Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Mirabile dictu!!!! The Minister of the Environment (aka the big boss of Parks Canada) has just announced that the 2012 Canal season will not be shortened. This suggests that all the uproar (to which yours truly contributed – see post below) from the Corridor communities had the desired effect.

Hizzoner goes on to say that the shortening will now take place in 2013, following consultations with interested parties. Translated,  that means that he intends to go ahead and the only decisions to be made revolve around how much smoke and mirror technology will be brought to bear.

Those who fretted about making waves lest some spray might be kicked up and dampen relationships between Corridor citizens and Parks Canada now have an opportunity to show how they will approach the issues involved.

Current score: Corridor 1; Parks Canada 0    Still, it’s early in the game.

Hard to believe that a World Heritage site like this one can’t attract enough visitors to fill a normal season. Perhaps the effort should go into determining what’s keeping the visitors away, not simply in throwing up hands. Unless —- perhaps the goal is really to cut the season back and hope that they can fill a shorter season more easily. This meets a short-term goal to “save dollars”, with an unspoken belief that they can always turn things back on when times get better. Then, of course, if the people have already found something else to do with their travel $, and don’t come back,  you shrug and say, “The people have voted and don’t want a longer season!”

I’ve heard that song before, and it didn’t sound all that good then either.

Naturally, the opinions expressed on this blog are purely my own. Just because they make sense doesn’t mean that I had help in reaching these opinions from any and all groups of which I may be a member.


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The following article appeared in the Westport Review-Mirror of Thursday, April 19, 2012. I am reprinting it here for the benefit of those who do not have access to this fine Rideau Corridor weekly newspaper. Naturally, the sentiments expressed are purely my own and are far from being the opinion of The Friends of the Rideau.

The impact of the coming Rideau Canal “Right Sizing” exercise promises to be really severe on the canal staff, the attractiveness of the Corridor as a destination, and, of course, on the Corridor communities. Couple all that with high gas prices here and in the US and tourism will be really smacked!

On the other hand, the maintenance of the grounds around the lock stations is bound to be cut back. This may have the unintended benefit of having the lock stations return to a more traditional look – high grass, weeds, etc., which will, no doubt, be better for the environment. I believe that they tried this once before in one of the canal shutdowns. Perhaps management is getting a bum rap – they’re secret environmental weenies (yeah, right!).

You would almost think that the effort to get a World Heritage designation was never really intended to succeed by the top brass, who would regard it as a useful PR exercise that UNESCO would never approve. Horrors ! It was approved. OK – let’s drag our feet on the subsequent parts of the mandate – the cultural landscape studies, for example. If we can only slow this down enough and do a poor enough job on other things, maybe we can get the Designation reversed. After all, we don’t need the entire canal open to run Winterfest every year – we only need to maintain the section from Hartwell’s to the Ottawa locks.

Something similar could be done at Jones Falls. Keep it going as a tourist attraction and hire local boaters to go through on a schedule – go down river and then turn around and lock back up – brilliant! Get some local youth and lock staff to dress up in period costumes, etc., and sell the opportunity to have your photo taken with the quaint local citizens. Every summer weekend you can have local groups perform – drama, music, dancing, beer tent, maybe a little casino?

Even better – let’s take a page from early railway promoters and encourage municipalities, etc., to agree to pay subsidies to poor old Parks Canada for keeping the local lock stations open. For example, they might extend the Jones Falls performances all the way up to the Narrows. Sort of a poor man’s Disney World – you get the idea – it’s not real, but the kids like it and the tourists will lap it up. I think we can make this work.

Now a lot of local historians ( I name no names) may object, but they are simply blocking progress.

I could go on but people might think that I was bitter or else doing this tongue in cheek. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I offer this as a free suggestion to CEO Alan L. and his gang of merry men and women back at the “Shoddy Towers” in Gatineau. It worked for Robin Hoo, who is still getting good PR. Taking from the poor to give to the rich, or something like that – I forget how the Mission Statement goes.

All of this will spur interest in my book, “Invisible Army” that covers earlier examples of such inspired budget exercises. Pretty soon I’ll have to get on the road and start the “Invisible Army” marching – “Left, right, left, right ! Forward, march ! Corridor  book stores – prepare for landslide sales !

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I was given a Kindle for Christmas and have begun learning how to use it. I’ve been practicing on free ebooks from Gutenberg, which familiarizes me with how to use the thing, as well as getting to read some of the classics or even not-so-classic old books.

It got me thinking of doing an e-book on the Rideau. This at least has the merit (for me) of not involving printers) and lugging boxes of books around. Perhaps an historical fiction, based on real characters and real situations. Lots of examples out there and lots of free software to make it work.  I already have a few pages done and they work well (technically, not necessarily as great literature – no doubt that will come ) – yeah, right!

Onward and upward! Bastardi non carborumdum!

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Himself !!!

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, I suppose. My main computer crashed late last week, taking everything with it. Fortunately, I do have backups, on standby hard drives (2), DVDs (lots), and lately in the “cloud (Dropbox). So, I think that I’ll be OK when it gets back up.

Not being a true computer geek, it helps to have family members who are part of that fraternity (sorority?) – is there a gender-neutral “ity”? By dint of hours running AV programs, we discovered that there were at least two nasty viruses (viri?) which had managed to sneak in and wreak havoc. Not sure that we have them all out – as this is written on my laptop, the main computer is struggling to heal itself.

Don’t know if there is a moral to all this or not.

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Following on from yesterday’s post, I mentioned the figure of 1000 deaths at Smiths Falls for canal construction workers to Ken Watson, who had done a lot of research into this topic.

He said that workers and others who died during construction were buried in what is now the Old Ward Burial Ground, then located at the corner of Aberdeen Avenue and Jessie Street. Ken reckons that perhaps there were a few dozen deaths. As far as he is aware from factual information, there were 2 funerals for canal workers and there was a headstone discovered in 1957 for a master mason who died in 1831.

It’s beginning to seem that if all the deaths that were thought to have occurred at various places had actually taken place, this would amount to more than most estimates of the number of workers who were actually employed.


Ken’s view is that the total number of deaths for the entire canal might be somewhat less than 1,000. I agree. When I was doing research for Invisible Army, I came across deaths after the canal had been built. As I point out in the book, there were lots of opportunities for accidental death ( and I named a few), as well as diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever (typhus).

I haven’t looked into these two causes closely apart from canal staff impacts such as Lockmaster Thomas Buck at Merrickville. When the canal shut down for 3 months during the summer of 1847, due to the fear of spreading typhus by transporting Irish immigrants, this reflected a very real and present threat.

I hope that this helps to clarify things a bit. We will never know the total impact of accidental and disease-related deaths, I guess.

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Himself !!!

   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.

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.

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Himself !!!

Well, I was out at Read’s Book Shop in Carleton Place the other day, signing books and talking to people. I find it stimulating to meet readers, and to explain what has moved me to write about the Rideau Canal and the men and women who have kept it alive for almost 180 years.

In that light, the current government squeeze is depressingly familiar – that has been an invariable part of the history of the canal – “do more with less, charge more for less”. Pile on the bureaucracy, spout lofty inanities about the priceless heritage of Canadian parks, but don’t spend any money on it. Sigh …

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