If you can’t tell, I’m really excited to go home. Which is interesting, because I don’t actually like my hometown all that much (I got out as soon as I possibly could), but it is somehow, closer to an urban area than where I live now and my grandparents are going to be there at the same time as me and I haven’t seen them since pre-pandemic so I am incredibly psyched to go home.
And as much as I rag on my hometown, there are some very nice places in my home region. I went to high school in an area of Ontario called the Upper Ottawa Valley, I actually don’t know why we specify the “Upper” as far as I know there isn’t anywhere referring to themselves as the “Lower”. But it is the region to the northwest of Ottawa, the capitol city of Canada, kind of from Carleton Place to Chalk River. It could also include the Quebec side, but I don’t think they would like that very much, they would definitely prefer to be called the Pontiac Region.
I think I will organize this by town, and in distance from Ottawa.
Cheerfully Made is one of the cutest little shops, it is a maker shop, but it’s not cheugy in the way that most maker shops are. And it’s so aptly named, it’s so cheerful.
This is a cottage-core, grandmillennial dream. Picture Country Home Living in shop form with an entire Chalk Paint section and a section with knobs and drawer pulls. It just some lovely little décor pieces and homewares and art prints and is just adorable.
This is one of the original Lee Valley stores, basically Mr. Lee started Lee Valley out west and then retired and moved to Almonte, but wasn’t ready to fully retire and opened this shop as kind of a duplicate of the original old-timey hardware stores. It has the weirdest little bits of hardware and a whole wall of drawer pulls, knobs, hinges, and all of the related items you could think of.
This is an outdoor apparel store that is the least like Bass Pro Shops you can imagine. It has cute outdoor apparel, but it is also practical stuff. I have never actually bought anything there because it is a bit pricey and I am usually on pretty strict budget when I am home.
This store is a bit weird, it looks like it should be somewhere that your mom and grandma shop, but I also almost always find something there. Including my very favourite, most worn jacket, my green floral Joules raincoat.
Last time my mom and I went to Almonte this was where we got lunch, it was really good. I think it could be a cute date spot if you were here on a romantic weekend, or good for a business lunch. There were definitely men in suits having business lunches while we were there.
I’m just realizing that there are an oddly high number of crepe places in the Ottawa Valley??? That’s unexpected. But this is a great place for a girl’s lunch, it’s normally where we go with my sister, mom, and Granny.
Also, Almonte is the birthplace of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball (like literally the inventor of the game basketball), and the farm he grew up on is now a museum to him. And there is a statue to him outside the Tin Barn.
Merrickville is a very cute little town, and it is very good for Dads/Grandfathers. It is where the Rideau River meets the Rideau Canal and there are all these locks that the boats have to go through to move from one river to the other and the men in my family have a wonderful time walking along them and watching. It also has little pubs with hidden gardens that my Granda loves to “do a William” wherein he reads the paper, gets a beer and a cup of tea and generally charms the whole pub with his Irish accent and adorably odd habit.
This is where we always get lunch when we come to Merrickville, my dad likes it, my little brother likes it. If that isn’t a seal of approval I don’t know what is. There’s this turkey sandwich with some kind of cranberry aioli? it’s so good. And the carrot cake. We don’t often get dessert, but this is so good.
This shop is the reason why we started going to Merrickville. It is the ultimate kitchen store, and the mustard that she makes is just so amazing.
These are my favourite candles in the whole world. And my sister’s. That’s all that needs to be said.
I will drive to Calabogie solely to go to Oh-el-la, it is the cutest, sweetest little cafe and the food is so good. It might be cringe now to refer to somewhere as Instagramable, but it very much is.
Calabogie is also a ski town, now don’t expect a huge mountain. You’re in Ontario. My Swiss friend was incredibly let down by it. But there is skiing if you are here in the winter and as someone who has never lived in the mountains or skied in the mountains I think it’s great.
White Pine Books and Children’s Boutique/The Gallery Gift Shop
These are three stores that kind of run together, even more so since the bookstore took over the former tea room next door and opened the children’s store. These three places have become some of my go-tos for gift shopping. If I have bought your baby baby clothes in the past three years, they came from this place. And the book store, OMG, the book store. It’s not huge, but it has everything that you could want. It’s the perfect cozy book store and easily one of my favourite independent bookstores in Canada.
This book is more targeted towards my mom’s and grandmother’s age groups, but I am most often in this town with them. Ms. Audrey has now sold the store and retired, but I am still in love with her and am glad to spend time in her shop in her memory (not that she’s dead). It’s one of those shops where the shopkeeper remembers you, asks you how you are, asks about your job, and it’s just so small town and comforting. And my mom and granny always find clothes in it.
This is one of the best places to eat in the whole valley. The crepes in particular are so delicious. And it’s open for lunch, which is actually a bit challenging to find in the area.
Lumbertown Alehouse (I couldn’t get the website to work, so sorry no link)
This is the other really good restaurant in town, if I remember correctly they have a Mac and Cheese that is unbelievably good. And the burgers are really good. A great dinner spot if you’re in town for dinner.
There is also an Indian restaurant here that I have never eaten at but my sister and her fiancé rave about it all the time.
Renfrew would be the town that I most often refer to as my hometown, it’s not actually where we live, but if people are familiar with the Valley then this is the smallest and closest town that people know.
My sister used to work here for a few summers while she was in college, and it has become one of my favourite boutiques. Nearly everytime I’m home I get a pair of shoes or an item of clothing from Jill’s shop. She has really unique pieces, but it’s also really practical clothing. Like she knows she is in a small town, but she’s also willing to push the fashion boundaries of a small town a bit.
This is one of my favorite places to get lunch in the whole valley (I like getting lunch okay). The sandwiches here are so good. They make all their own bread and it just makes the sandwich. If you are there and they have the carrot and ginger soup you absolutely must get the half sandwich and small soup combo with the carrot and ginger soup.
And then if I am meeting a friend for coffee while I’m home, this is where I want to meet them. They are so chill about you sitting there for hours and the coffee is really delicious. It’s also definitely very hipster and has all the alternative milks and gluten-free options, which can be a bit tough in such a rural area.
It also looks like they may have opened a location in Almonte.
So these little villages are the triangle that actually makes up my hometown.
This is the spot in the Valley. They have two locations, and honestly if you are here in the summer my vote is always for the Riverside location, but if you don’t want to get off the highway or it’s not the summer, Lakeside is also very good. Lakeside is their main location and has events like trivia and live music (although Riverside will as well). I would say Thursday-Saturday in the evening a reservation would be recommended, especially in the summer.
Their only downside is they are only open until 10, so if you are looking to go out, out this is the pre, not the main event and it is a drive to get anywhere else, so please have a designated driver. Thank you.
Oh, and if Brandon is your bartender please tip well, he’s going to be my brother-in-law soon.
Whitewater rafting is the activity of the Valley. Allegedly, we have the warmest rapids in North America so this is the spot where all the pros come to train when it’s North America’s season. My personal favorite is Wilderness Tours, but I have also heard great things about O.W.L (and the lodge actually looks nicer there) and Espirit on the Quebec Side.
Okay, so confession time, I have a stick up my butt about Pembroke. I went to high school here and it was a gross dump when I was in high school here. The downtown used to be exclusively dance studios and tattoo parlours. But it has really come up, The Shoe Lounge has a second location here, there’s a couple other clothing stores that I haven’t really explored, and I think a donut shop I haven’t been to.
In my opinion, this is the best and nicest restaurant in Pembroke. The food is always so good, they have gluten free options, parking is a bit tough, but it is wonderful.
I haven’t actually been here yet, but my friends who stayed in town absolutely love this place and it looks great and it is right in front of one of the main reasons why I go to Pembroke:
This is the yoga studio that got me into working out and hot workouts in particular. This is my very favourite yoga studio in the whole portion of the world that I have seen. Adore.
I know in the intro I said that the Ottawa Valley goes all the way to Chalk River, but I cannot make recommendations west of Pembroke. We don’t go that far west very often, there’s not a ton there and if we are going to drive that far we will go to Ottawa instead of some little village. But if anyone from Deep or Chalk feel the need to correct me please let me know.
I do think Petawawa has a Starbucks now, but to me that still feels like a rumour.
Welcome to the Valley!
One thought on “Ottawa Valley Favourites”