Ottawa

Portraits of the Pandemic: Small town turns ghost town

CBC Ottawa reached out to local artists and photographers who are capturing this unusual time visually, for a series we're calling Portraits of the Pandemic. This week, we're sharing photos of small town Almonte, Ont., by local photographer Ryan Gordon.

Almonte photographer Ryan Gordon trained his lens on the eeriness of the town's empty streets

Ryan Gordon captured Almonte's normally busy Mill Street in the 'eerily empty' weeks after COVID-19 arrived. (Ryan Gordon)

CBC Ottawa reached out to local artists and photographers who are capturing this unusual time visually, for a series we're calling Portraits of the Pandemic.


When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Ryan Gordon grabbed his camera and hit the empty streets of Almonte, Ont. That first weekend in March, he wandered around town for one two-hour stretch without seeing another soul.

"It was almost like being in a movie, like Dawn of the Dead — a very surreal feeling," Gordon recalled.

Photographer Ryan Gordon trained his lens on the eeriness of Almonte’s empty streets during the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:09
Almonte's Kirkland Park is usually filled with tourists strolling along the river. (Ryan Gordon)
Almonte's Gemmill park during COVID-19. (Ryan Gordon)
Almonte's old town hall, as seen from the Riverwalk — a usually busy walking path. (Ryan Gordon)
The historic Mill of Kintail conservation area just outside Almonte closed when COVID-19 first struck. It's now partially reopened. (Ryan Gordon)
Self-portrait of photographer Ryan Gordon. (Ryan Gordon)

The wedding planner and photographer felt compelled to try to capture that eeriness on film, since it's so rare to be able to shoot some of the town's landmarks with no one else in the frame.

His images gained attention after he posted them on the Friends of Mississippi Mills Facebook page, and now they'll be the focus of a new exhibit at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, called Faces & Fabric of a Small Town During Pandemic. Prints are for sale as a fundraiser for the local hospital foundation.

The museum's curator says he was attracted to Gordon's ability to capture still spaces, as well as his shots of chalk drawings and posters with positive messages found on local sidewalks and windows.

"That temporary graffiti gives words of hope which I think is so encouraging and shows that kind of empowerment through the struggle," explained Michael Rikley-Lancaster.

Ryan Gordon wanted to capture some of the positive signs and graffiti seen around the small town during the pandemic. (Ryan Gordon)
Gordon spotted this along the town's Riverwalk. (Ryan Gordon)
Gordon wanted to capture some of the signs outside Almonte's long-term care home, Country Haven, where a number of residents died of COVID-19. 'I didn't think I would be emotional, but I was. I had never been down there before. It's a huge loss.' (Ryan Gordon)

Rikley-Lancaster also notes the connection between today's mask-makers and the area's history as a textile manufacturing hub.

Gordon took this photo of Wynn Ann Sibbald, who stopped quilting and started sewing masks seven days a week for neighbours and others in the community, tapping into local Buy Nothing groups for fabric and hanging them on her clothesline for people to take. (Ryan Gordon)

Gordon — who grew up in Lanark County and recently moved back to Almonte — said the pandemic experience is different in a small town because of the way the tight-knit community rallied around each other, checking in on neighbours. Someone even put a mask on the statue of basketball inventor James Naismith — a centrepiece of the town's main street.

Someone in Almonte regularly accessorizes the statue of basketball inventor James Naismith on Main Street. The famous local has been adorned with a tuque, a Raptors jersey and during COVID-19, a mask. (Ryan Gordon)

The museum is hoping to reopen at the end of the month, but the exhibit is available online, with new images to be added in the coming weeks.

Almonte photographer Ryan Gordon trained his lens on the eeriness of the town's empty streets. 4:34

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