Mississippi Mills, Ontario
‘A very unique community’
Business View interviews Mississippi Mills, Ontario Mayor Christa Lowry and CAO Ken Kelly for our focus on Economic Growth in Canadian Communities
With its charming streets surrounded by rich heritage, beautiful architecture and small town appeal, Mississippi Mills could be the scene of a Hallmark movie. In fact, the Southern Ontario community, located 40 minutes outside Canada’s national capital of Ottawa, has been the scene of almost a dozen such films.
“I think we are the poster child for almost every Hallmark Christmas movie there is,” says Mississippi Mills CAO Ken Kelly. The reason the town of almost 15,000 has been featured in “A Cheerful Christmas,” “Christmas Around the Corner,” and “The Christmas Set Up,” could be due to the sense of community and comfort that oozes from every corner.
“Mississippi Mills has always been a very unique community,” says Mayor Christa Lowry. “Like a lot of small towns in rural Ontario, there wasn’t a lot of growth here, so there was a very tight-knit aspect to how the community looked after each other. As it’s grown over the last number of years, that really close community where people are wanting to get involved and take care of their neighbors and have pride in their town has carried on.”
Rather than an influx of big box stores and the impersonal amenities that most cities draw in, Mississippi Mills has managed to attract like-minded individuals who have only worked to make the community better. Lowry acknowledges, “It has really encouraged a lot of unique people and businesses to set up shop here. A lot of very thoughtful, unique and interesting people are attracted to Mississippi Mills. And because of that you still get that comfortable feeling. You know your neighbors and you’re interested in supporting local and lots of independent businesses. It’s different here than you would find in other communities – even the ones next door to us.”
The area of Mississippi Mills was founded along the Mississippi River in 1819 as a mill site, but was officially amalgamated as a larger town in 1998, incorporating the town of Almonte with the townships of Packenham and Ramsay. Together, the area is made up of 14 small communities that come together to support one another. Almonte is the town’s urban center and home to a bustling downtown main street, as well as a developing business park. The business park is home to innovative businesses that make Mississippi Mills stand out amongst other small towns across North America. Companies such as Dairy Distillery, which makes vodka as a by-product of milk processing; HFT- Healthy Food Technology, which is currently producing a “healthier” donut; and Sport Systems Canada, which designs, builds and installs athletic equipment for school boards, municipalities, and sports centers worldwide.
“We’ve got some very unique businesses in there at this time,” Lowry says. “We’re quite encouraged to be collecting a number of them and they’re all wonderful entrepreneurs and excellent people.” The business park will soon be opening an additional 10 lots this fall, and there’s already been a tremendous amount of interest in them. “It will be a very interesting process to go through to make sure we find the right fit for businesses moving in there,” she adds.
Walking along Almonte’s quaint main street, you’ll find dozens of interesting shops that run the gamut from textiles, clothing, and children’s shops to bookstores, galleries, artisan collections, antiques, and more. “It’s not just your run of the mill town,” says Kelly. “There’s a lot of uniqueness and character here.” The buildings themselves maintain a lot of the town’s history and character. While many old mill towns have seen their mills taken down, Mississippi Mills has retained that heritage, with many former mills being reconverted to condominiums, retail office space. “There’s a lot of really interesting office settings,” Lowry reports. “The folks who walk up and down the main street and are enjoying the shops and I don’t think they have any idea that there are folks working for Shopify and some of the most important and interesting businesses in the office space above.”
Mississippi Mills attracts many professionals, who have been drawn to the small town charm and proximity to Ottawa. Many are able to work remotely or have set up shop in the offices around the town. “You’d be surprised who is working in the office spaces here in some of these buildings in Mississippi Mills, and you’d really be surprised by the global reach of some of these people and the work they are doing,” Kelly says. “Whether they are naval architects designing for the shipping industry, strategists working for other countries or other entities or municipalities, it stretches across the globe. It’s fantastic stuff. There’s phenomenal business here.”
Aside from the uniqueness of its businesses and workforce, Mississippi Mills boasts its own unique heritage and culture. One major claim to fame is being the birthplace of Dr. James Naismith, inventor of basketball. His bronze statue stands tall in Almonte’s core. “There is a bit of a squabble in the States about which school he actually invented basketball at, but no one can squabble about where he was born,” Lowry says. “He is absolutely from Almonte. Everybody wears that proudly on their sleeve that he’s from here. There’s a lot of respect for our heritage and a lot of pride in the history of our communities.”
That respect has extended outside of Mississippi Mills, with town community groups receiving two National Trust for Canada Awards for their work in preserving the heritage of local buildings. The buildings honored include the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, as well as five recently restored buildings in Almonte’s downtown. “These people are artisans and they are doers and there is national recognition by accredited associations about what’s going on here in terms of heritage preservation,” Kelly says. “It would be great for a community our size to win one of those, and we’ve got two!”
Aside from heritage, the modern town is bursting at the seams with unique stories that single it out from other places. “They are stories you don’t get in many other small towns,” Kelly says. “Even when we look at some of the more recent activity – I’m always surprised that Wayne Ronstadt of On the Road Again lives out in Packenham. Who knew? Give him a call, he’ll sing you a song.”
Mississippi Mills is currently undergoing several initiatives to help accommodate some of its growth. First up is housing. The town is currently at the tail end of its urban boundary expansion and has appealed to Lanark County to add an additional 64 hectares of residential area to Almonte’s urban area.
“There are three different areas that we will be expanding upon and some existing areas within the boundary that are looking to be developed as well,” Lowry explains. “If you had asked me about housing two years ago I would have had a very different answer. What we’ve seen through the pandemic is this great exodus of folks moving out of Ottawa and Toronto and wanting a bit more land and a bigger house. So, we want to ensure that we have lots of opportunity for people to stay, to come back, and to welcome the current residents, as well.”
The town has also recently finished work on a seniors residence that allows for both independent and assisted living for Mississippi Mills’ aging population. A second facility is in the works for the next few years. To help support these new developments, the town has been hard at work making plans to expand its water storage tank to support water pressure and firefighting. For their more environmentally conscious residents, Mississippi Mills currently has two electric vehicle charging stations in the Almonte downtown area, with more in the works for other areas. “This community is keeping up with the times,” Kelly says. “For a small community like this to have these charging stations – even one would be novel. We are right out there on the cutting edge with these technologies.”
As they look to the future, Lowry hopes that Mississippi Mills continues to grow and expand, while maintaining the charm they are known for. “The overall piece is really thinking about how we ensure we are growing but continue to be this community that looks after each other, that’s really interested in supporting local, that has pride of place, that continues to be doers, continues to be stewards of the heritage and the history of our community,” Lowry shares. “And I’m quite sure that we will be able to do that. I can’t imagine any of us not wanting to continue to ensure we grow as we are now and become an even better community.”
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AT A GLANCE
Mississippi Mills, Ontario
What: A growing town of almost 15,000
Where: Southern Ontario, along the Mississippi River
Gincor Werx – www.gincor.com
Westview Projects Inc. – www.westviewprojects.com
“With our roots firmly grounded in Mississippi Mills, Westview Projects is your full service general contractor. We provide the highest quality construction on schedule, and at a competitive price, while building strong and lasting relationships with our clients, our staff team, and our subcontractors.” Seth Richards, President, Westview Projects Inc.
Mississippi River Power Corp. – www.mississippiriverpower.com
Located in the heart of historic Almonte, Ontario, Mississippi River Power Corp.’s 4.6 Megawatt Brian J. Gallagher Generating Station has been producing green, renewable power since 2010. In addition to generating power, MRPC also maintains and continues to upgrade two public parks, as well as three dams within the community. As the sole shareholder, the Municipality of Mississippi Mills receives dividends from MRPC.