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The Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada

August 12th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

The Rideau Canal, also known as the Rideau Waterway, connects the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on the Ottawa River to the city of Kingston, Ontario on Lake Ontario. The Rideau Canal was opened in 1832 and is still in use today, "with most of its original structures intact". The canal system uses sections of major rivers, including the Rideau and the Cataraqui, as well as some lakes. It is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, and in 2007, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At the time it was proposed, shortly after the War of 1812, there remained a persistent threat of attack from the United States on Britain's colony of Upper Canada. To impede and deter any future US invasions, the British built various forts (eg. Citadel Hill, La Citadelle, and Fort Henry) and canals (eg.Grenville Canal, Chute-à-Blondeau Canal, Carillon Canal, and the Rideau Canal) to defend their territory. The canal's initial purpose was military - to provide a secure supply and communications route between Montreal and Kingston, Ontario. Westward from Montreal, travel would proceed along the Ottawa River to Bytown (now Ottawa), then southwest via the canal to Kingston and out into Lake Ontario (and vice versa for eastward travel from Kingston to Montreal). The intent being to bypass the stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering New York State which would have left British supply ships vulnerable to attack or a blockade of the St. Lawrence.

No further military engagements have taken place between Canada and the United States since the war of 1812, and consequently the Rideau Canal was never used for its intended purpose.

The construction of the canal was supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Private contractors such as future sugar refining entrepreneur John Redpath, Thomas McKay, Nichol Taylor, Hugh Baird and others were responsible for much of the construction, and the majority of the actual work was done by thousands of Irish and French-Canadian labourers.

While the exact number of deaths will likely never be known, as many as a thousand of these workers may have died from malaria, other diseases and accidents such as explosions during blasting. To make matters worse, unemployment and a major cholera epidemic spread from Quebec City to Upper Canada after its completion causing further deaths. Despite this, most workers survived and many settled on area farms or entered the timber trade . Some of those who died remain unidentified as they had no known relatives in Upper Canada and were buried in unmarked graves.

Memorials to the fallen labourers (mainly for the Irish workers) have been erected along the canal route, most recently the Celtic Cross memorials in Kingston and Lowertown Ottawa (near the Locks.)

The canal was completed in 1832. The final cost of its construction was £822,000. This was more than had been expected and By was recalled to London and questioned by a parliamentary committee before being cleared of any wrongdoing.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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