Trang Nguyen (left) and Melissa Yang (right) stand in front of the former Almonte post office converted into a restaurant. Photo credit: Kate Playfair

Ottawa is constantly teaming with life, the night as lively as the day. For some international students at Algonquin College, that is all they know.

But just outside Ottawa’s borders lies a sleepy little town far from the bustling streets of the city, quiet and inviting. An escape from city life for a few hours in historic Almonte may introduce the students to a whole new way of life in Canada.

For Diva Valencia, 32, an early childhood education student from Chile, Almonte could be the perfect place to move with her husband and three-year-old daughter.

“It’s like a little town in Europe,” said Valencia. “When we were arriving on the bus, I said this is the kind of place I would like to live.”

The International Education Centre took a group of international students to Almonte on Oct. 25 to show them a different scene from the lively city. Full of historic buildings, picturesque walkways, and quaint stores, Almonte is one of the many towns around Ottawa that is open to explore.

“We thought we’d give the international students an experience of a small Ontario town,” said Leah Grimes, the intercultural programming support officer with the International Education Centre.

The Almonte tour started at the Metcalfe Geoheritage Park, then students branched off, wandering towards the centre of town, passing by the Mississippi Grand Falls, and snaking up Mill Street to discover the history of downtown Almonte. Some walked along the scenic river walks, while others explored the countless antique shops lining the street.

“It’s pretty here, there’s a lot of trees and a beautiful landscape,” said Johanna Alcamtara, 36, a business accountant student from Chile. “Where I come from, I lived in the city, so there’s a lot of buildings compared to here. I love here that you are connected to nature.”

The International Education Centre provides services to international students, including aid with immigration when they get accepted to Algonquin College and helping them integrate into the city and college.

The trip to Almonte was designed to show international students what Ontario has to offer outside of Ottawa.

“It’s good for us to come and not just stay there in the city,” said Valencia.

“Little towns have a lot to offer,” said Grimes. “When you go to a smaller town there’s that feel of community, and I think it’ll be really cool to get them exposed to that and to maybe encourage them to seek out other places to visit while they’re here in Ottawa.”

Almonte is an old mill town of Lanark County and home to the inventor of basketball, James Naismith. Many of the original buildings still stand, including the mill and the original post office now converted into a restaurant. A statue of James Naismith sits at the centre of the main street and has become a hotspot for tourists.

“I feel like in this kind of place you can feel the culture of a country,” said Valencia. “You can go and understand and see people from here.”

This trip is the first of its kind for the International Education Centre, but different trips like hikes at Gatineau Park are commonly introduced to students.

“I encourage all the students to take these kinds of trips that Algonquin offers,” said Alcamtara. “You can discover another place instead of downtown and Ottawa.”

Different people are drawn to different places. Some drink in the bustling life of the city, while others like to take a step back and slow down.

“This area is so far away from the city,” said Valencia. “Now, in this stage of my life, I like these kinds of places.”