I’ve gathered a lot of names of men who worked as masons, stonecutters, quarrymen, derrickmen, grip men, engineers, and blacksmiths for my new book on the Rideau Canal. In the early 1900s, repair work on the locks meant finding a source of large enough stones to replace those that were cracked, broken, etc., by ice, wayward steamers and clumsy barges.
This was an on-going preoccupation of the Superintending Engineers, and various quarries had been used over the years – for example, at Elgin. Hard to believe, but eventually the quarries ran out of rock that could be quarried and cut to the proper size – really big.
Anyway, eventually business shifted to the Westport quarry. I have a picture of a mason gang at Westport – stripped to the waist, not much shade, lots of loose rock lying around, a derrick in the background. Great stuff! But …. just where was this quarry?
It couldn’t be north of Westport – that’s the Foley Mountain area - red granite. We’re looking for limestone – sandstone. OK – the quarry must lie south or west, but where? It had to be close enough to transport these big stones by teams down to the docks where they could be loaded onto scows and floated to the repair site.
So…. when in doubt, ask Ken Watson – webmaster of the great Rideau web site, www.rideau-info.com
Horrors! Ken didn’t know – so I asked Margaret Brandt of the Westport Review-Mirror. Sure enough, she “dug” around and came up with a location that she passed on to Ken. He had the bright idea of looking for the location on Google Earth and found it. Then he e-mailed the Google Earth file to me, so that I could “fly” over it. A white/gray quarry sure stands out against the green forest.
On my next trip down to the cottage, I think I’ll stop by and take some pictures to go with that old-time gang. Margaret gave me the phone number of the current owner.
Incidentally, the Westport quarry itself started to run out in the early 1920s. It was closed and all the machinery – derricks, steam engines, buildings, etc., were hauled away to Brooks Bay on Sand Lake, where a large deposit of fine gravel was located. Here concrete blocks were poured and finished – replacing the hand-cut stone blocks. Almost no men were needed – a foreman, a concrete finisher, some labourers, and a camp cook. Cut the cost of stone blocks by two-thirds.
When the first dredge, Rideau, was scrapped a year or so later, the engines and so on were removed and the hull and superstructure were towed to the concrete yard by the new dredge, Tay. The hulk was beached and used as living quarters for the men. Your grand-dad knew all about recycling, sonny!
Or, as an old lady once told me when, as a teenager, I tried to show her up, “Don’t try to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs!”
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