Headquarters of the Rideau Canal and Museum, in an old mill, right beside the canal at 34 Beckwith Street, Smiths Falls

The Rideau Canal is 200 km long and links the Ottawa River at Ottawa with Lake Ontario at Kingston. Constructed between 1826 and 1832, the canal is now designated a national historic site. Proposed at the end of the War of 1812, construction of the canal started in 1826 and was completed in 1832. More than 2,000 workers were involved, and at the time it was considered the greatest engineering project in North America. The canal includes 47 locks that ascend to Newboro and 54 locks that descend to Kingston and Lake Ontario. In early days it was a means of freighting goods and trade and passengers. Today it is a recreational route and is designated a national historic site.

One observer in 1830 described the construction process and its impact: “the works on the canal were going on under great disadvantages. Teams were drawing stones on sleds, over seas of mud and water, and the men (in boots) were wading almost to their knees. Labourers employed in excavation were no better off, digging clay, by the heavy rains, turned to mud. . . . The teams of men and oxen hauling cut stone from quarries to the construction sites, the miserable roads leading in to Smiths Falls, the stone locks and dams slowly taking form, the large French-Canadian workforce and the Irish immigrant population . . . labouring on the canal . . . marked the emergence of a new region of settlement. Indeed Smiths Falls sprang up around a sizeable Rideau Canal constructions site and the previously empty townships filled up with settlers that were mostly squatters of limited means”.

Photo Credit: Sheila Cornett