Friends of the Rideau Logo
The following is the Abstract and Table of Contents from The First Tay Canal in the Rideau Corridor, 1830-1850, Manuscript Report 142 by Larry Turner, Parks Canada, 1984. Republished by Friends of the Rideau as digital book DB-MR142, 2009:


The first Tay Canal was constructed by the Tay Navigation Company between 1831 and 1834. Five small scale and cheaply constructed locks were erected on the Tay River between Perth and Port Elmsley before the river opened into Lower Rideau Lake. Circumstances surrounding the planning, financing, building and use of the Tay Canal can provide a window on development and change within the Rideau Corridor between 1830 and 1850. As a commercial enterprise we may observe the role played by participating elites in the promotion and financing of the canal as well as local reaction to the management and development of the joint stock company formed to build the works. Patterns of social and political divisions as well as local competition within an expanding economic frontier can be observed from the Tay project.

The building of the first Tay Canal also emphasized the extensive nature of the mercantile hinterland of Montreal. As a branch channel of the imposing Rideau waterway, the Tay Canal was utilized at the micro level the way the entire Montreal hinterland was orientated at the macro level. The Tay was a remarkably cheap and limited waterway but it helped consolidate commercial trade within the area. However, the limited resources of the Tay watershed and a receding frontier left Perth Landing a town and country trade neither conducive to expansion nor sufficient to sustain a declining branch canal. The fortunes of the Tay Canal rose and fell with the fortunes of Perth. This study was a concentrated effort to compile information on the Tay Canal and Tay Navigation Company as well as to determine its role within the local as well as the wider framework of commercial pursuits in the period between 1830 and 1850.

The purpose of this study has been to uncover information on a largely forgotten commercial venture of the past. The data and analysis should aid in providing the essential framework for developing interpretive presentations and displays along the site of the present Tay Canal. No previous study had ever been attempted of the first Tay Canal except for an article written by H. R. Morgan in the Ontario Historical Society Papers and Records for the year 1933 and titled “The First Tay Canal: An Abortive Upper Canadian Transportation Enterprise of a Century Ago”. Morgan provided an important outline of the Tay Canal story and unfortunately many of the sources he used were in private hands, and can no longer be located. He also made no attempt to identify his other sources of information. A careful and extensive search in archival collections and contemporary newspapers not only identified some of Morgan’s sources but opened a number of avenues for further research. In particular, various collections of papers left by the Bell family of Perth were crucial to this study. With no deposit of papers relating to the Tay Canal in existence, research was wide—ranging and the author was grateful for many important contacts who provided information. The study was completed in five months.

Chapter one opens with a discussion on the Tay River and the development of the town of Perth previous to canalization while chapter two investigates the strong influence of canal anticipation in making the project viable. Chapter three is a study of the formation and financing of the Tay Navigation Company while chapter four delves into the ways and means of constructing the Tay Canal. The following chapters are specific studies relating to events surrounding the building of or use of the canal. Chapter five investigates the political controversy around the development of the Tay Basin on Cockburn Island. At the opposite end of the canal, the need for transhipment led to the creation of Perth Landing and other competitive facilities. This is dealt with in chapter six as well as a discussion of the types of goods and how they were shipped. Chapter seven delves into the nature of the forwarding trade between Montreal and Perth with a specific study of the firm of W. & J. Bell and their use of the canal for trade and commerce. Chapter eight is an analysis of the role of the steamboat Enterprise as representative of entrepreneurial spirit and failure in Perth. Finally the concluding chapter nine outlines the decline of the Tay Canal and its ultimate disappearance into the landscape.


iii     List of Illustrations

vi      Acknowledgements

vii     Introduction

1      Chapter 1: Perth and the Tay

9      Chapter 2: Canal Anticipation

16     Chapter 3: The Tay Navigation Company

37     Chapter 4: Construction of the Tay Canal

52     Chapter 5: The Cockburn Island and Perth
           Basin Dispute: Political
           Opposition to the Company

66     Chapter 6: Tay Transshipment and the Perth Landing

86     Chapter 7: W. & J. Bell, Forwarding between
          Montreal and Perth and the
          British Queen

102    Chapter 8: Perth and the Enterprise

109    Chapter 9: Decline of the First Tay Canal

115    Footnotes

130    Bibliography

135    Appendix A: Upper Canada House of Assembly
          An Act to Incorporate the Tay
           Navigation Company, 16th March 1831

152    Illustrations

184    BONUS ADDITION for this digital version
        “The First Tay Canal, An Abortive Upper Canada
         Transportation Enterprise of a Century Ago”
         by H.R. Morgan, 1933

Return to DB-MR142 page

Buy the Book

© Rideau Waterway Co-ordinating Association (Friends of the Rideau)