Archive for the ‘Rideau’ Category

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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Well, I’ve begun experimenting with using e-book software to produce something that could be read on a Kindle, or a Kobo or an iPad and downloaded from Amazon. Naturally the story will be based on what I’ve done so far, but there will be more new material worked into it.

I find it a little strange but it seems to work OK on something short – a couple of pages. I’ll try sticking in photos, but that doesn’t sound too difficult.

When I get a more complete story line developed, I may post it for comments. “Running it up the flag pole, etc.” sort of thing.

Why am I doing this, you may ask.

I was struck at the Boat Show by the number of young ( under 50-ish) people who were fascinated by the Rideau and who didn’t know the history, or had very strange ideas about what it was. These ideas were mostly about the “thousands” of canal workers killed by accident or malaria. I was told that an unmarked grave site had been found recently at Smiths Falls that contained about 1000 individuals, and my informant was certain that many would have been the canal construction workers. Incidentally, there is a fond belief on the part of some of those of Irish descent that they built the canal without help from any other nationality.

We may have convinced some people about what we now think are the facts, but I’m sure many walked away secure in their own beliefs. We tried to get people to read Ken Watson’s little book “Tales of the Rideau”, but they saw this as just outright attempts to confuse them, and to take their money (right about the last bit).

I’ve wondered whether a reprint of Leggett’s “The Rideau Waterway” would help, but I think that it’s likely better to try something new.

Of course, I’m probably wrong about wanting to clear things up – after all, no doubt a lot of what I know “for sure” is also wrong.


Off the soapbox and back to the keyboard.

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Well, I was at the Boat Show in the new CE Centre out by the Ottawa airport – quite a building and it was jam-packed with BIG boats – of course.
In the 3 days that I was there, a lot of people came by to comment on “Invisible Army” ( all positive, of course!) I did get one gentleman who said that he thought that his father had worked on the canal but he didn’t know where, exactly. He suggested one of the locks at Smiths Falls, so we looked at all 3 ( including Old Slys) but didn’t find him. He said he’d write to his mother and try to find out where and when (and if) Dad was there.

I’m always on the lookout to add names (with verification, of course).

I am sorry to report that there are two retirements: Bill Glover has retired as Lockmaster – Merrickville. Les Philp has retired as Lockman- Nicholsons. This information is from Les Philp himself, who stopped by to chat. I had heard about Bill earlier.


So, if you’re keeping track, make the changes above.


When the 2012 staff list comes out, I’ll post it.



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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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Himself !!!

Well, I’ve started looking into the possibilities of converting some of my books into electronic formats that could be read on Kindles, Nooks, Kobo, iPads, and so on. There is a wealth of software (mostly free) out there – how to decide between the freebies and the paid programs. I have the impression that the free stuff is often “good enough”, but I’m not sure.

I guess what I will have to do is try converting something small and seeing what the experience is like from the production side. Testing such an “ebook” will give me some sense of how it looks in the real world.
If the “free” stuff doesn’t measure up, then I can consider paying (ugh!). It’s still a lot cheaper than paying Adobe, that still doesn’t guarantee a smooth and painless experience.
If anyone out there has any experience or views on creating ebooks or simply reading them, I’d be interested in hearing about it.
I’ll be going off to Johnny Pigeau’s Reading Series at Backbeat Books in Perth this coming Friday. This session is on novels – earlier sessions have been on poetry (and most enjoyable). Things have certainly moved right along since Worsdworth and Frost.

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