Alameda: a promenade lined with trees, from the Spanish àlamo
The Almonte Alameda is a community-driven project, sanctioned by Lanark County and gratefully received by the Municipality of Mississippi Mills. It was started in 2020, the year of Covid, as an effort to beautify the old Almonte rail yards on what is now the Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail (OVRT). Volunteers planted and watered, and watered again through a particularly dry June and July. It built friendships and pride in our community. It was suggested by Ken McRitchie, a local, and driven by Stephen Brathwaite, Ed Lawrence and Ron Ayling, forester and editor of The Forestry Chronicle, along with a large cast of contributors.
Of course the trees are the backbone of the Alameda. Our Alameda trees are Acer saccharum, “Fall Fiesta” a “Cultivated Variety” (cultivar) of our native sugar maple. Sugar maples were the obvious choice here in Lanark County, the maple syrup capital of Ontario. They are robust, relatively disease-free and, as in the name “Fall Fiesta”, they offer glorious colours in the fall.
There are 94 trees between Bridge and John Streets, spaced 18 feet apart. Those selected for the Alameda had been growing for ten years and were supplied “balled and burlaped” in wire baskets by NVK Nurseries of Dundas, Ontario.
Planting was truly a team effort. Lanark County provided equipment as did Mississippi Mills and the planting holes were dug. A backhoe lowered each tree into its spot then filled the holes. Volunteers took care to guide each tree into place at the right depth and oriented towards the sun the same way as it had been at the nursery. At first, the Almonte Library hose provided water to keep the trees alive in the blazing heat. Later a volunteer watering brigade brought water from the river in buckets in a pickup truck.
With their first winter behind them, the trees have fared well. Regular watering by volunteers continues as the summer heat of 2021 continues to build.
The design of the benches along the Alameda was inspired by the bench in the adjacent community garden behind the Library. The benches are special because a different quotation is featured on the back of each one. Individuals and families from the community who sponsored a bench were asked to choose a quotation on the theme of love and remembrance, the embrace of community and the embrace of nature as a meaningful dedication to their loved ones. The quotations, by people such as John Muir and Leonard Cohen, convey a sense of place.
The benches were fabricated by Almonte’s Branje Metal Works and one is in memory of their dad Gerry. The theme of hopeful quotations is continued on the unique live-edge picnic tables, crafted from local oak and located halfway along the Alameda. A quotation is featured in a metal panel across the middle of each tabletop. Further interesting details are planned for the site; bronze artifacts will appear at some of the benches to further memorialize the person(s) to whom the bench is dedicated. The spiral bicycle racks located at the west end of the Alameda were supplied by Sports Systems, another local business and sponsored by donors.
The Alameda project seemed to strike a chord during the first season of Covid. People were anxious to connect even if at a distance. They yearned for something positive and a reminder that good things would follow. The trees would thrive and be enjoyed by generations to come so they volunteered. Many friendships were launched. A group of women introduced to one another while planting became regular walking, hiking, biking, and kayaking companions. The fellows that organized the project became frequent dinner guests of one another. People who happened to see the watering crew in action asked if they could help. Soon there were so many waterers that scheduling was required. Thanks to Allan Goddard and Christine Moses for orchestrating that essential task. Lots of folks gave their time, their talent and their resources to make something beautiful for all of us to enjoy. Thanks especially to Al Potvin ABOUT, our local tree champion who put his walker to one side to fill wheelbarrows with soil. Thanks to John Muston who just jumped in when he saw the need while walking by. Thanks to Tom Moses who with other young ones leant their enthusiasm and muscle. Thanks to Sarah White who called from her balcony asking if it was a private party or could she join in.
Thanks to everyone who constantly makes this town a more and more enriching place to be.
The Public Art
Plans are underway for the Alameda to feature artworks by notable local artists.
The first piece to appear along the Alameda is the ‘Alameda Greenman’ by Almonte-based sculptor Dale Dunning. The idea of the Greenman is an ancient one found in many cultures and is largely seen as a symbol of rebirth and renewal: that we humans are part of nature and see ourselves reflected in the cycles of nature. The ‘Alameda Greenman’ started life in the garden of John and Vera-Lee Nelson. It moved with Vera-Lee to Almonte and then last year Vera-Lee donated it to Almonte to be placed along the Alameda.
The ‘Alameda Greenman’ is one of several sculptures called ‘Greenman’ that Dale created in 2008 and 2009. Two of these are on a larger scale — three times the size of the ‘Alameda Greenman’. One can be seen in the memorial garden by the emergency entrance of the Almonte General Hospital on Spring St. The rest of the series are smaller but larger than life-sized. For more information on the art of Dale Dunning, visit his website.
The second piece is to be by Deborah Arnold, a local stone carver. She has been commissioned to work with Lanark blue marble donated by OMYA Corporation from their Tatlock mine. Her work will appear at the south end of the Alameda.