The construction of the Rideau Canal - built in virgin forest with all work being done by hand - caused great hardship to its Irish labourers, many of whom died of malaria. Finished in 1832 after 5 summer working seasons, with up to 2000 men being employed by the Royal Engineers and appointed contractors, the canal ranks among the greatest early civil-engineering works of North America. Lieutenant-Colonel By located his headquarters at the junction of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers and started a small settlement, first named Bytown in his honour but renamed OTTAWA in 1855.
Although it carried freight and passengers in small steamboats for a century, the Rideau Canal was never economically viable, and is now used entirely by pleasure craft. Most of the original locks and canal cuts are still in use, and, except for 3 hydraulic locks, all are still operated by the muscle power of lock staff cranking the distinctive "crab" winches. Its stone walls, ponds and bridges have preserved a quiet beauty along its course through the city of Ottawa, and in the wintertime it provides one of the world's most famous skating rinks. In 1926, 100 years after the beginning of the canal's construction, it was designated a national historic site. In 2000 it became part of the CANADIAN HERITAGE RIVERS SYSTEM. The Rideau Canal was designated as a UNITED NATIONS WORLD HERITAGE SITE in 2007.
Author R.F. LEGGET Revised: MAXWELL W. FINKELSTEIN
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
The official website for the City of Ottawa. Features an extensive directory of local tourist attractions and events.
Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada
The website for the Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada,the oldest operating 19th-century canal in North America. From Parks Canada.
Engineering the Canal
An illustrated history of the construction of the Rideau Canal. From the Bytown Museum.
Commissariat 3D Reconstruction Project
This multimedia site depicts the Rideau Canal's Ottawa Locks site and Commissariat Building (now the Bytown Museum) as they appeared when the Canal was opened in 1832. From the Bytown Museum, the National Research Council Canada and the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Glossary: Rideau Lockstations
A glossary of terms commonly used in reference to the history of the Rideau Lockstations. From the website Rideau-info.com.
The Undefended Border: The Myth and the Reality
An online booklet that discusses the sometimes uneasy relationship between Canada and its southern neighbour, the United States of America, in the 19th century. Published by the Canadian Historical Association. From the Library and Archives Canada website.