The Rideau Canal
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario, Canada
History and Genealogy
January 19, 2016:
Here is another good resource for researching the Rideau Canal. The book
Labourers on the Rideau Canal, 1826-1832: From Work Site to World Heritage Site, edited by Katherine M.J. McKenna,
Borealis Press, Ottawa, 2008, ISBN 978-0-88887-355-2. It contains an article by Professor Bruce Elliott called
Tracing Your Rideau Canal Ancestors: Records of Labourers, Squatters and Tenants on the Rideau Canal.
December 31, 2015: Happy New Year to all!
Here is a very useful resource brought to our attention by Pauline Johns from the Irish Research Group of
the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.
The records are called Canada, Rideau Canal Rents, Property and Employment Correspondence, 1826-1855 and include
260 pages of early Canal Rents, etc. stored at the Public Records Office, London, England. These records are
also held at Library and Archives Canada and at ancestry.ca.
September 15, 2015:
Grace Lewis presented a paper at the recent Gene-O-Rama Conference of the Ottawa Branch of the
Ontario Genealogical Society. Her paper, in .pdf format below, shows how to research your Rideau
Canal ancestors who may have been working on constructing the Canal between 1826 and 1832.
Many of these workers settled in the Ottawa area and we have been here for seven or eight generations.
The examples shown in her paper follow several families from 1826 up until about 1926.
Read it here: http://www.bytown.net/Grace's Presentation, 2015.pdf
... Al Lewis
Tug Boat Agnes and Barge
Rideau Canal, near Hog's Back
Library and Archives MIKAN number 3326229
Rideau Canal at Bank Street
Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN Number 3384584
May 13, 2010:
Source for two images, below: Murphy's Point Provincial Park, 2008 Information Guide
Source: The Rideau Waterway by Robert Legget. Transcribed by Taylor Kennedy
"Upon the initial surveys of the Rideau River, Colonel By strongly
recommended that the size of the locks be increased from 100 feet by
22 feet wide with a depth of 5 feet over the sills. He urged that the locks be built
of such a size to accommodate the naval steamboats and wooden spars. After
a study was done, By’s recommendations were approved.
When spring came to Canada in 1832, Colonel By took his family, some
fellow officers as well as some contractors, such as Thomas Philips, Andrew
White, Thomas McKay and John Redpath to Kingston Mills, so that all might
share in the final joy of participating in the opening of the Rideau Canal.
Robert Drummond had his steamboat vessel the ‘PUMPER’, ready for the
occasion, and indeed temporarily changed its name to the ‘RIDEAU’ for the
event. Robert Drummond, a Scotsman and Stonemason arrived in Canada at
Kingston in 1828 and started working on the locks the same year. He was
not only in lock building, but also into shipbuilding. His first vessel was
80 feet long with a beam of 15 feet and drew 6 feet of water. It was equipped with a
twelve horsepower engine. It was initially for the purpose of pumping out cofferdams
(temporary dams built to surround the riverbed where masonry had to build). For
this purpose it was fitted with special pumping engines, thus taking the practical
name the ‘PUMPER’.
Another of Drummond’s steamship building ventures was not as successful.
In 1831 he built a much larger boat measuring 110 feet long with a 26 foot beam.
It was supposed to draw 31/2 feet of water, but when launched, it drew so much
more than this that it could not be taken into the Rideau Canal System, and had
to be used on the St. Lawrence instead. It was christened the ‘JOHN BY’.
At noon on May 24, 1832, the great journey commenced, the ‘RIDEAU’
having a forward escort in the naval dockyard cutter ‘SNAKE’, and herself
creating a rear escort by hauling two barges. The cutter and barges went as
far as Jones Falls. The ‘RIDEAU’ arrived at Smith Falls at six o’clock on the
morning of the 25th. Extra passengers were taken on board and eventually,
the little vessel sailed into the wharf of Bytown on May 29, 1832.
The Rideau Waterway was complete. The Ottawa River had been linked with
Lake Ontario. When the Ottawa River canals were ready, as they were in 1834,
steamboats would be able to sail up from the sea to Montreal, on to the Ottawa
River, through the Rideau Canal System and into the Great Lakes. The first St.
Lawrence Seaway would be a reality.
On Sunday, May 03, 1840, the steamer ‘BYTOWN’ passed down through the
Merrickville stretch of the Canal with one barge in tow, on board which were
the men of the 65th Regiment. Up to 1840 much of the freight was conveyed
on barges, pulled by the new paddle steamers. There is on record, one voyage
of the steamer ‘HUNTER’, pulling no less than 24 barges. This must have been
exceptional ; there would rarely be more than ten behind any regular steam tug.
Moss Kent Dickinson earned himself the undisputed title as "King of
the Rideau". A native of New York, he settled in Bytown and established
himself as a forwarder of freight on the Rideau Canal. At the height of his activity,
he owned and operated a fleet of sixteen steamers and eighty four barges. After
1860, he sold his holdings to Montreal and Chicago financiers. He was Mayor of
Ottawa from 1864 to 1866. He was also the founder of Manotick, establishing the
first mill there in 1859.
In 1834 a little steamer the ‘ENTERPRISE’ was built at Perth in order to
provide service between Perth, Bytown and Kingston. It was commanded by
Captain William Richards. A native of Ireland, orphaned at the age of
twelve, sailor in the British Navy through the War of 1812, then a free trader of
forest products to the West Indies.
In the mid 1800’s some steamers on the St. Lawrence included the ‘HIBERNIA’ and
the ‘SHAMROCK’ which her boiler blew on the St. Lawrence killing mostly English
patrons as they occupied the more central region of the vessel.
On November 02, 1935, the last passenger steamer, the ‘OTTAWAN’,
pulled away from its wharf at Ottawa on it’s way to close another chapter in
the history of the Rideau Canal when it reached Smith Falls. Those who grew
up on the Rideau shores will remember the old ‘OTTAWAN’, the ‘RIDEAU QUEEN’
and the ‘RIDEAU KING’ steamers with their graceful lines and crowded happy
decks. The names ‘LORETTA’ and ‘AGNES P.’ are bourne by steamers. Their
plaintive whistles and high stacks were familiar sounds and sites all the way
from Ottawa to Kingston Mills."
photo below taken c. 1860
Railway of J.R. Booth is on right (east) side of the canal
February 10, 2008:
Thought some of your readers may enjoy this site. Some of the illustrations
of Bytown and the Rideau Canal are remarkable. They are paintings by Thomas Burrowes
who worked in senior positions along the canal from 1826 to 1846.
November 10, 2009:
Photo Source: Selections from Picturesque Canada: An Affectionate Look Back
plate number 34.
The Dufferin Bridge in Downtown, Ottawa
This sketch was made in the 1870's and shows a view from the east bank of the Rideau Canal.
The East Block of the Parliament Buildings is in the upper left.
In keeping with our lumbering history, there is a pointer boa,t carrying short logs, adjacent to the steam boat.
These logs may have been fuel to run the steam engine.
See also Early Steam Boats in the Ottawa area
August 17, 2009:
New e-mail address for Mary Cox: email@example.com
August 2, 2010:
Map showing all lockstations along the Rideau Canal
Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario
August 17, 2010:
In 1834, a canal was constructed from Perth Ontario to join up with the Rideau Canal at Beveridge Bay on
the Lower Rideau Lake. This canal, called the Tay Canal (originally Haggart's Ditch), was in disrepair before
long and the new Tay Canal, still in use today, was built in the 1880's.
Source for image, below: The Rideau: A Pictorial History of the Waterway,
Edited by Adrian G. Ten Cate, Besancourt Publishers, 1981, ISBN 0-920032-04-4, page 78
April 17, 2013:
Visit Kelly's Landing on the Rideau Canal near Manotick.
October 4, 2013:
A Tranquil Spot at Poonamalie, Ontario on the Rideau Canal
July 20, 2014:
The canal being used today. This photo shows where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River in Downtown Ottawa:
The Bytown Museum and the Chateau Laurier Hotel are situated at the Headlocks of the Canal.
December 11, 2014: (added new book)
Military Paternalism: Labour and the Rideau Canal Project, by Robert W. Passfield, Author House LLC, 2013, ISBN 978-1-4817-5569-6
February 24, 2015:
Added yet another book today:
Labourers on the Rideau Canal, 1826-1832: From Work Site to World Heritage Site, edited by Katherine M. J. McKenna, 2008,
Borealis Press, ISBN 978-0-88887-355-2
July 9, 2016:
I'll be doing some research on the Canal Workers at the Rideau Canal, the Lachine Canal and the Beauharnois Canal.
Some of the labourers from the Ottawa area worked on canal construction at all three sites.
Some of my research sources will be added to the Canal Workers Research web page over the summer.
August 5, 2016:
Here is a new (OK, old) photograph sent in by Chris Gardner. It shows an early 20th century steamboat, "The Fay",
apparently on the Rideau Canal. Does anyone recognize the surroundings or any of the passengers?
August 6, 2016:
Thanks to Taylor Kennedy for the following information!
E-mail Taylor Kennedy, Mary, Chris Gardner and Al Lewis
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