Archive for the ‘Workers’ Category

Well, they promised new plaques for the Canal to commemorate the workers who made it possible. It appears that only Irish immigrants and French Canadians were involved, according to the wording on the new plaque.

I had been invited to comment on the initial wording, and suggested that the composition of the work force should be expanded to include the Scotch masons, since every lock station required masonry.

I applauded the reference in the wording to the severe hardships – working and living conditions, cold, malaria and cholera. In fact, I suggested that the wording be broadened to include a reference to the women and children of the workers, who obviously suffered as much, apart from work-related injuries.

For reasons best known to the judges, the women and children didn’t make the cut, although there is lots of room on the plaque.

What about the masons? They didn’t make the plaque either – I guess that they weren’t unskilled enough to merit acknowledgment and weren’t skilled enough to rank with the “civil contractors and Royal Engineers”.

All is not lost, however. They DO get mentioned in the write-up giving more background on “Recognizing The Contributions Of The Rideau Canal Workers. We can only hope that the descriptive material is available whereever they eventually install the plaques.

For example, the civil contractors tried to avoid hiring Irish workers at Jones Falls, preferring French Canadians. Perhaps some Irish “slipped in”.

Too bad they couldn’t “slip in” the Scottish masons and the women and children.


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It’s that time again – the usual shuffles of staff among lock stations. Some   changes of note – Amy Roach is the Acting Lockmaster at Chaffey’s Lock, ably supported by Julie Lalonde-Savard. Dustin Bulloch is the Acting Lockmaster at Kingston Mills. Les Philp and Bill Glover have decided to retire.

Looks like being a “normal” season ahead – let’s hope that the weather is good and the tourists and boaters are numerous.

Here is the complete list.

2012 Lockstaff List

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Well, the start of a new season on the Rideau-so what’s new?

For those who may have heard of the short season being imposed this year, be philosophical. As the book tells the story, this has happened before in living memory. As a matter of fact, that great organization, the Friends of the Rideau, was born from the desire of those Rideau-philes and local settlers’ descendants to see the beloved canal preserved.

The whole thing is in the book !!

The Landscape Strategy is “rapidly” (a joke, son) creeping up on the same schedule, i.e., it may take as long to complete as it did to build the canal in the first place. And imagine if you will, that public input has been restricted, so that it can’t hamper progress ! It isn’t clear what the problems are that are causing the glacial pace, and we probably don’t want to know.

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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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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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