I’ve been looking through old newspapers for a project related to Lower Town – as Col. By called it when he was laying out the streets around the Rideau Canal. A couple of things popped up.
Updates – Invisible Army
January 29, 2012 by edbbsnr
First, Lower Town wasn’t a “des res”. Much of it was still covered by trees. There was a swamp in the middle of what was grandly called George Street. A number of streams ran through Lower Townt. Finally, the Bywash – a channel cut through from the canal to handle overflows from anticipated spring floods was directed through there to connect with another stream that ran down King Edward and drained into the Ottawa River. This is where the canal labourers lived, in rough shanties – some even dug out caves in the material piled up by the contractors who were digging out the channel for the canal. Zero sanitation or clean drinking water, except what could be picked up from the Rideau itself or the Ottawa River. Pigs, cows, etc., roamed freely through the area. Little wonder that cholera and temperate malaria was rife.
The lots couldn’t be bought – only leased on an annual basis. What was the lease rate? It was half a crown – about what a canal labourer earned in a day.
So, many of the lots were snapped up by enterprising and far-sighted citizens, as you might expect. What you might not expect was that many of the members of By’s staff leased lots. In fact, two of the future canal lockmasters leased lots, but not in Lower Town - the Buck brothers in May 1827 – Thomas Buck, who leased Lot 5 on Wellington Street, became the first lockmaster at Merrickville and Daniel, who leased Lot 1 on Rideau Street, was the first lockmaster at Clowes. Martin McPherson, who became a lock labourer at the Ottawa Locks, leased Lots 36 and 37 on Rideau Street, also in 1827. Whether these were speculative leases, I don’t know. It certainly seems likely.
Col. By staff members, John MacTaggart, John Burrows, Master Carpenter James Fitzgibbon, William Tormay, William Clegg, all leased lots. MacTaggart took Lot 13 on Kent Street in 1827. James Ftizgibbon took Lot A on Rideau Street in 1827 and later, in 1829, leased the Wharf ( Steam Boat Landing) on Entrance Bay – a very busy place. Tormay leased Lot B on Rideau Street, while John Burrows took Lot C beside him. William Clegg joined his colleagues, leasing Lots M and N on Rideau Street in 1827. He later (1831) leased Lot N on George Street in the heart of what was to become the Byward Market.
Burrows had also leased Lots 33 and 34 on Vittoria Street ( where the Supreme Court now stands).
In any event, there seems little doubt that these were speculative investments. But, they were small time players compared to one James Inglis, who leased 50 lots in Lower Town – Lot F on Sussex Street, 24 on York Street, 19 on Clarence Street, and 6 on Parry Street ( an extension of Clarence Street east of King Edward).
The lots were only available on a lease, not a purchase basis. The British Ordnance wanted to preserve the maximum flexibility in terms of future military requirements. Retention of a lease depended upon erecting a building, at least 30 feet square, within a year. The leases that were granted over the period 1827 to1832 were all dated May 1st to simplify collection of the annual rents.
Other updates: George Shepherd was the lockmaster at Burritt’s Rapids from 1847 to 1880. As the book notes on page 383, George had been a senior NCO during the canal construction. Later, he became involved with a local militia unit. It seems that He eventually rose to the rank od Lieutenant-Colonel in the 56th Burritt’s Rapids militia unit. For more, see the Ottawa Free Press, January 22, 1875.
Under tragic circumstances, the drowning of the daughter of Shepherd’s successor, James Todd, appeared in the Ottawa Free Press of June 28, 1881, on page 1. The locks could be a dangerous place to work, it seems.