symbols are your guide to a unique shopping experience. Or you can pick up a place mat-size souvenir map of the village at any of the local businesses. Published by the Merrickville & District Chamber of Commerce, the map highlights the shops, galleries, pubs, eating and lodging establishments and recreational, health, community and other services and associations in the area.
Merrickville area has many fine art galleries, glassblowing, woodcarving, pottery and other studios where you can view works in progress and purchase original pieces of art. Among the village shops you’ll find: an ironworks shop - Upper Canada’s oldest operating foundry - très chic dress stores; stores specializing in country craft and collectables; antique shops; an antiquarian bookstore; a leather goods store; a florist; garden ornament and accessory shops; greenhouses; a model train store for railroad buffs of all ages; shops filled with lace, linens and quilts; specialty food establishments where you can purchase wholesale spices, locally-tapped maple syrup, organic foods, Dutch imports, jars of chutney, jam, and international award-winning homemade mustards; and much more!
If shopping has left you a tad tired, take a break while enjoying the fine fare offered at Merrickville’s restaurants. Or a cup of tea, coffee or "a pint," if you are so inclined. The village boasts over a dozen different eating establishments, each with its own varied menu and ambience. Restaurant options include elegant, full-course dining experiences, British pub style fare, a pizza restaurant, and, of course, coffee shops and cafés where you can order a cappuccino (iced or steamy hot depending, on the season of course!), thick sandwiches and delectable desserts. You can also order a sandwich or ice cream, a hot dog, fries or poutine to go. Throughout the year, many restaurants feature entertainment and special menu nights which draw full-house crowds.
For those wanting to revel a little longer in the ambience of a past era, or who have realized a day isn’t enough time to see all there is to see, Merrickville offers a variety of lodging establishments in which to spend a relaxing night after an adventurous, active day. You can spend the night at a heritage inn with all the life’s modern amenities - including a "spa" for those who need a little pampering.
Or stay at a guesthouse or at over a dozen B&Bs, each with its own special personality and ambience and always-friendly hosts. Some B&Bs are right in the village within easy walking distance of its shops and restaurants, others are located in the scenic secluded countryside surrounding Merrickville. Some are part of Merrickville’s architectural legacy; others are more modern.
For boaters on the Canal, Merrickville has a protected, full-service marina, offering overnight dockage. When it comes to lodgings, there are plenty to choose from in Merrickville - including several campgrounds, one located right "downtown," along the Canal. The choice is up to you. Be our guest!
And there is always good reason to linger longer, for there is always something happening here. But remember: the secret is out! Merrickville is a great overnight or weekend getaway. So if you are planning to stay over, consider booking accommodation in advance.
Culture and Events Galore
It has been said that "creativity inspires creativity" and this is certainly true here. Merrickville and the surrounding area is home to over 50 artists and artisans, Theatre Night in Merrickville, an award winning community theatre group, history and antique aficionados, as well as professional musical groups who, collectively play a range of music - Celtic, country, jazz, classical - and keep villagers and visitors well entertained at community events and pubs or during a relaxing, slow-paced Sunday brunch.
Spring events include Maplefest, and a community-wide garage sale, usually held on the first weekend in May. On Canada’s Victoria Day weekend, the village is the site of the Merrickville Fine Art Festival, a juried art show featuring fine artists from throughout Ontario and Quebec. Summer events include: "Dutch Day;" "Jamaica Day;" Canalfest, a celebration of the Rideau Canal; an Antique and Classic Car Show; the Merrickville Agricultural Fair & Steam Show; an annual antique and collectables show; and a Postcard Exhibition and Sale.
Each fall, typically on the last two weekends in September before the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October, the Merrickville Artists’ Guild conducts its annual Artists’ Studio Tour and Sale. The coming of winter is always highlighted by the olde-tyme fun of "Christmas in Merrickville." Celebrations include sleigh rides, carol-singing along the village streets and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Exploring Nature - Walking, Hiking, Cycling, Paddling, Fishing
To get a closer, in-depth look at the history and heritage of Merrickville, you can purchase a Merrickville Walking Tour booklet, available at the Blockhouse and other locations throughout the village. Present-day stores, restaurants and other Merrickville businesses are housed in buildings that have been part of the commercial streetscape for over 150 years. The booklet provides information on over 25 historic buildings, homes - including the original homes build by the village patriarch and founder William Merrick and his family - and other historic sites in Merrickville, and includes photographs, locations, history and architectural information.
The Rideau Trail passes through Merrickville and there are local walking trails on Collar Hill. Cycling in and around the back roads of Merrickville is a lovely and invigorating way to spend a day. In winter snowmobiles can travel on the frozen river and trails.
As the former home to the Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, Merrickville is also home to some great canoeing. The scenic Rideau River and canal provide an ideal paddling environment for beginners and experts. If you are a bird lover, visit the Rideau River National Migratory Bird Sanctuary. It’s home to blue jays, great blue herons, and many other types of birds. The Sanctuary is accessible by water, so you can paddle up to it quietly and enjoy the scene without disturbing the inhabitants.
The Rideau River is excellent fishing territory for pike, pickerel, walleye, and small and large mouth bass.