Posts Tagged ‘Canal workers’

Covers v3-3c FINAL

Take a look at the final cover for Invisible Army!

(Ignore the printer’s marks)

Sets the right mood/image for the incredible story of the men and women who maintained and operated the Rideau Canal since 1832. Gone,but not forgotten  —  now.

I hope to have the book itself in local bookstores in the next few weeks, Chapters – Byward Market – has agreed to stock it. I’ll be canvassing other local bookstores to pick up this great local story.

If you have a favourite bookstore that you think might be a good candidate for this book, let me know. The Friends of the Rideau will be grateful.

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Free at last! I’ve pre-flighted and packaged up the Invisible Army.

Tomorrow it goes off to the printers – who knows what adventures await?

Still waiting for the final cover – trying to work in a late-breaking quote, but no biggie.

Now I can start work on my next project – an annotated bibliography of all the material that I consulted in the course of the research for the book. Any suggestions for the bibliographic style?

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Well, I’m still trying to finish off the cover. The last “quote” has just come in and is being worked on. This means careful editing of the first two quotes to make room, but I think that this has also tightened up the focus.

No guarantee of success, but the folks that are aware of what’s in the book are very positive about it. I hope that the operations and maintenance staff will feel the same way.

Equally as important is the reaction of the general public along the Rideau. Unless you know someone ( a relative or friend), there isn’t much available information on how the canal kept going all these long years. I think that it’s a hell of a good story and I hope that everyone will agree.

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Sprinting to the finish! I’m in the middle of trying to straighten out timing issues among the Superintendents and digging out names of lockmen for some of the gaps left in the lists. I won’t get them all before I go to print.

Really impressed with the interest, enthusiasm, and general helpfulness of former Rideau staffers. A perfect ( well, I try) stranger calls up, introduces himself, and starts asking questions about something that happened 30-35 years ago.

These men and women keep coming up with information, and if they don’t know, or aren’t sure, they suggest someone else and give you the phone number. What a gang!

There should be more people like that in the world. Maybe there are, and we just haven’t met them, or made the right connection. I think it’s the latter. The Rideau “connects” a lot of folk.

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I dunno! Just as I think that I’ve come across some great new information, the Access issue strikes again. This one is a bit more Kafka-esque than usual.

I requested some volumes via a Finding Aid (FA) and got a prompt response back that I needed a file number for one of the requests. I noted that all there was in the FA was the volume number and a title, so I supplied it. I was then told that the file would take the usual 6-8 weeks, but that the other two volumes requested were on microfilm and available on the 2nd floor.

Then it seems to have occurred to someone that I was asking for material that seemed to be cleared for access but that hadn’t actually been cleared. So now I’m in limbo again. Are they really going to remove material that has been available for public access and give it the old “6-8 weeks” review?

Looks like it!


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I’ve just completed making some changes in various chapters in response to thoughtful comments by a reviewer. It’s amazing (and humbling) to have someone with deep background point out areas that are inconsistent, incomplete, or incomprehensible, and prove it with added information.

I don’t know if anyone will want to read this book when I’m finished, but it sure will be much better for the effort that a number of reviewers have devoted to it.

Maybe in the next few weeks, I can wrap it up and drop it off at the printers. Oh, happy day!

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Dad-sketch-5Looking for something to do next weekend ?
Plan a daytrip to Newboro Lockstation. Take #15 to Crosby and then follow the road to Westport. (You’ll get to Newboro first -just follow the signs to the Lock Station).

EVENT:          Newboro Boat Show

WHEN:           June 13th & 14th

WHAT:           Day Trip

HOST:            Rideau Boat Tours

START:          Saturday June 13 @ 10:00 AM

END:              Sunday June 14 @ 6:00 PM

WHERE:          Newboro Lock Station

See you there!

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Dad-sketch-5Flash! The great wall of the Rideau is being rebuilt and for only $2 million –  read all about it this morning in the Ottawa Citizen. Minister John Baird is positioning this expenditure as necessary to remain attractive to tourists –  something like Botox ?

I recall reading that the post-WWII Department of Reconstruction paid then-big money to rebuild thousands of feet of concrete wall along the canal and around Dow’s Lake. This was aimed at stimulating an economy just making the transition to peace-time industries and looking for employment for returning soldiers.

When the Canal Basin was abandoned and filled during the late 1920’s, the original thousands of feet of concrete wall went up. There was 1455 feet worth from Connaught Place to Laurier Avenue on the west side; over 6100 feet of concrete went up on both sides of the canal from Bank to Bronson; 655 feet on the north side of Dow’s Lake, and a further 3000 feet planned to join this small wall to the rest of the canal.

The late 1920s was the flourishing era of the new concrete technology – it quickly pushed out the original stone masonry of the canal lock structures. Stone in the necessary sizes had become scarce, and thus expensive – concrete was one-third the price and didn’t need skilled masons, stone-cutters, etc.

Hartwells, Long Island, Burritt’s Rapids, Old Sly’s, Beveridges, Beckett’s Landing, Nicholson’s, Smiths Falls Combined, Chaffey’s, Jones Falls, Ottawa Locks – all had facilities reconstructed in concrete over this period.

I guess that we can’t go back and replace the “heritage” concrete with stone now, even if we could find it and the skills (and the money) to do it. It just wouldn’t qualify as “shovel-ready”.

Sic transit gloria mundi ……

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Dad-sketch-5I’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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I’ve fallen behind in posting, trying to get to the end of the research for my upcoming book, The Invisible Army.  Anyway, here goes.

1. John Baird, Minister of transport, Infrastructure and Communities will be announcing “Economic Action Plan” funding for “Tourism Infrastructure And Heritage Preservation in Eastern Ontario”.  This takes place at Laurier House, 335 Laurier Avenue East in Ottawa.

I plan to be there  to push for funding for the Friends of the Rideau’s efforts to get a paid position for someone to oversee and manage our information distribution and visitor contact centre in Merrickville at the Depot. We’ve been doing this on a volunteer basis for years but the volunteers are “wearing out”.

We produce and distribute a ton of stuff on heritage, environment, culture, community events, places to see and stay, etc.,  and just plain talking to visitors – we think this is important.  Let’s see if  Minister Baird  is willing to back a proven, time-tested approach or will be seduced by some heavily-marketed proposal with no track record. More to come.

2. As an example of the above, the Friends ( mostly Ken Watson and a sprinkling of volunteers), continues to make available to the general public some important documents on Rideau history that were produced by Parks Canada for their own use. Examples are;

 Forbes Bush’s “Builders of the Rideau Canal, 1826-32″ which has been OCr’d, proofed, and reviewed and will eventually be available as a PDF on CD.

Robert Passfield’s report on “Historic Bridges” should be available on CD for our Annual General Meeting in Merrickville.

Larry Turner’s book, “Recreational Boating on the Rideau Canal” is in the process of completion by one of our volunteers, Helen Parson.

Larry Turner’s works on the Tay Canal are in the process .  We want to get them available for the 175th this summer.

Judith Tulloch’s “The Rideau Canal 1837 – 1914 is now on CD.

Ken also has volunteers working on “Industries and Industrialists of Merrickville” and “Commercial Navigation on the Rideau Canal”. They will be available in the fullness of time.

3. A 52 page report, entitled “As Was Said Forum” on the Rideau Canal Landscape Strategy Forum of April 2 has been published.  There is a lot of good insight and food for thought in it.

I say that and I’m a great skeptic of such fora, having taken part in so many over the years – more than I want to remember or count. If there’s any interest in getting copies, call the Parks Canada office in Smiths Falls at 613-283 -7199.

4. A “Watch Your Wake – Rideau Canal Boating Safety Campaign” , meeting was held March 31st  with reps from the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons, Ontario Marine Operators Association, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, Ottawa Police Service, Rideau Roundtable, Parks Canada, and, last but not least, Friends of the Rideau and the Rideau Heritage Network.

A Communications Plan of print and radio ads has been started. An Information package has been included in mailings to boaters when they ask for lockage and mooring permits. Gillian Organ of Long Island is vigourously pushing this with her fellow marina operators and her clients.

Four other elements are also being reviewed and prepared: Education, Signage, Enforcement, and Research. They are linked together to see, for example, the impact of the communication, signage and education elements on enforcement. Research will be done on the impacts of wash and wake on shorelines and wildlife habitats ( especially loon nests and sites). The research will also look at erosion damage and identify sensitive areas along the Rideau.

Finally, various sections of the Rideau will be looked at to assess the need for additional speed zones.

An ambitious agenda, but necessary and timely.

5. The Annual Spring Meeting of the Friends of the Rideau will be held Saturday, May 9th, 9:30 to noon, at the Legion Hall in Merrickville. The business portion WILL BE BRIEF. This will give Heather Thomson, Heritage Planner for Parks Canada, lots of time to talk about the Rideau Corridor Landscape Strategy and to answer questions.

Our post-meeting walking tour last year was a great success. Another tour is being set up, even as we speak (so to speak). 

See you there.dad-sketch-55

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