Leaving Ottawa for Kingston
Trip Start Aug 09, 2012
8Trip End Aug 18, 2012
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Go to the following link to see a description of the canoe trip - at the bottom of the description of the canoe trip is a day by day itinerary of the canoe trip - route and distance to be covered - where we will be camping each nite..and other miscellaneous information and facts..
Forecast for Friday - the start of the canoe journey up the Rideau Canal to Ottawa:
CLOUDS OF KILLER MOSQUITO'S
Sounds and looks like fun....
I have heard it said that if you are in the middle of a lake during an electric storm,
you are a sitting duck, a cooked goose and a goner for sure - could the electric storm
get all of us - 7 canoe and 2 kayaks????
Things can only get better - I think....
The first page of Ken Watson's 2012 Guide to the Rideau has an excellent map
of the Rideau Canal and the canoe route that we will be taking - to see
go to the following link:
Canoe Trip Dave
A Coureur de Bois
Note: see below for a short history of the Rideau Canal
A Short History of the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal, which first opened for navigation in 1832, is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America
The plan to construct a navigable waterway between Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River was conceived after the War of 1812 (you remember; the war where Canada beat back the invading Americans). It was designed to provide a secure supply Route from Montréal to Kingston, avoiding the vulnerable St. Lawrence River route. Today we welcome the invading
Americans to journey its scenic route. As you travel along the Rideau you will see most of the stonework and many of the buildings as they were in the 19th century.
In 1826, Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers was assigned to supervise the construction. Colonel By faced a stiff challenge, to create a navigable waterway between the Ottawa River and Kingston, through what was at the time a wilderness of rough bush, swamps and rock terrain, funded by an incredibly stingy British Government.
Initial construction of the Rideau Canal started with preparing the area for the Ottawa locks in the fall of 1826. Construction on the rest of the route started in 1827
navigable waterways. The exquisite stonemasonry of the control dams and locks are admired by waterway travelers to this day......
The history of much of early Canada starts with water. Many communities were formed at the foot of rapids, a natural spot for river travelers to stop. Montréal for instance, one of the great cities of Canada, was founded at the foot of the Lachine Rapids. In the same way, Hull was founded by Philemon Wright in 1800 at the foot of the Chaudière Falls, on the north side of the Ottawa River. Across from Hull, on the south side of the Ottawa, the Rideau River cascaded down in a
beautiful set of falls.
The Rideau route was only known to natives who used it to travel from the St. Lawrence River/Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River. The earliest written report is a survey expedition initiated by the British government in 1783 when Lieutenant Gershom French traveled from Montréal, up the Ottawa River to the Rideau Falls, up the Rideau River to its source in the Rideau Lakes, down through the lower Rideau lakes into the Gananoque River system, to the St
Gananoque, and then down the St. Lawrence River to Kingston, the outlet of the Cataraqui River.
During the war of 1812, naval strength was a major issue. The naval shipyards at Kingston were critical to Canada's defence, and a secure supply route from Montréal to Kingston was crucial to any war effort. After the war ended, it was revealed that the Americans had been hatching a plan to cut off access to the St. Lawrence. So it was that in 1816, Lieutenant Joshua Jebb of the Royal Engineers was given the duty of surveying a route for a navigable waterway which in
part was "to follow up the course of the Cataroque from Kingston Mills, and, keeping a northerly direction, to penetrate into Rideau Lake, and descend the river which flows from it to its confluence with the Ottawa."
It was four years after Lt. Jebb's survey that a prominent figure, Charles Lennox, the Fourth Duke of Richmond, and the Governor-in-Chief of British North America, decided to make a tour of the Canadas. This included an inspection of the planned route of the Rideau Canal. In 1819, he started his tour, leaving Québec City, travelling to Montréal, and on to Kingston. From Kingston he headed overland, along rough tracks and trails, until he eventually reached the new community
of Perth, on August 21.
Unfortunately, the Duke had been bitten by a soldier's pet fox in Sorel (near Montréal) two months previously, and it was in Perth that the symptoms of rabies first appeared. He was able to continue on to the new settlement of Richmond, but a day later, in a settler's cabin near Richmond, he died. Prior to his death, he had managed to get an important British figure,
the Duke of Wellington, who at the time was the Master-General of the Ordnance (the branch of the government in charge of fortifications and canals) interested in the Rideau Canal project.
No action was taken on the Duke of Wellington's recommendations to proceed with the building of the Rideau Canal
estimate of £ 62,258 (about 50 million dollars today) for small 4 foot deep locks, to an equally unrealistically low £ 230,785 (about 200 million dollars today) for a system with locks 100 feet long by 22 feet wide and a navigation depth of 7 feet.
These original low estimates would come to haunt Colonel By when he was faced with the task of actually building the canal.
n 1826, Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers was handed the task of creating a navigable waterway, with a uniform depth of 5 feet, from the Ottawa River to Kingston, using the route suggested by Samuel Clowes. It was a daunting task. The land through which Colonel By was to construct the waterway was virgin forest and untouched rivers
and lakes in a region that was very sparsely populated
The rest of the region was sparsely populated by settlers operating small farms.
Colonel By landed in Québec City in May, 1826. He then moved and set up an office in Montréal to make preparations and in September, accompanied by the Governor-in-Chief of British North America, the Earl of Dalhousie, traveled to Wright’s Town (Hull), which at the time was a very comfortable settlement. On September 28, 1826 the two men stood on the north
shore of the Ottawa River and selected the entrance for the Rideau Canal. In doing so, they founded what was to become Canada's national capital, Ottawa.
The first order of business was to re-survey the route and make specific decisions regarding what was needed for the construction. The bush and swamps along the initial part of the route proved so tough, that this job had to be done in winter, when the frozen river could be more easily traversed. In addition, a bridge was built linking Hull to the south shore of the Ottawa. This was the first bridge to link Upper and Lower Canada. The last but most important order of business was to
arrange the contracts for the actual construction of the canal. This was done in Montréal, with all contracts being administered by the Commissary General (an arrangement that was to cause many problems for Colonel By).
The "Clerk of the Works" assigned to Col. By was John MacTaggart who did much of the early groundwork for the canal planning. MacTaggart came up with a couple of off the wall ideas, including building a wooden aqueduct to cross Dows Great Swamp. This aqueduct was to be supported by cutting off the tops of the many cedar trees in the swamp. MacTaggart
was dismissed in 1828 and he returned to England where he wrote a book about his adventures called "Three Years In Canada".
he Canal was constructed by thousands of labourers, hired by independent contractors who were under supervision ofthe Royal Engineers. During the winter of 1826, several contracts were given for forest clearing, excavation, and stonemasonry. Colonel By didn't agree with the original concept for locks being 100 feet long by 22 feet wide. He argued that the locks should be able to handle the new naval steamboats, and wanted locks that were 50 feet in width. A compromise size of 134 feet long by 33 feet wide was finally agreed upon. In the summer of 1827, Colonel By gave the government a revised estimate of £ 474,000 to build the canal.
During construction, many problems with the contractors arose, particularly with the excavation contracts. Many contractors couldn't live up to the term of their contracts and had to be dismissed. The unskilled labour used for these jobs was generally unruly and the Royal Sappers and Miners had to be used to guard the stores and closely supervise much of the work. Conditions were difficult. The men lived in crude camps in the wilderness. Many succumbed to malaria, which
was prevalent at the time, as well as other diseases and job site accidents.
All the work was done by hand with the aid of a few draft animals. Most of the excavations were carried out by men with shovels, pickaxes and wheelbarrows. Rock was laboriously hand drilled and blasted with black powder. The large stones that make up the locks were set in place using simple hand cranes. Much of the skilled rock work was done by French Canadians who had experience on other lock projects and British stonemasons. The unskilled labour was made up of Irish immigrants and French Canadians. The Irish made up about 60 percent of the labourers, most were recent immigrants
looking for wage work, which was very scarce to find in those days. The other 40 percent were made up mostly of French
Canadian labourers, pulled from existing timber camp labour forces. It is estimated that a total of about 2,000 men per year worked to make the Rideau Canal a reality.
It is difficult to fully appreciate today the difficulties that were faced. Not only by the men working on the job, but in manycases their families. Several of the Sappers and Miners had their families stationed with them. Some of the Irish labourers brought their families to the work sites, building rough shanty cabins. Others left their families in the newly created ByTown or the more established town of Kingston. Colonel By’s reports, which listed the number of people working at
each lockstation, also listed deaths, and these lists had columns for men, women and children. For instance, in 1830, during the “sickly season” which spanned from August to mid-September, in the southern Rideau (from Newboro to Kingston Mills), the area hardest hit by malaria, there were 1327 men employed on the job of which 787 took sick with malaria. Deaths in that period were 27 men, 13 women and 15 children.
It is to be noted here that malaria, contrary to popular myth, was not brought in by the soldiers working on the canal. It was already prevalent in North America at that time (going back to at least the 1700s). In 1826, prior to the start of construction of the Rideau, malaria was already present in both Kingston and Perth. During the construction of the Rideau Canal, the main type of malaria was Plasmodium Vivax (P. Vivax), a temperate form of malaria that existed in much of southern
Ontario. P. Vivax has two cycles, the normal short (weeks) malaria cycle and a much longer cycle where it would spend nine months or longer incubating in the liver. This longer cycle allowed it to survive the harsh Canadian winter by staying inside a human until the mosquitoes were out and biting again. This form of malaria was present within the range of the anopheles mosquito, a night biting mosquito that will bite a human more than once (it both delivers and picks up the
The mystery on the Rideau is explaining the apparent 2 to 4% mortality rate from malaria since P. Vivax has essentially a 0% mortality rate. The most likely explanation for this is complications from other diseases, and health issues such as dysentery, that were common in that day. It may have been fatal for someone in an already weakened state to contract P.Vivax malaria. About 60% of he workers in the southern Rideau contracted malaria each year. An alternate, but less
likely explanation for the mortality rate, is that another form of malaria, P. falciparum, a virulent form of tropical malaria was also present. But since it couldn't survive the Canadian winter, it would have had to have been imported into the worksites each year, an unlikely proposition.
There are many reports in the Rideau area, from the early 1800s, of settlers suffering from malaria. What the construction of the canal did was to put hundreds of people in close proximity to each other, aiding in the transmission of the disease. It was not known at that time that mosquitoes transmitted the disease, it was though to be the result of bad air (from which the
name “malaria” is derived). Colonel By had large sections of trees cut down at each work station to improve air flow, in order to (he thought) lessen the chances of malaria.
There was no cure, but symptoms could be controlled through the use on Quinine. However, although Quinine bark had been used for centuries, with limited effect, it was the isolation of quinoline alkaloid in 1820, named Quinine, that proved to be a potent anti-malarial drug. But, during the construction of the canal in 1826-1831, Quinine, was difficult and expensive to obtain, supplies coming to Canada were very limited.
The exact number of deaths is not known. It has been estimated that upwards of 1000 men, not including women and children, may have died (from all causes) during the period 1826-1831. Extrapolations from the factual records that have survived indicate that about 500 died of malaria alone. A rough guess is that perhaps upwards of another 500 died from other diseases (dysentery, small pox) and work related accidents (blasting accidents, rock falls, etc.). Death by accident
was fairly rare, in the first year of construction (1827), records indicate that 7 men died from work related accidents. Memorials to these fallen workers have been erected in Kingston and Ottawa and at several spots along the canal.
Coming back to the construction of the canal, in 1828, a settlement on the south side of the Ottawa River was surveyed. This settlement was named Bytown. It was renamed Ottawa in 1855 and was chosen as the site of Canada’s capital by Queen Victoria in 1857. Many of the Royal Sappers and Miners were camped in barracks built for them on Barracks Hill (now Parliament Hill). In 1829, a company of Sappers and Miners were moved to new barracks in Newboro.
Colonel By made a decision to turn the Rideau into a slackwater system which meant flooding the regions between one lock and the next to navigable depths. It meant the construction of water control dams in addition to the locks. Several of these dams became some of the major engineering triumphs of the 19th century (including the Hogs Back Dam which
collapsed three times before it could be completed successfully).
Although Colonel By had problems with several of his contractors, he also worked with some of the best. Five of these were Robert Drummond, Thomas McKay, John Redpath, Andrew White and Thomas Phillips. The latter four contractors entered into a partnership for their work on the Rideau, pooling their financial resources and splitting the profits four ways.
All four had prior canal building experience, working on the first Lachine canal. Their work on the Rideau was exceptional and By had nothing but high praise for these men.
The main task given to Redpath was the daunting job of the construction of the dam at Jones Falls. After the Rideau, Redpath would go on to build Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal and some of the first buildings at McGill University. He is perhaps best known today for "Redpath Sugar" which got its start as the largest sugar refinery in Montreal, built by Redpath in 1854. McKay started work on the Rideau by constructing the stone arches for the Union Bridge, the first bridge
linking Upper and Lower Canada. He then went on to construct the magnificent flight of eight locks at Ottawa. After his work on the Rideau he stayed in Bytown, building a house for himself, Rideau Hall, now the Governor General for Canada's home. He built the first courthouse in Bytown as well as several mills. Drummond constructed the locks at Kingston Mills and also those at Upper and Lower Brewers Mills. White and Phillips worked on several of the locks, including the dam and locks at Long Island.
Triumph and Failure
The Rideau Canal is obviously a major triumph of engineering, a system that has worked well since 1832, and looks like it will work well for the next several centuries. There were several trials and tribulations along the way, a good example being the Hogsback Dam. In order to build a slackwater system, several dams had to be built to hold back the water and flood part of the system to navigable water depths. One of the largest of these was the dam proposed for Hogsback Rapids.
It was to be 45 feet high, which was considerably higher than the largest similar dam built in the U.S. at that time, whichonly stood 28 feet. It also had to be built across a fast flowing river, an engineering feat with little precedence.
In 1827, a contract for the dam was awarded to a Mr. Fenelon. Work progressed through to February, 1828, when, unfortunately, the sudden rise of early spring floodwater swept most of the dam away. He tried again, but rising flood waters in early April washed the dam away again. Fenelon asked to be released from his contract and he was granted that wish in November of that year. Colonel By decided that rather than re-contracting the job, he would use men of the Royal
Sappers and Miners and hire his own labour force. Work on the stone dam progressed well through a severely cold winter and the water had been raised by 37 feet, only four
feet from the required level. However by the end of March, 1829, leaks began to appear in the dam. Clay fill, employed in freezing weather, was beginning to fail. Colonel By was summoned from Bytown to supervise control measures to salvage the dam. One of his letters tells the harrowing tale of the failure, on April 3, 1829, as Colonel By was standing on the dam.
He wrote that he "was standing on it with forty men employed in trying to stop the leak when I felt a motion like an earthquake and instantly ordered the men to run, the Stones falling from under my feet as I moved off".
Plans to build a cut stone dam were abandoned. The cribwork coffer dam built by Philemon Wright was still standing and it was decided to extend this structure the full width of the river and built it up to the required height. This was completed by the end of year 1829 and the water was raised to its full height.
Stone dams were built successfully at several location, the largest is the engineering marvel located at Jones Falls. This stone arched dam, one of the first built in North America, spans a length of 350 feet and rises to a height of 55 feet. It was built from local sandstone under a contract with John Redpath. Over 200 men, including 40 masons, worked on the dam
and locks. This was one of the worst areas for malaria and during the summer of 1828, everyone in the camp, including the doctors, were suffering from "swamp fever".
The beautiful arched dam at Jones Falls and the four locks (a staircase of three locks, a turning basin, and a fourth lock, with a total lift of 60 feet) are one of the jewels of the Rideau, a must see for any visitor. It epitomizes the triumph of engineering that the Rideau system represents.
The Defence of the Canal
The defence of the canal itself was of primary importance to Colonel By. The Canal, designed as a military supply line, was itself vulnerable to attack. Accordingly By put forward a proposal to purchase additional land and construct several blockhouses. The cost estimate for this work was £ 69,230. By submitted his proposal to the Ordnance in March of 1830.
The Ordnance made a decision that due to the high cost of the canal, any defensive works would have to be postponed. However they neglected to inform Colonel By of this decision until the spring of 1832.
By, hearing no word from Ordnance, and knowing that the defence of the canal was extremely important, contracted the construction of several blockhouses. Only four were completed, at Kingston Mills, the Isthmus at the summit of the Canal, the Narrows on Rideau Lake, and Merrickville. The blockhouse at Merrickville was extremely important to the defence of the canal. An early defence strategy had been to maintain a wilderness buffer around the Canal. This would prevent easy access by enemy troops to the canal works.
However, in 1832, the provincial government began to upgrade the Prescott Road, providing easy access between the St. Lawrence and the Rideau. In the event of hostilities, the blockhouse at Merrickville would become a key defence point.
The Canal never saw military activity. The blockhouse at Merrickville serves as the lockmaster's residence until the late 1800s. Following the Upper Canada rebellion of 1837-38, stone guardhouses were build at Jones Falls and White Fish Falls, and defensible lockmaster's houses were built at a few of the locks along the canal. No new blockhouses were
The construction of the canal was essentially finished by November 1831. In December the two companies of Sappers and Miners were disbanded and several of the soldiers were given the position of Lockmaster on the newly built locks.
On May 24, 1832, Colonel By, his family and some fellow officers boarded the vessel Pumper, temporarily renamed for the occasion as the Rideau, in Kingston for the grand opening voyage. It was on May 29, after stops at all the small communities along the way, that the Rideau sailed into Bytown. The canal was open.
The only blight on the whole affair of building the canal was the final cost of £ 822,804. Cost estimates had increased steadily as design parameters and construction details were refined. In early 1828, when the final lock dimensions of 33 feet wide by 134 feet long had been decided upon, By submitted a cost estimate of £ 576,757. This estimate did not include any
costs for constructing military works along the canal. In 1831, once actual details of construction were known, Colonel By submitted a detailed revised estimate of £ 776,000, which was considerably more than parliament had originally allocated for the project. However problems, such as the failure of the Hogsback Dam, increased this estimate. There were also some
accounting irregularities by the Board of Ordnance. It should be remembered that in those days, a simple request by By for stationary supplies (quills, paper) took six signatures and two months to process.
A question often raised is what do these cost figures mean in terms of today's dollars. The replacement value placed on all the “assets” of the Rideau Canal by Parks Canada is close to $750 million dollars. This figure does not include such things as the 19 km of required canal cuts, channel dredging, surveying and route clearing that would also be required if the clock
could be turned back to a pre-canal era.
At the exact moment that Lt. Colonel By was passing through Smiths Falls, on May 25, 1832, on his inaugural trip through the newly completed Rideau Canal, a British Treasury Minute (official memorandum) was being penned in London, ordering By's removal from command and his recall to England. It should be remembered that this was the time of parliamentary reform in Britain. A reform government had taken power in November 1830. This government was against
spending British tax dollars on defence projects for the colonies (which included Canada). Hearings were held into the expenses of the Rideau Canal. Parliament was not so much upset at the cost overrun as they were at the Board of Ordnance's defiance of parliamentary authority by authorizing By to complete the project regardless of the actual amount of
the parliamentary grants.
By was caught in the middle of a political battle, the Treasury Minute specifically blamed By for defying Parliament, rather than, as should have been the case, the Board of Ordnance. Although every hearing had exonerated By, he was caught in the middle of the politics of the day, he never received formal commendation in recognition of the tremendous feat he had accomplished. Colonel By died in 1836 at the age of 53, his achievements, the building of the Rideau Canal, the founding of Bytown (Ottawa) not publicly recognized.
In further defence of By, it should be noted that Canal cost overruns were the order of the day. The Ottawa canals, which took 15 years to complete, had a 60 percent cost overrun. The Welland Canal took almost 10 years to complete and went 55
percent over budget. The Caledonian Ship Canal took 19 years to build and had a cost overrun of 87 percent. In contrast, the Rideau was built in only five years, and against the June 1828 estimate, was less than 43 percent over budget. In fact, the final cost was only 19 percent over By's March 1830 supplementary budget that had been accepted by the British
parliament. In addition, the Rideau was so well build that maintenance costs in subsequent years were considerably lower than other canals built during the period.
As the Years Went By
When the canal was completed, forty of the Royal Sappers and Miners who helped build the canal were given land grants along the Rideau. Several of these men also became the first lockmasters. The Canal remained under the control of the British Ordnance Department until 1856 when the provincial board of works assumed responsibility for thecanal. In 1868 responsibility was transferred to the federal government, the Department of Railways and Canals (later to be
called the Department of Transport) eventually taking control of the Rideau Waterway. In 1972, control of the Rideau was transferred to the Canadian Parks Service, now called Parks Canada, part of the Federal Department of Canadian Heritage.
The Parks Canada staff continue to maintain the heritage and the original spirit of the Rideau to this day.
Although the Rideau was never used for its intended purpose, a military supply route in time of war, it acted as a significant military deterrent to future hostilities. In addition, when opened in 1832, it quickly became a commercial success. It was the commercial lifeline for the port of Montreal, with thousands of tons of heavy materials (wood, minerals, grain, etc.), transported by boat from Canada's hinterland, via the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River to Montreal. Also, in its first years, thousands of immigrants destined for Upper Canada travelled by boat via the Rideau Canal. The 19th century saw continued commercial use of the canal in transporting products from local sources: farming, lumbering, mining, milling of various types (grist, lumber, carding), cheese factories, distilleries, and other small businesses that were operating in the region.
The St. Lawrence in 1832 was difficult to navigate upstream against the rapids. So it was that by 1840, many vessels were traveling from Montréal to Ottawa and through the Rideau Waterway to get to the Great Lakes. However by the 1850s, locks were opened up on the St. Lawrence and ship technology had improved to the point that steamers could make it up the St. Lawrence under their own power and traffic on the Rideau dropped off. It was at this time that the railroad boom in
Canada was going on, and little railroads were springing up all over. The Rideau played a part in this, working well in conjunction with small railroads in the region to move goods.
By 1875, Canada was experiencing the "age of railroads." However this didn't have a large impact on the Rideau since most of the local heavy goods were still being transported by barge along the canal. In fact, when the Canadian Pacific Railway decided to make Smiths Falls its main junction in eastern Ontario, coal for those trains was shipped across Lake Ontario from the US and then loaded onto barges in Kingston and brought up the Rideau to Smiths Falls. This lasted
until early in the 20th century when it became cheaper to bring the coal in by train.
As the 20th century progressed, the current use of the canal, a waterway route for pleasure boats, came to the fore. The Rideau had been used for pleasure since its early days. The drowning of lands for navigation resulted in the creation of ideal habitat for bass. By the late 19th century, the Rideau region was renown across North America for its exceptional bass fishing. Several lodges sprang up catering to the sportsman, and a thriving business grew up with boats and guides taking
the avid fisherman to the bass hotspots. Lakes such as Sand, Opinicon, Indian, Clear, and Newboro became prized fishing destinations.
Through the first half of the 20th century, these lodges thrived on fishing. It was at this time that boating on the Rideau changed again. The introduction of the internal combustion outboard motor engine heralded a new era in boating. It allowed the individual to easily go out on his own. New types of boats, motor launches, built by the likes of Chris Craft and Peterborough began plying the Rideau. Summer homes started to be built along the shores of the Rideau. Marinas started to
replace the lodges as destinations for the Rideau tourist.
In 1925, the Rideau was designated a National Historic Site of Canada (plaqued in 1926 and again in 1962).
By the 1950s, the Rideau had turned into the waterway as it can be seen today. Cottages dot the shores of many lakes, with small runabouts, canoes, and sailboats enjoying the tranquil waters of the lakes. Larger cruisers from across North America travel the full route of the Rideau, traveling from lock to lock, stopping to enjoy a picnic on a rocky knoll under the shade of a large pine tree.
In 2000, the Rideau was designated a Canadian Heritage River.
In 2007 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (together the Kingston fortifications – Fort Henry, Fort Frederick and the Martello towers), recognizing it as a work of human creative genius. The Rideau Canal was cited as the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early
19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact. It was also recognized as an extensive, well preserved and significant example of a canal which was used for military purposes linked to a significant stage in human history - that of the fight to control the north of the American continent.