Francophone Workers during the Construction of the Rideau Canal
Bytown / Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 1826-1832
Bonjour, Helene et Jean-Claude:
I have been going through the records of Notre Dame Cathedral from 1829 to 1832. There are
a lot more names there than I originally realized. I don't know if I will be able to
extract all of the names for you, but will start sending some today, for 1829.
I believe that most of the Francophone people who were in Bytown in the Rideau Canal days
were not working on the construction of the canal but were rather involved in the commercial
activities in Lowertown. Here are the names of three Francophones who explicitly state that
they were working on the Canal in 1829 (Source: The McCabe List)
1. Thomas Brunette, from Montreal
2. Louis Rainville, from Montreal
3. Etienne Gagne, also from Montreal
Jean-Baptiste St. Louis was a well known Francophone entrepreneur. He was also in Bytown
in 1829. He was a contractor who worked on the canal and was responsible for building the
St. Louis Dam at Dow's Lake to divert the water from flowing to the Ottawa River via what
is today Preston Street. His web page above includes a picture of a mill which he
built at Rideau Falls in 1830, later bought by Thomas McKay.
As Jean-Claude says, the majority of the canal labourers were Irish Catholics. What is
interesting in the Notre Dame records is the number of marriages and family connections
between the better-off Francophone and the better-off Irish Catholic families. Especially
as the lumber trade developed, there were many connections between the two linguistic groups.
If you go to the dedicated Google search engine at the bottom of this web page, you can try
searching for the major French-Canadian surnames (one at a time). For example, there will
be information on the Turgeon, Aumond and Aumier families who all appear in the Notre
Dame records early on.
The earliest Leduc appearance in the Notre Dame records is an Augustin Leduc who appears
in 1833 as the best man at the baptism of:
4 Feb 1833
Baptism of Maria, daughter of Theodore Duplanty and Mary Ann Scia
Godparents: Augustin Leduc & Marie Rose Gauthier
Source: Drouin records at ancestry.ca
By the 1850-1855 period there are many references to the Leducs. One of the problems with
the Notre Dame records is that there can be spelling errors as the microfilmed pages can
be difficult to read.
The ND records are available from the Drouin collection at ancestry.ca. It's interesting to
note that the Drouin records also include churches in the Ottawa area which had as few as
10 per cent of their parishioners who were Francophone. For example, after the canal was
finished in 1832, many Irish and French Catholics squatted on land around the big construction
project at Hog's Back. From here, they gradually acquired farmland, up until the 1850's, and
helped to build new churches at South Gloucester (Potvin, Pelletier and Albert families),
Richmond (Villeneuve, Deslaurier, Dubreuille and Fournier families) and St. Bridgid's near Manotick (
If you don't mind, I'll continue to write in English but whatever I post to the web site
will be posted in either English or French.
March 22, 2009:
Thank you for the input.
Here are a few thoughts, off the cuff:
My theory about inter-marriage early on between francophone men (mostly) and Irish lasses
was that many of the francophone men were bachelors, fresh off the farm while the Irish girls
were daughters of Irish men who came with their families. In fact, many of these girls could
have been orphaned because of the hardships of building the canal. This is just a theory. I
have no proof. A generation later, Irish men were marrying french girls and girls with french
names whose mothers had been these Irish lasses.
Joseph Balzora Turgeon married Mary Ann Donaher and his cousins, Joseph Aumont and Charles
Aumont married Jane Cumming and Clare Cumming. I have not yet been able to find the parents
of all of these women. In the Sandy Hill Cemetery of old Bytown, there was a Capt.T.Cumming,
d. dec.11,1866; J.T.Cumming d. aug. 22, 1832 at 42 years of age, Richard T. Cumming, 4th son
of J.T.Cumming, d. dec 22 1850 at 19 years of age; and 3 children of deceased F.A. and
C. Cumming, oct. 1863.
The early catholic churches in Bytown and Wrightstown were under the administration of the
french diocese of Montreal (Mgr Bourget) which caused friction with the bishops of the
diocese of Kingston since Bytown was in Upper Canada. Churches such as Notre Dame and St. Joseph
were initially bilingual. It's only later on that catholic churches were re-aligned along
In your research on squatters (which is extensive!), did you come across "Notch of the Montain"
as a residence? This was the area on both sides of the canal between Landsdowne Park and
Dow's Lake named on certain maps as the Mutchmore Cut. We would now say between the Glebe
and Old Ottawa South. This is of interest to me as a member of the Ottawa South History
Project (check OSCA website).
Here is a quote from our Timothy Collins page:
The marriage of Timothy Collins recorded at Notre Dame in 1831 shows Timothy Collins
as being from Black Rapids and his bride is from "Notch of the Mountains".
Finally, in a book called "Sights and Surveys, Two Diarists on the Rideau Canal", by
Edwin Welch of the Historical Society of Ottawa (1979) I've located "Notch of the Mountains"
- if you stand on the Bank Street Bridge over the canal and look west towards Dow's Lake,
the steep banks on either side, a stones throw from the bridge, were called "The Notch of
This term is used in the records of Notre Dame and also in early Bytown newspapers.
The "Deep Cut", also referenced in the Notre Dame records was on the west side of the
Canal at Somerset Street, across from Ottawa University.
Both my grandfather's ancestor (Lawrence Burns) and my grandmother's
(Patrick Christopher) ancestors were squatters at Hog's Back in the
early 1830's. I have a list somewhere of the ND records which list the persons who explicitly
gave their residence as "Hog's Back". Almost all of them ended up on farms in Gloucester,
Nepean or Osgoode by the 1840's. My GGGrandfather, bought 200 acres in Gloucester from the
Canada Company in 1835 and, in 1843, as a young widower with family, he remarried and moved
to the Manotick Station Road. Amazing stories of all of these people! What they went through!
February 27, 2015:
Here are some Francophones who were in Bytown starting in 1829 and were possibly working on the
construction of the Rideau Canal:
(see also pioneer French famiies in the Bytown area)
Lewis Pinard and Catherine Alexandre
Peter Lemaire St. Germain and of Marianne Prinket
Gabriel Carpentier Marie Robert
Peter Leclerc and Josette Lalonde
Joseph Vezina of the parish of Mascouche, Lower Canada
John Amiot / Amyotte and Lewis Chapelle
Peter Mitchelin / Michelin from Trois Rivieres
Francis Manseau and Mathilda Hamel
Francis Ouellet and Phelanise Mousseau
Paschal Ouelette and Mary Oclair / Auclair
Antoine Neveau / Neveu and Mary Foubert
May 14, 2015:
Gabriel Foubert and Marie Josephte Houde / Houle
Joseph Morin and Polite Neveu
Baptiste Crepeau and Angelique Barbeau
Francis Poupard dit Lafleur and Mary Grant
Peter Desforge and Angelique Clement
John Olivier and Mary Dupuis
Anthony Labelle and Margaret Bellerose
Baptiste Aumond and Sophias Denis
Lewis / Louis Rainville and Marianne Tiry
Toussaint Cassimere Bousquet and Emilia St. Louis
Gregory Belanger and Felicite Juillet
Joseph Crepeau and Leonard Faignant
Francois Beautiere and Julie Bertrand
Joseph Benoit and Josette Chaurette
Baptiste Lacroix and Adelaide Chaurette
Peter Brison / Brisson dit Laroche and Mary Louise Vezina
Bazile St. Julien and Josette Roy
Austin Mercier and Margaret Poitras.
Anthony Brea and Sophia Villeneuve
Austin Pare and Mary Amelin
Larence Tessier and Joseph Tessier (brothers ?)
Xaverius Amelin and Magdelina Laframboise
Pierre Brule and Adelaide Amelin (Hamelin?)
... more names to come ...
May 11, 2015:
This summer I'll be trying to learn about (and documenting) the migration from the townships and seigneuries
along the north shore of the Ottawa River between Montreal in the east and Pontiac County in the West.
In particular, I'll be trying to describe the origin in Lower Canada of many of the French Canadian workers
who came to build the Rideau Canal between 1826 and 1832, many of whom remained in
Bytown or the Outaouais area and settled here about seven or eight generations ago.
Here are two sources to begin with:
1. History of the Outaouais, by professor Chad Gaffield from the University of Ottawa, published by
Les Presses del l'University de Laval, 1997, ISBN 2-89224-271-1
2. "Poverty and Helplessness in Petite-Nation" by Professor Cole Harris from the University of British Columbia,
an article which appeared in the Canadian Historical Review in 1952. All of the North Shore of the Ottawa River
had been organized into Counties and Townships except for the Petite Nation Seigneury.
E-mail Helene, Jean-Claude et Al Lewis
Back to Bytown or Bust - History and Genealogy in the Ottawa, Canada, area