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The following is the Preface from Construction History of the Rideau Canal, Manuscript Report 193 by Karen Price, Parks Canada, 1976. Republished by Friends of the Rideau as digital book DB-MR193, 2008:


Throughout the years, many people have enjoyed their excursions along the Rideau Canal and have written copiously about their experiences on this waterway. Most are deeply impressed by the beauty and variety of the landscape for one passes from the St. Lawrence lowlands at Kingston to the Precambrian Shield and rough topography of the lake section of the waterway, to the tranquil pastoral county between Smiths Falls and Ottawa. Other travellers have noticed and commented upon the structure of some of the dams which can only be deemed exceptional engineering structures considering the era and environment in which they were built. Still others remark upon the route being so easy to follow and to navigate. Little do they realize that the countryside was not always as attractive. In the Cranberry Marsh area, we are told by the surveyors of the route that a heavy and foul-smelling air hung heavily over this area. Nor was the route always easy to follow and to navigate - it took John MacTaggart, one of Lieutenant Colonel John By's surveyors, five days to travel from the Ottawa River to Dow's Lake for he had to pass through thick, virtually impenetratable bush. To have cut and built a canal from the Ottawa River to Kingston in less than six years, overcoming all the natural obstacles the route offered is certainly a credit to By and a great feat of engineering. The aim of this paper is to examine the Rideau Canal in the light of its construction between the years of 1826 and 1832.

For the purpose of this paper, I have moved from the general to the particular. In the first three chapters I have endeavoured to give an overall picture of the various facets of the canal's construction, stating who the workers were and how they were organized and supervised, what initial steps were taken in the canal's construction, where the supplies came from and how they were obtained, the difficulties that had to be surmounted, the administration of the canal works and (last but not least) the canal's completion. The second part of the paper is chronologically organized and is given over to detailed information on each of the sites of construction, starting with the first eight locks at Ottawa and ending with the works at Kingston Mills. For some of the works, such as those undertaken at Hogs Back there is much information, while for others, details are scant. I have tried to organize this section of the paper by using the same subject headings for each set of works and detail of the construction itself is given in strict chronological order. I felt that in this way detailed information for each site was readily available, or, if the case should arise, comparisons and contrasts could be made more easily between the various work sites in a work organized along these lines.

The research for this paper was chiefly carried out at the Public Archives of Canada although the libraries of the Departments of National Defence, of Transport, and of Indian and Northern Affairs were also consulted. The Redpath Papers held by the McCord Museum of McGill University, Montreal, could also have been an important source for a paper of this kind, but unfortunately they were not available for consultation up to the time of writing.

It is my belief that much material of value for a detailed history of the construction of the Rideau Canal is in England. At the time of the canal's completion, Colonel By was recalled to England to face a parliamentary inquiry into the costs of the construction of the Rideau Canal. It is my contention that the materials supporting his claims and which could therefore be used as evidence in his defence were taken to England. Since he had to return so promptly, it is unlikely there was time for copies of these documents to be made. If the Rideau Canal is considered to be a top priority project, it might well be worthwhile to make inquiries about possible sources in Great Britain. Efforts made in this direction would certainly be rewarded.

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