|Newsletter of the Friends of the Rideau||Winter/Spring 2010|
The Rideau lockstations are renowned for their tranquil beauty and trouble free operation. This doesn't happen by accident, there is a lot of behind the scenes work to make sure that this is so. The spring busy work begins when the lock staff are called back at the beginning of April. At each lockstation, the wear and tear of winter must be repaired.
The grounds are cleaned of winter debris, which requires an extensive amount of work starting with raking and disposal of leaves, dead grass, branches and twigs. Garbage cans, recycle bins, and picnic tables have to be put back in place. Any required tree trimming is also done at this time. As spring progresses, the grass starts to grow and must be cut. Painting begins as soon as the weather permits - touching up the buildings, the metal work of the locks, the lock gates, picnic tables, garbage cans, blue lines, and often the interior walls of the buildings.
Water systems are checked to make sure they are fully operational. Washrooms are cleaned and made ready for the public.
At lockstations with floating docks, these must be put back into position, anchored and walkways attached.
The stop logs that were put in place in the fall must be removed. This is done by a combination of land crews and the scow. Traditionally, this work is primarily done by the scow but in the event that more water-based channel maintenance is required, the land crew can be used to complete this task in many locations. Stop logs are formed into rafts, in many instances now used for paddler access to the fixed docks or to shore. These rafts are also used in the spring to access the lock gates for painting.
Any required major repairs to the locks will have been done during the non-navigation season. During the operating season, the lock staff are always on the lookout for any operational issues. These are noted and passed on to the maintenance staff. Repair work to items that aren't easily accessible during navigation season, such as sluice valves, can begin in the fall once the canal closes down, stop logs are put in place and the locks drained.
The canal staff always completes a thorough inspection of all sluices and crabs in the spring. This investigation ensures that everything is in working order, and often links or complete chains are replaced. Greasing and lubrication is completed. The maintenance crew will be finishing any sluice work that was started in the winter, such as the re-installation of sluice flanges that were removed and re-bushed, and the installation of the new sluice frames that were removed and completely rebuilt over the winter.
Off season maintenance also includes any required repointing (mortaring) of lock walls. This used to be a spring job for the lock staff but is now taken care of by a specialized maintenance crew.
The competency of the lock gates are regularly tested by the Rideau Canal engineering department using ultrasound. A few (2 to 3) are replaced each year, with new gates custom built at the gate shop in Smiths Falls. Lock staff keep an eye out throughout the season for any issues regarding the gates, such as ant infestations and these are dealt with when noted. The first operational test of each lock in the spring is when the scow, used to remove the stop logs, is passed through the lock on its way to open up the next lock.
Since the Rideau is also a water control system, the maintenance and operation of the weirs is on-going through the year. In the winter, crews of lock staff (the winter watch) work on rotation, each looking after several lockstations, monitoring and adjusting the weirs and checking the lockstations for any issues. In the fall, the water in most of the system is drawn down to provide reservoir capacity for the spring freshet. Once the freshet is past, stop logs are added to each weir to raise the water level up to navigation level just prior to the season opening. Another major part of the winter watch crews’ responsibility is clearing snow and ice, and sanding, all Parks Canada owned bridges.
In spring, many of us turn our thoughts to the garden and the same goes for the lock staff. Each lockmaster puts in a request to the Sector Manager for flowers that are purchased out of the operation budget of the sector. The flower budget is modest, but each lockmaster is able to create a flower display that has his or her own personal touch. Out in the navigation channel, scows travel the route of the canal to remove any navigation obstructions and ensure marker buoys are still in place.
Aquatic vegetation (weeds) begin to return in early May and must be cleared from the navigation channel. This work generally starts first at the southern end on the River Styx. The swing bridges, which have been blocked in place during the winter, are now unblocked and swung. They are greased and balanced by the use of counter weights (to ensure an easy swing).
The lockstaff are also trained/retrained in many things including first aid, CPR, fire prevention, the Canada Labour Code, visitor services and species at risk identification. So, on May 21, when Rideau opens for its 179th operating season, the public will be greeted by smiling lock personnel, staffing the prettiest lockstations in the world.
My thanks to Mark Brus, Southern Sector Manager for the Rideau Canal, for his great help (essentially co-author) with this article—Ken Watson
Parks Canada organized a Rideau Forum on November 10, 2009, at Strathmere, near Ottawa, to discuss setting a course for the future of the Rideau Corridor. A wide range of participants attended, including First Nations, political leaders, representatives from federal, provincial and municipal governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and individuals. The event was billed as the sixth Forum, although it didn't follow the format of previous Rideau symposiums, the first of which was held in 2001.
The agenda covered presentations on the Rideau Corridor Landscape Strategy (more on that subject separately in this newsletter), successes in partnership with Parks Canada and strategies for action from the perspectives of the Cataraqui Conservation Authority, the City of Ottawa, the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Merrickville-Wolford municipality. The keynote speakers were Beatrice Kelly of the Inland Waterways and Marine Heritage Council, speaking about the Shannon River, and Chris Smith of Australia addressing heritage conservation and management issues based on his secondment to the Rideau Canal Office of Parks Canada.
On behalf of Parks Canada and the Minister of the Environment, Royal Galipeau, Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Orléans, presented the new Don Warren Legacy Award, created to recognize an individual or organization’s dedication and commitment to the heritage preservation of the Rideau Canal. It is very fitting that the first recipient of this award was Don Warren, who was present to receive the physical trophy itself, a handsome model of a lockstation crab mounted on oak and set against sandstone from the quarry near Elgin. We are very pleased to see Don honoured in this way. Don, a life member of Friends of the Rideau, made significant contributions to our organization.
Hunter McGill, for Friends of the Rideau, took part in the Forum as a member of the panel on successful partnerships with Parks Canada. He spoke about Friends’ work on the initiative to obtain World Heritage Site designation for the Canal, mentioned our website and our publishing programme, including the books on CD activity which has also drawn on the contributions of a number of members of Friends to scan the original texts. Less tangible, but equally if not more important, has been the participation of members of Friends on advisory, consultative and support groups organized by Parks Canada. Other organizations on the same panel included Rideau Heritage Route Tourism Association, Rideau Roundtable, Rideau Heritage Network and the Rideau Canal Festival. Parks Canada was thanked for having sponsored and organized the Forum thereby providing an opportunity for a wide spectrum of interested parties and individuals to unite in their support of the preservation and protection of the Rideau Canal and Waterway. Attendance at the Forum was approximately 200 with registrants from Kingston to Ottawa enjoying the interesting speakers and the opportunity to network and renew old acquaintances.
- Hunter McGill
We don't have much to report on progress with the strategy from what was reported in our last newsletter (which also noted not much progress). As stated in the last newsletter, there has been a change in the governance model that involved the creation of a new steering committee. The original steering committee was appointed by Parks Canada and consisted of people representing a wide range interests. Friends of the Rideau and several other non-government organizations were on that committee.
The new steering committee is a government-only group, consisting of representatives from the 13 municipalities that border the Rideau Canal, 3 counties, 5 first nations, the 2 conservation authorities, the NCC and Parks Canada. In the new governance model there is supposed to be a community advisory group (which is presumably where Friends of the Rideau would fit in), but that has yet to be set up.
The new steering committee held its first meeting in January, a meet-and-greet with no substantive work done towards establishing the needed RCLS study. The next meeting is scheduled for March. Concern about the required timeline to meet the reporting deadline was raised at the last meeting of the original steering committee and raised again at the Forum. The Government of Canada (represented by Parks Canada) must provide a detailed report to the World Heritage Committee by the end of 2012. It must fully address the protection of the visual values issue raised by the UNESCO inspector back in 2006.
We hope that the new steering committee in their next meeting will be able to pick up where the original committee left off (so that we don't have to start all over again) and that the advisory groups will be set up in the near future up to allow public input into the process.
The Parks Canada, Rideau Canal Boating Safely Campaign began officially in 2009 and will continue to be a priority for the next several years. This campaign focuses specifically on problems created by excessive speed and wake.
In order to identify areas along the waterway of particular concern, Parks Canada asked residential and commercial landowners and boaters for their input regarding excessive wake and speed on the water. Past correspondence on the topic was also reviewed. With the information collected, “hot spots” along the waterway were determined and it was confirmed that were two specific areas of concern. One was the concern for public safety, the other, the concern for the natural environment (protection of wildlife and management of shoreline erosion). With the help of a working group (including representatives from the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron, Friends of the Rideau, the Ontario Marina Operators Association, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, Ottawa Police and Ontario Provincial Police) an action plan was developed. The plan incorporated enhanced communications, education and enforcement, and implementation began during the summer of 2009.
During 2010 Parks Canada will improve signage along the waterway, continue to develop employee competencies in regards to prevention and management of problematic boater behaviours and introduce some new educational pieces. It is also their intention to begin implementation of recommended actions identified in the Risk Analysis of the Northern Sector of the Canal and the Shoreline Vulnerability Report (products of year one of the campaign), as deemed appropriate.
Rideau Canal Management will continue to work with enforcement agencies and, although the existing service level on the water is limited, we have been assured of their support. It is however, up to those witnessing the careless operation of vessels to report this to the Ontario Provincial Police or the Ottawa Police, as Parks Canada's enforcement capabilities are extremely limited. A brief summary of the campaign activity in 2009 is listed below. If you would like more information regarding the Boating Safely Campaign, please contact Mary Ann Stienberg at 613-283-7199 x 243 or email@example.com.
Boating Safely Campaign Activity during 2009
The numbers (vessel passages through the locks) for 2009 show an increase of 9.3% compared to 2008 (75,981 vessel passages in 2009 compared to 69,529 in 2008).
The origin of the boaters in 2009 was 65.0% from Ontario, 24.3% from Quebec and 10.2% from the U.S (and 0.5% Other). The busiest locks in terms of vessel passages were, as always, Narrows (6,511), Newboro (5,893), Chaffeys (5,068) and Davis (4,811).
Our count for reports digitized as part of our “Resources for the Rideau” project now stands at seven with the recent release of Robert W. Passfield's milestone work "Canal Lock Design and Construction: The Rideau Canal Experience, 1826-1982." This is now available as a digital Book on CD.
This is the largest of the digitization projects done to date – we've been working on it since last spring, with the able assistance of a key volunteer, Robert Passfield himself. As noted in the last newsletter, Bob became a big supporter of the project when he saw that this was a great way to make these valuable research documents easily available to the general public, in a format better than the original paper copy.
Canal Lock Design and Construction is an extensive 482 page report that details the structural history of the design evolution and construction of the locks on the Rideau Canal. The design of the stone masonry locks is analyzed in terms of contemporary (1820s) canal construction practice and empirical design formulas; and the design, materials, and method of construction of the locks are described and explained in detail. All subsequent changes and design modifications in the sluice mechanisms and lock gates, from the opening of the canal through to 1982, are identified, dated, illustrated, and explained in terms of specific problems encountered in operating the canal. In its entirety this report constitutes a case study of empirical canal engineering in the early 19th century, in which the canal construction technology is placed within an international context embracing Canada, Great Britain, and the United States.
The CD book text is illustrated with over 90 period engineering drawings, historic photos, and contemporary photos, reproduced as high resolution digital images (which can be enlarged in the PDF to see fine detail). The text is fully searchable, and duplicates the original manuscript report. A bonus addendum, with 29 photos documenting the replacement of a lock gate at the Ottawa locks, is included on the CD.
Our thanks to Robert W. Passfield who was key in this project in sourcing original imagery for high resolution scanning/photography, in getting the document OCR scanned by Parks Canada, in proofing the draft digital version and in assisting with project co-ordination to ensure a high quality digital document. Our thanks to Steve Dale and Don Boisvenue of Parks Canada who did a superb job of OCRing the document and doing high resolution scanning of several of the original images from the document. Thanks too to Dean Hamilton of the Rideau Canal engineering office who was very helpful in locating and making available engineering drawings so that they could be digitally photographed. Digital photography, image editing, proofing, formatting and setting into final digital book form was done by Ken Watson on behalf of Friends of the Rideau.
You can see more details about this new book and the others we've produced by going to the Manuscript Report section of our website at: www.rideaufriends.com/mrs/
We deal with all sorts of email, everything from questions about the Rideau Canal to the usual Spam. But one we received with the title "Unusual Question" on January 4 from a lady in Germany was, as per the subject line, unusual.
In a nutshell, in late November, she sent a Christmas package from Germany to friends of hers in North Carolina. The box contained a hand made door decoration and chocolates. However, her friends received 2 copies of Pathfinders, 2 of Fish Tales, 2 of A History of the Rideau Lockstations and 1 copy of The Rideau Route (the lady described these as the "fishy books"). These books were received inside of her box that had been sent from Germany. The door decoration and chocolates were not in the box - just those 7 books (and we've received the photos to prove it).
So, after a bit of Internet detective work, she found that Friends of the Rideau offers those exact books for sale and she asked if we had sent an order with that combination of the books to the U.S. We had not, but we started asking some of the bookstores that carry our books. It turns out that Stillwater Books in Westport did sell that exact combination of books in November, to an elderly lady who told Steve, the proprietor, that she was sending these as gifts to the U.S. Unfortunately Steve does not know her name.
What we now surmise, putting aside the possibility of a deliberate switch, is that both boxes arrived at U.S. Customs and were opened and inspected. But then our "Fishy" books got put inside the box from Germany which was sealed and sent to the destination in North Carolina. Presumably, the people who were supposed to get the Rideau books received a German door decoration and chocolates. The other possibility is that somebody at U.S. Customs enjoyed the chocolates.
The lady from Germany hopes that it was just a mix-up and that the people who were supposed to get the books, got the decoration and chocolates and would have then contacted the person who sent them, who perhaps may contact Stillwater Books (it's a long shot).
In the meantime, we've suggested, now that the people in North Carolina have some great Rideau reading material, that they should come here for a visit (and find out why we write books about our beautiful canal).
If we ever find out the end of the story, we'll let you know in an upcoming newsletter.
In this mythconception article I'm going to tackle some of the erroneous present-day notions about the death of workers during the construction of the Rideau Canal. The specific mythconceptions in this article are that workers were buried without ceremony (funerals were held), in unmarked graves (they were marked with wooden markers), and that dangerous working conditions led to many deaths (far fewer deaths than supposed and inquests were held for all of these). So lets look at the details.
We'll start with the numbers. No one knows for sure how many people died during the construction of the Rideau Canal. Today we use a round number of 1,000, but that's really only a guess. We do know that the vast majority died of disease, principally malaria (mythconceptions about this were dealt with in our Winter/Spring 2007 newsletter).
Exaggeration of the numbers started early. In 1833, Captain J.E. Alexander wrote in describing a trip he took along the Rideau in 1829, “Then comes the dreadful swamp called Cranberry Marsh, 18 miles long and two broad, where some thousand stout labourers have met their death of regular yellow fever.” The fact that there wasn't any yellow fever didn't deter the good Captain from producing a nice bit of prose. In fairness, he was was probably told this by his travelling companions, while travelling through this gloomy (drowned forests) part of the Rideau, in reference to the first big outbreak of malaria in 1828, vastly escallating the number of actual deaths (less than a thousand men actually got sick, far fewer (less than 30) died.
The numbers continued to inflate. The August 4, 1948 edition of the Ottawa Citizen reported that “Cranberry Marsh extracted a toll of many thousands of lives.” Even more recently (2007), also in the Ottawa Citizen, it stated in reference to the deaths of Sappers and Miners at Newboro “that [they] died in such numbers that they were buried in unmarked graves beside the labourers.” We do have a very specific reality check on that statement, since we know that in total, 22 Sappers and Miners died (16 from disease, 6 from accidents) and that several of those deaths didn't occur at Newboro. So if we assumed that half died at Newboro then “died in such numbers” = 11.
Often quoted is John MacTaggart's book Three Years in Canada published in 1829. In describing the early attempts at blasting he wrote “Of course, many of them were blasted to pieces by their own shots, others killed by stones falling on them. I have seen heads, arms, and legs, blown about in all directions.” This leads to visions of mass destruction. We must keep in mind with MacTaggart's lurid description that he was writing a book meant to be saleable, and that, if we assume that he wasn't exaggerating, he was describing the exceptions to the rule. We have a reality check on this one with the records of A.J. Christie, who was hired to provide medical care along the Rideau in 1827. In the period from May to December 1827, 10 men died of disease (this was before malaria took hold in 1828) and 7 from accidents.
The Montreal Herald stated in its December 15, 1827 edition, in reporting the deaths of two labourers from a cave-in, that "Two have been before this killed by blasts … and one killed by a tree falling on him." So yes, men were killed by accidents (for instance, five Sappers and Miners died of blasting accidents during the entire construction period) - but not in mass numbers.
When someone died by accident, an inquest into the death was held (this was the law). We have reports about some of these inquests. One was with regard to the death of Patrick Sweeney, a construction labourer at Old Sly's. He drowned while trying to swim across the Rideau River to obtain another bottle of whiskey. He was inebriated when he made the attempt. In the August 1831 inquest into his death, the coroner stated: "When last seen alive, he was going down with a bottle or flask in his mouth." But his story doesn't end there. His grave was dug by William Ferguson, a fellow labourer. Ferguson, “after returning from the funeral, expired in the open streets at Smiths' Falls, in the arms of his fellow workmen.” The jury in the inquest into his death concluded that it “was caused by intemperance.”
We have in the preceding description a specific reference to a funeral. Another is described by Captain J.E. Alexander during a visit to Kingston Mills in 1829. “Whilst viewing the extensive works at the entrance valley, enclosed with lofty granite cliffs, covered with birch and pine, a funeral passed us, consisting of several light two-wheeled waggons, each drawn by a span of horses. Women and men sat in three rows in these primitive conveyances, and the coffin, covered with a white sheet, lay among the straw of the leading one.”
When they were buried, as was common practice, a wooden marker was placed on the grave. In only a very few instances could the time and expense be afforded for the creation of a headstone (today we only have a couple of surviving examples in the McGuigan Cemetery, located near Merrickville). The wooden markers would have lasted a few decades before rotting into the ground, leaving no evidence today. This lack of visible headstones and the use of fieldstones (which did survive) as adjunct grave markers to the wooden markers has led to the current mythconception that everyone was buried in unmarked graves.
In fact, not only are the wooden markers gone, most of the canal era cemeteries have been lost to time. One of the more interesting examples is when the canal era burial ground at Jones Falls was chosen for a new gravel pit in the 1950s (long after any memory of its existence was gone). The unearthing of skeletons soon gave the work crew a clue that they were digging in the wrong place (and the work was quickly stopped) - but that's another story.
There is no denying that the building of the Rideau Canal was a monumental human effort and that many died during construction. We do however have to put it in the context of the day, the number of deaths was not out of the ordinary for such a project (for instance, the building of the Erie Canal saw a similar death toll). Colonel By went far above and beyond his mandate in trying to look after the welfare of the workers. Most of the deaths were from disease (surviving records indicate that about 500 men died from malaria alone), the causes and proper treatments poorly understood at the time.
Why should we care? Because these mythconceptions reflect badly on the building of the Rideau Canal. They also reflect badly, and inappropriately, on the character of the man in charge of construction, Lt. Colonel John By. A few months ago, while visiting my mother, she mentioned that a friend had watched a recent documentary about the building of the Rideau Canal. Her friend's comment after watching the show was that "the workers were treated like slaves." That simply isn't true.
We know the media motto that "if it bleeds, it leads" and there certainly has been a tendency, mostly in ignorance of the true facts (sometimes deliberate), to exaggerate the human cost of construction. The building of the Rideau Canal was a very difficult job, it extracted a human toll, but it was also done following all the civilized mores of the day.
- Ken Watson
by Ed Bebee
Ottawa lockmaster William G. Addison faced a unique challenge relative to his fellow lockmasters – sawdust. Sure, there were problems at Smiths Falls and Old Sly's – sawdust shoals that slowed down “navigation” – but nothing like Addison's problems.
What was so different? Easy – there were big sawmills at the Chaudiere Falls with 300,000,000 feet of lumber being sawn every year. An estimated 10% of that, some 30 million feet, was the sawdust, butt ends, slabs, edgings and chips that went straight into the Ottawa River. The entrance to the Ottawa locks was downstream and the prevailing wind was from the northwest, pushing refuse into the bay. The heavy stuff was full of sap and sank quickly to the bottom. Some of the sawdust did drift downstream but any that got into a bay was trapped there and sank as well.
So, how big a problem was it? In 1888, Addison and others testified before a Senate committee that there were shoals of sawdust in the river that extended for hundreds of feet, in 40 feet of water, a foot or more above the surface, and so solid that men walked on them. At the entrance to the locks, the channel filled up to such an extent, said Addison, “I have been four and five hours getting a boat into the lock, and sometimes have had to unload them. Some boats drawing four and a half to five feet of water came there and could not get in.” Addison recounted another problem with the huge sawdust shoals – as they decayed, they produced gas. He was asked if there was an unpleasant odour from the sawdust at the foot of the locks. “Yes, when you would have a blow up. I was standing on the pier one day and saw a white swell coming up. There was an old Frenchman approaching with a bun [sic – punt]. The water rose about ten or twelve feet square and lifted him fully three feet out of the water. (...) It was a square punt, about 14 feet long and 5 feet wide, with a flat bottom. The wind happened to be blowing from that direction, what little wind there was, and the smell was very bad.”
It's an ill wind that blows no good. Sir Sandford Fleming had been hired by the Chaudiere mill owners to carry out a thorough engineering assessment to justify their continued exemption from the provisions of the Navigable Waters Act. Fleming found that the refuse did seriously impact Rideau Canal navigation, but was otherwise no significant deterrent.
On the bright side, he pointed out that, “There are a large number of families settled along the river banks between Ottawa and Grenville who appear to have selected the site of their habitation on account of the supply of fuel which is annually floated to their doors. During the summer months numbers of women and children may be seen regularly at work in boats and canoes gathering in from the stream their winter’s supply of fuel.
There is in reality a considerable population dependent on the mills for the winter's firewood which costs them only the trouble of gathering it.” From Fred Wise's viewpoint, all the focus on dredging and its impact on navigation must have strengthened his campaign for dedicated tugs, scows and dredges for the Rideau itself. But that's another story for another time.
Friends of the Rideau is a volunteer, non-profit organization, working in co-operation with Parks Canada to enhance and conserve the heritage and charm of the Rideau Corridor.
For more information contact: Friends of the Rideau, 1 Jasper Avenue, Smith Falls, Ontario K7A 4B5 – Tel: 613-283-5810 Fax: 613-283-2884 – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org – Website: www.rideaufriends.com.
Comments about the newsletter can be directed to the editor, Ken Watson, c/o Friends of the Rideau or by email at: email@example.com