MILL OF KINTAIL CONSERVATION AREA
Mill of Kintail Conservation Area offers a workout for the body and the mind.
When my friend and I crunched up the gravel driveway of the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area, just outside of Almonte and owned by the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Was this a heritage site or a hiking spot? It turned out to be both, and a great place to spend our afternoon.
The first place we hit on our visit was the Trim Trail, a scientifically designed exercise path with a balance of cardio, muscle tone, and flexibility training activities. Signs posted along the trail show you how to do the exercises with three different levels of intensity (beginner, sportsman, or competitor), and equipment is provided when needed. My friend and I raced each other down the fitness trail, giggling but also working up a sweat.
Feeling energized after our romp down the fitness trail, we passed The Cloister on the Hill, a lovely venue for weddings. It seemed fitting that the Mill of Kintail still nourishes a romantic spark given the history of the intriguing couple that once lived here, as we were soon to discover as we reached the mill itself.
A short walk later we found ourselves standing in front of the grist mill that had originally been built by Scottish pioneer John Baird in 1830. One hundred years later, Dr. Robert Tait McKenzie, a Lanark native, decided to restore the mill to use as his summer home and studio. McKenzie was a multi-talented surgeon, physical educator, and sculptor. A veteran of First World War, he also developed widely used techniques for the rehabilitation of the wounded.
His wife, Ethel McKenzie, was a formidable woman in her own right. The couple had met aboard a cruise ship bound for Berlin during the spring of 1907. Swept up by a whirlwind romance, they were married in Dublin by the end of that summer. A match for Dr. McKenzie’s talents, Ethel herself was an accomplished poetess. Her volume of poems “Secret Snow” was successful following its publication in 1932. In a pretty spot alongside the river and in view of the mill, visitors can relax and read copies of her poems.
In the mill itself, the McKenzie’s house is neatly arranged as it would have been when they lived there, with the addition of a small gallery of local art and a gift shop. The upper floor houses many of Dr. McKenzie’s sculptures, including his bronze medallion “The Joy of Effort,” which was first exhibited at the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912. Displayed in the basement is another one of Dr. McKenzie’s hobbies, his collection of pioneer tools.
Wandering through the rooms of their house, the visitors glimpse intimately into the life that the McKenzies led here. It’s no surprise to discover that this talented couple attracted some cultured company; guests here included former Prime Minister William Lyon McKenzie King, Group of Seven painter A. Y. Jackson, and Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball and Dr. McKenzie’s friend since childhood. The McKenzies and their friends spent their summer days making merry with swimming parties, picnics and nature hikes. This carefree spirit lives on at the mill today; on Wednesdays and Saturdays in July and August from 2-4 you can enjoy tea and homemade goodies beside the mill, and continuing on past the mill and across the river you’ll find a well-marked network of scenic hiking trails. The trail map helpfully shows the length and approximate time it will take to hike each trail, allowing you to plan your visit.
The Mill of Kintail is a versatile place; its setting is relaxed and romantic, but also offers enough to keep the kids busy and interested, or provides a fun afternoon getaway as I enjoyed with my friend. I imagine that the ever-active and artistic McKenzies would be pleased to see their former home as a conservation area today, where their legacy lives on, and courtesy of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority’s protection, the public can now enjoy the over 160 acres of a natural setting and trails as Dr. McKenzie once enjoyed them.
The philosophical Dr. McKenzie once stated,
“All life and expression of life which is art is linked together. Wherever there is life there is soul. The body is the expression of the soul.”
At the Mill of Kintail, you can experience the remarkable life of Dr. McKenzie as he expressed through his art, and nourish your own soul with a little fresh air and exercise on the hiking trails, just as Dr. McKenzie would have prescribed.
Melissa Rodgers is a student at Carleton University. Her passions include history, cooking, reading, and the great outdoors.