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Problems and Conflicts

Note: the following are accounts of early conflicts between the canal and local landowners, primarily about control of the water. It is a chapter taken verbatim from "The Rideau Canal, 1832-1914" by Judith Tulloch, Manuscript Report Number 177, National Historic Parks and Sites Branch Parks Canada, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, 1975, p. 30 - 48. Reprinted here with permission of Parks Canada. It is a long on-screen read, it is probably easier if you printed it out.

During the later years of the 19th century, a number of groups with conflicting interests were concerned with the operation of the Rideau waterway. Shippers using the canal to transport goods wanted the route maintained in efficient working condition with adequate water supplies to ensure navigational depth throughout the season. In contrast, local farmers argued that when the water was retained to provide reserves, many of their fields could not drain sufficiently to allow crops to be planted. On the other hand, millers along the route required a constant supply of water to keep their works in operation. They protested vigorously against the actions of canal officials who were often forced to stop the flow through the weirs in order to preserve the water level for navigational purposes. Such divergent interests led inevitably to conflict over the role of the Rideau system.

The nature of the waterway - a series of stillwaters maintained by dams - produced some amount of water-power at every lock station varying from the almost negligible falls at Kilmarnock to the 60-foot drop at Jones Falls. Some of these stations had been the site of mills before the construction of the canal - notably Merrickville, Chaffeys and the two Brewers Mills. During the 19th century, mills of various sorts were established at 11 major locations - Long Island (Manotick), Burritts Rapids, Nicholsons (Andrewsville), Merrickville, Old Slys, Smiths Falls, Chaffeys, Davis, Brewers Mills, Washburn and Kingston Mills.

The leases granted to the millers specified that they were entitled to the use of surplus water only - that not required for the purpose of navigation. Difficulties arose over the interpretation of this term, the millers arguing that so long as the water was at navigable height they were entitled to free use of the flow. In contrast, canal officials pointed out that to preserve navigation throughout the season, water had to be held substantially above navigation level during the spring and early summer. The problem was intensified as the amount of cleared land in the watershed area increased and the spring run-off passed into the lakes at an earlier date. Conflict with the milling interests was therefore inevitable. In 1881, superintending engineer Wise, optimistically foreseeing a rise in vessel traffic, emphasized the need to differentiate between the interests of the millers and those of the forwarders. He argued that in order to maintain the navigation throughout the season, less water should be used for milling purposes and concluded, "As traffic increases the mill interest will have to be curtailed as there is not a sufficient supply for both."1

The question of the use of water for mills was particularly important in the lakes descending from Newboro to Kingston because of the number of mills in this section and the constant difficulty in retaining sufficient water reserves. Canal officials were faced not only with complaints from the lessees of water-power at the Rideau locks but also with the demands of millers along the Gananoque River that more water be run through the dam at Morton (formerly the White Fish dam). The Gananoque men claimed that before the construction of the Rideau waterway Cranberry Marsh had formed the headwater of their river and that they were therefore entitled at the very least to an equal amount of water as were the mills along the Cataraqui.2   In 1872, the civil engineer William Kingsford submitted a thorough report on the question of the right of the Gananoque millers to water from the Rideau and concluded that even in its unimproved state, Cranberry Marsh had not been the headwaters of the Gananoque. Instead, in time of high water, the bog had merely been an incidental source of supply for both the Gananoque and the Cataraqui. He therefore advised that the needs of the Rideau for sufficient water must always take precedence over any conflicting interests. 3

Kingsford's recommendations formed the basis for the departmental policy on providing water for the millers. Although the superintending engineers endeavoured to keep some water running through the Morton dam, they were primarily concerned with the preservation of water for the Rideau. In February 1895, for example, Phillips ordered lockmaster Flemming at Chaffeys to run surplus water from Newboro Lake to assist the millers along the Gananoque but cautioned him not to reduce the lake to a level which might affect the navigation the following summer.4 Water from the Rideau was supplied first to the millers along the waterway itself since they paid annual rental to the government and consequently had prior claim to any surplus. Only when there was sufficient water both to maintain navigation and to supply the Cataraqui mills was any released through Morton dam.5

Disputes over the amount of water available for milling purposes were not the only aspect of the conflict between millers and canal officials. Arguments also arose over the control of water, both that passing through the weirs on the Rideau and that retained as reserves in the watershed. The most intense quarrel over control of waste water took place at the Manotick weir where M.K. Dickinson maintained two mills. Superintending engineer Slater complained that these buildings obstructed free passage of the spring freshet, thereby causing severe flooding along the Long Reach.     He further pointed out that because the mills required a constant head of water, stoplogs in the government dam     could not be removed during the winter to allow the level to    be run down to lessen the risk of sudden flooding.  6  The conflict between Dickinson and Slater was of long standing: as early as 1863, the mill-owner had urged that Slater be dismissed for incompetence. In 1870, he again charged that flood damage to his mills was a result of Slater's carelessness and requested the superintending engineer's dismissal. Slater responded by reiterating his opinion that floods on the Long Reach were caused by the faulty position of the mills. He argued indeed that the great expenditure necessary to preserve the works at Long Island would not be needed were it not for the obstruction caused by the buildings. Proper execution of his duty, the superintending engineer concluded, required him to recommend removal of the mills.7

Although the conflict between Dickinson and Slater was the most violent clash, it was by no means unique. The foreman of works, Francis Abbott, reported in 1870 that floods had occurred at both Burritts Rapids and Old Slys because the mill-owners had refused to remove their stoplogs and had consequently backed the water up over the government bulkheads. He recommended that steps be taken to compel the millers to open their dams every spring so that government officials could have full control of the run-off to prevent damage to the canal works. In later years, there were further instances of millers attempting to regulate the water solely for their own purpose. In 1910, for example, the miller at Brewers Mills, Frank Anglin, rebuilt his flume at the by-wash in cement with no opening to allow water to flow down into the lower level. Since this obstructed the government weir, superintending engineer Phillips ordered that part of the concrete side of the flume be removed so that water could pass freely even when the mill was not running.8

Control of water was also essential in the watershed area of the system and became particularly important as more dams were constructed to provide a greater reserve. Many of the dams on the Frontenac County lakes which form the main reservoirs for the canal had originally been constructed by millers who used them to raise the water level to float logs out to the Rideau in the spring and, to a lesser extent, to provide water-power for small mills. The millers consequently operated their dams with little concern for the needs of the Rideau navigation. When the level fell late in the summer, reserve water was often prevented from reaching the system by a private dam whose owner refused to remove the stoplogs. In 1868, water stored in Crow and Eagle lakes and required for the Rideau was held back by a dam built by John Korry at the outlet of Bobs Lake into the river Tay. Slater urged that if the dams recently constructed on the two upper lakes were to be of any use, government must have control of Korry's dam.9 A similar problem arose in 1911 at Wolfe Lake above Westport. The government dam at the foot of the lake could not serve as an effective reservoir since a private dam of equal height existed at the outlet of Sand Lake (now known as Westport Lake) on the stream leading to Upper Rideau. Consequently when water was run through the government dam, the level of Sand Lake had to be raised above the private dam unless the millers voluntarily removed their stoplogs. Phillips argued that the only way government could exert effective control of the Wolfe Lake dam was to buy the mill dam. He repeatedly urged this course emphasizing that so long as the structure remained in private hands, the government dam might as well be abandoned. 10 The issue of control of the water remained crucial for the management of the waterway.

In addition to conflict over the use of water, mills along the Rideau had a more direct influence on navigation. During the pre-confederation era, the superintending engineer had frequently complained of obstructions caused by mill refuse dumped into the channel. In 1860, Slater reported that steamers sometimes stuck in the banks of sawdust in the mile-long stretch of waterways between Smiths Falls, with its numerous mills, and Old Slys. 11  Over the years, the material accumulated and presented an increasing hazard to navigation. The problem was particularly acute at Ottawa where a number of mills situated at the Chaudière Falls released sawdust, shavings, bark and logs. This waste drifted into the entrance bay at the locks and threatened to block the channel completely. In his annual report for 1860, Slater pointed out that the lumber refuse also drifted into the lower lock. Several years later, John Page, chief engineer for the Board of Works, advised that the owners of the mills be restricted in their dumping in order to preserve entry into the lower lock at Ottawa. Both he and Slater concurred in the need to dredge the entrance bay.12

By 1871, the problem had become so severe that it merited attention from the royal commission appointed in that year to investigate the obstruction of navigable waterways in Ontario and Quebec by mill refuse. The only part of the Rideau included in the inspection was the entrance to the Ottawa locks but the report represented a distressing picture of the conditions faced by vessel traffic. The commissioners reported that they had approached the locks by boat along the Ottawa River and "found the bay at the entrance to the Rideau Canal to be so fully obstructed and blocked up with logs, square timber, etc., that it was with very much difficulty and by pushing aside the booms and logs, that we could get to the lock."13

The following day, the committee took a series of soundings in the Ottawa on the line of the centre of the locks. with the level of the river approximately 2 feet above low summer level, there was 8 feet 3 inches of water at the stoplogs of the lock, 7 feet at the distance of 60 feet from the stoplogs, 6 feet 3 inches 140 feet out and 7 feet again 180 feet from the locks. With a drop of at least two feet in summer, many of these depths were barely able to meet the five-foot standard depth and one was substantially below it. Even more telling was the description of the material found on the river bottom. At 80 feet from the locks, the first mill refuse was encountered. By 120 feet, the commissioners bored through six feet of loose rubbish before the drill was stopped by slabs and logs. Forty feet farther out, the tests were unable to find the solid river bottom underneath layers of mill refuse.

In the shallowest places the upper 3 or 4 feet of the waste deposit was pretty loose, but from 6 to 8 feet down we found a very hard crust, difficult to force through but when pierced with the boring rod a great quantity of very bad smelling gas was forcibly ejected from below. We were informed that this gas occasionally makes its way up violently, so much so that when the water is frozen to a considerable depth over the bank of sawdust, it upheaves the material of the bank with the ice on top of it.14

The committee concluded their report with the recommendation that a federal act be passed to prohibit throwing any mill refuse, with the exception of sawdust, into lakes, rivers or streams.

Although the obstruction to navigation was undoubtedly most severe at the Ottawa entrance because of the size of the mill complex at the Chaudière, similar problems were encountered all along the Rideau waterway. In 1868, Slater complained that the reach between Smiths Falls and Old Slys was almost impassable even with the water level maintained at one foot above normal.15  The situation was ameliorated after the Department of marine and Fisheries issued regulations enabling charges to be laid against mill-owners who continued to pollute the stream. In September 1869, the department informed a number of millers on the Rideau that since fisheries investigators had stated that they were still discharging mill refuse, legal proceedings would be undertaken against them. The lockmasters and labourers at stations near the offending mills were ordered to be ready to give evidence against the proprietors, owners, tenants or workmen of the mills and as an added inducement were promised payment for their appearance in court as well as a share of the fines if their information was definite and reliable. 16

Although the regulations undoubtedly contributed to an improvement in the channels, one record of legal proceedings against millers indicates that convictions were not easy to secure. On 27 November 1874, lockmaster Matthew Johnson of Merrickville gave evidence against Hiram Easton, owner of a shingle mill in the village. Although Johnston stated that he had seen sawdust dumped into the river and had informed the millers of government regulations prohibiting such action, the magistrates dismissed the case on the grounds that it ought to have been brought against the occupants of the mill rather than the owner. 17 Particularly in the smaller villages, charges against prominent manufacturers were understandably difficult to sustain.

As the smaller mills in the outlying areas declined in importance later in the century, fewer complaints about mill refuse were made. At Ottawa, however, the problem remained acute. In October 1901, Phillips reiterated his complaints about the condition of the approach to the locks. Earlier in the autumn, the water had been so low that the sawdust deposit was within one foot of the surface. On 23 September, in fact, four vessels had been stuck in the refuse at the same time and even with a rise in the water level, "boats forcing their way through it in trying to reach the locks actually plough the sawdust up above water as they go through it."   Although the mill-owners were frequently forced to pay the costs of dredging a channel to the locks, the continuing release of refuse from the mills meant that the entrance bay remained obstructed. 18

This conflict of interest between millers and canal officials represented one aspect of a growing dissatisfaction with the role of the Rideau waterway. Late in the 19th century, an increasing number of claims for compensation for drowned lands were presented to government and much of the discussion concerning these claims questioned the continued value of the canal. The drowned lands claims arose both along the shores of the system and on the lakes which formed its watershed. These latter claims resulted from dams constructed to increase the size of the water reserve for the canal and can therefore be more profitably discussed in connection with this topic.

Along the Rideau itself, two main areas gave rise to a long series of claims for compensation - the Kingston Mills to Washburn reach and the area of Irish Creek between Kilmarnock and Merrickville. At Kingston Mills, drowned lands claims were accompanied by requests to have the water level lowered to reclaim the large area of land submerged by construction of the waterway. In 1884, the Department of Railways and Canals received the first of several petitions from residents of the area urging a survey of the Kingston Mills reach with a view to reclaiming the drowned land. A second petition followed in June 1885, from inhabitants of Storrington and Pittsburgh townships, two of the Frontenac County municipalities bordering the waterway. In response to the first petition, superintending engineer Wise had concluded that the expense of a survey would greatly outweigh any possible benefit. The second memorial required more detailed consideration since its authors put forward a concrete plan which included removal of the upper lock at Kingston Mills and construction of a new lock at the foot of the cut leading to Washburn. The level of the reach could thereby be dropped by the amount of the lift of the upper lock at Kingston Mills. Wise pointed out that the lands drowned by construction of the dam at Kingston Mills had been purchased by the Board of Ordnance and thus belonged to government which was entitled to keep them submerged if desired. Moreover, he reiterated his opinion that the amount realized from their reclamation and sale would never approach the expense of changing the lock system.19

Agitation for lowering the level of the reach continued. In 1886, Wise made a preliminary survey of both shores to determine the amount of land which could be reclaimed. Two alternate plans had been suggested in the petitions. The water level could be lowered 11 feet by removal of the upper lock at Kingston Mills to the entrance of the cut leading to Washburn. The change would involve excavation of 500,000 cubic yards of material and construction of a new lock and waste weir. Wise estimated the cost at $200,000 and pointed out that even with a drop of 11 feet, only a small part of the submerged lands would be reclaimed. Much of the area would still be covered by from one to six feet of water and would therefore form a marshy swamp, increasing evaporation and rendering navigation constantly uncertain. To reclaim all the drowned lands, the water level must be lowered 18 feet by removal of two locks from Kingston Mills to the cut at Washburn. A new channel would then be excavated between the stations. With a cost of at least $700,000, the project was clearly impractical. Moreover, Wise suggested that the amount of rock exposed along the shores indicated that much of the land proposed for reclamation was probably unsuitable for agriculture.20

Wise's unfavourable report on the value of lowering the water level did not end local demands for the alterations. minutes of a meeting of the municipal council of Pittsburgh township indicate the arguments presented by advocates of the proposal. The council contended that the township annually lost revenue because of the amount of untaxable drowned land. Moreover, small streams enlarged by the higher water level required bridges where culverts would have been sufficient before construction of the waterway. As well, fluctuations in the water level in spring caused great damage to township roads and bridges and an additional expense to local ratepayers.21 George Kirkpatrick, Liberal-Conservative member of Parliament for Frontenac, exerted more direct pressure on Prime Minister Macdonald, who as the representative for Kinqston was also sensitive to local dissatisfaction. In 1890, Kirkpatrick informed Macdonald that the residents of the area would be satisfied with nothing less than a complete survey of the drowned lands, preferably by persons not connected with the canal since they believed that government officials were hostile to their requests.22

The continued agitation proved successful. In 1890, Parliament voted $1,500 for a survey above Kingston Mills and after consultation with Kirkpatrick, Wise decided to use the money to ascertain the amount of land reclaimed if the water level were lowered 11 feet.23 Work began early in September 1890, with civil engineer Robert Rowan of Kingston employed on the west side of the river and Arthur Phillips of the Rideau canal staff on the east shore. Soundings were taken to establish the shoreline if the water level were lowered seven feet and with two feet allowed for drainage, a contour line at a depth of five feet was run to designate land rendered suitable for cultivation. Markers were driven to indicate the levels and after the river had frozen, the area was surveyed to establish correct contour lines. 24

Wise's report on the survey findings clearly indicated the impracticality of the scheme and apparently squelched local support for the changes. He concluded that the amount of land permanently reclaimed would be a mere 1,420 acres. In order to obtain this land, a lock with 10-foot lift, a dam and a waste weir had to be built below Washburn. Approaches to the lock as well as the lockpit itself had to be excavated and a 6-1/2-mile channel at least 80 feet wide dredged through the reclaimed land. At Kingston Mills, a granite ridge at the entrance to the locks would require removal, most of the upper lock would be rebuilt and new gates with a greater height would be installed. In all, he estimated the cost at nearly $210,000. Moreover, Wise set forth several problems meriting consideration. From the condition of the shore, he concluded that the channel might run through rock, increasing the cost of excavation. Even were this not so, the bottom would certainly be covered with stumps and these would be difficult and expensive to remove. He also suggested that the land might in fact prove to be of little value for agriculture since the stakes had demonstrated the existence of a large amount of heavy blue clay. Lastly he emphasized the health hazard which would result from laying bare such a large amount of land submerged for so many years. His final statement was unequivocably hostile to the change.

The undersigned is therefore of the opinion, that the lowering of the water as proposed, would be of a very doubtful benefit either to the people along the borders of the Drowned lands or to navigation, and its ultimate cost out of all proportion to the value of the lands to be reclaimed, and other results expected from it. 25

Although the question of lowering the water level on the reach ceased to trouble canal officials, they continued to receive claims for compensation for lands drowned by an alleged rise in the water level. Petitions urging reclamation of lands had complained that areas previously dry were now flooded - caused, they contended, by the water being retained at a higher level at the Kingston Mills dams. Wise consistently denied this allegation, pointing out that the depth of water on the sill at Kingston Mills was still between 6 feet 8 inches and 6 feet 10 inches, as it had been for decades. 26 He concluded that the fact that more land was affected by flooding resulted from the clearance of land and indeed from the farmers' own actions.

What was once a forest of stumps is now an open lake. The owners of the land have further cut up the drift wood which acted as a Breakwater, and consequently the land is now exposed to the full force of the wind which piles up the water more or less on the shores. 27

Wise argued that not only were claims for compensation exaggerated but they arose from causes outside departmental control. Since water was not kept at a higher level, government had no responsibility for the alleged flooding. Political expediency, however, outweighed the matter of technical responsibility and in 1892, the government arbitrator, A.F. Wood, awarded financial settlements for damage claims along the east side of the drowned lands in Frontenac County. 28 In addition to claims from individual landholders, the municipal council of Pittsburgh Township presented a request for money to repair roads and bridges allegedly damaged by a rise in the canal level. The superintending engineer argued vigorously against accepting such claims since canal records proved that the water was not maintained at a higher level than formerly. Moreover, he pointed out that if they were paid, government would be faced with similar demands from every township along the waterway.  Despite Wise's objections, compensation for land damages on the Kingston Mills level continued to be paid during the 1890s. 29

Like those at Kingston Mills, drowned lands claims on the Kilmarnock-Merrickville reach involved both requests for compensation and demands that the water level be lowered. Although complaints about flooding in the Irish Creek area had been received by the department as early as 1869, not until 20 years later did a more organized campaign begin. In 1890, residents of Kitley and Wolford townships on either side of Irish Creek petitioned government asking that the level between Kilmarnock and Merrickville be lowered since parts of their farm lands were now too wet for cultivation. In his report on the memorial, Wise contended that the floods were caused by obstructions in Irish Creek which prevented easy passage of spring run-off. He suggested that if the bed of the stream were cleaned out, the land would drain properly and complaints would cease. Furthermore, he stated that it was impractical to lower the reach by two feet because of the high cost of deepening the channel by removal of several rock shoals as well as excavation required in the cut above Merrickville.30

Claims for compensation for land damages in the Irish Creek area seem not to have been so vigorously presented as those on the Kingston Mills level, perhaps at least partially because of less influential backing. The complaints of 1890 were not acted upon and not until the first decade of the 20th century did the superintending engineer again discuss the claims extensively. In 1906, Phillips blamed recent allegations of high water on the farmers' personal animosity toward lockmaster Johnston of Merrickville. Moreover, he declared that the charges were absurd since all areas along the canal had been flooded because of the unusually damp summer and suggested that if the farmers thought themselves aggrieved, they could take the matter to court to obtain a final settlement.

Unlike Wise, Phillips was prepared to admit that the flashboards on the dam at Merrickville were at least partially responsible for the additional area flooded. Because of the clearing of land and improved drainage, the freshet ran off more quickly and it was therefore necessary to retain the water at Merrickville earlier than in the past. Consequently low-lying land did not dry out until later in the spring and could not be cultivated.32   Phillips suggested that the issue of compensation for drowned lands revolved around the legal question of the department's right to retain water for a longer period by the use of flashboards. At the time of the construction of the canal, the Royal Engineers had paid for all land drowned by the dam at Merrickville up to a small mill dam at the site of the village of Jasper. This private dam flooded a considerable area in the township of Kitley in Leeds County. Because these lands had been affected by the mill dam rather than by the Rideau canal works, no compensation for damages had been paid above Jasper. Furthermore, Phillips stated that he was unable to find any records in the canal office to indicate that the right to flood land above the private dam had ever been transferred to the Royal Engineers or their successors. He therefore concluded that if in fact no compensation had been paid and if no transfer of mill rights had been made to the Royal Engineers, then the department might be held liable for claims arising from lands currently drowned by the dam at Merrickville.33

The much disputed question of compensation for land damages was not easily solved. Early in 1914, Phillips reported that he had received a petition of right from Howard Olmstead, one of the claimants for damages on Irish Creek. In view of the fact that the conflict dated from 1869, the superintending engineer advised that a fiat be issued by government allowing the farmers to take their case to court. He concluded that only by decision of the Court of the Exchequer could the subject be permanently settled.34

The increased number of claims for drowned lands in the later years of the 19th century illustrated a growing tendency to regard the Rideau as an outmoded transportation system with only local value - "neither useful nor ornamental," as Prime Minister Mackenzie had pronounced in 1877. 35  In the years before World War I, however, the only definite suggestion for drastic alterations came from the Canadian Pacific Railway. In May 1910, the vice-president of the railway, D.W. McNicoll, forwarded a proposal to the minister of Railways and Canals for a change in the routes of railway lines within the city of Ottawa. This plan required closure of the waterway from Gladstone Street northward so that a line of track could be laid on the canal bed. McNicoll argued that the small volume of business on the system did not justify its retention.

I think that an analysis of business passing through the canal other than from and to Ottawa, if made, will show that there is more advantage in the proposition I am now making than there would be gained by retaining the canal as it at present exists. 36

This suggestion met with vigorous resistance from a variety of interests in the communities along the canal. They united in condemning the proposed closure and pointed out that it would benefit only the railway to the detriment of the district through which the waterway passed. A resolution of the Kingston city council expressed the opinion that the change would be "very injurious to the interests of this Municipality and of the other Municipalities along the Rideau Canal as well as to the general marine interests of Canada." Moreover, supporters of the Rideau emphasized that the system still had an important role as part of the inland waterways, particularly in view of increasing tourist traffic. The Kingston Board of Trade summarized their views in an official resolution stating

that a large number of vessels use the Canal, that a passenger line makes four trips a week each way between Kingston and Ottawa, that the tonnage carried increased very substantially last season, that tourist and yacht traffic is continually increasing and that for this latter class of traffic the Canal forms a part of a triangular water-way between Ottawa, Montreal and Kingston, which is at present unbroken and is becoming constantly more and more popular.37

The arguments in favour of the retention of the Rideau were also set forth in a memorial presented to government by a deputation of merchants, manufacturers, vessel owners and representatives of municipal corporations and boards of trade from the Rideau area. They contended that the canal provided competition to the railways and was thus a factor in the control of freight rates. The waterway also provided a vital transportation and communication service for its immediate area. Moreover, they suggested that the link between the Great Lakes and the Ottawa River afforded by the Rideau would be valuable in development of the northern area of the province, especially with construction of the long-discussed Ottawa-Georgian Bay ship canal. The memorialists concluded that the company's proposal to end through traffic on the waterway was "utterly preposterous, incapable of support on any fair or reasonable ground, and contrary to every principle of public policy." 38 They argued in fact that rather than accede to the railway's request, government should deepen the channel of the Rideau and improve the water supply on the Kingston descent to render the system more suitable for increased traffic by larger vessels. The proposal was never accepted by the federal government although vice-president McNicoll did take the opportunity of the change in government following Borden's victory in 1911 to present the plan to the new minister of railways and canals, Frank Cochrane.39

This attempt to end through navigation on the grounds that the system was not profitable was not unique. Late in 1914, the city of Ottawa suggested that the minimum headroom of bridges over the canal within the city be reduced from 29 feet 6 inches to 12 feet. This alteration to decrease the city's cost of bridge construction would also have effectively stopped through traffic by business vessels. Superintending engineer Phillips opposed such a step, arguing that continuance of trade on the Rideau was necessary to keep railway freight rates down. As evidence, he stated that rates always rose after the close of navigation in the autumn. Furthermore, he pointed out that the proposed change would involve great expense for the Department of Railways and Canals since the canal basin would have to be maintained for the use of boats coming up from the Ottawa River while new docking facilities would have to be constructed at Dows Lake for vessels on the Rideau. Rideau forwarders would also suffer financial loss by having their terminal situated far from the centre of the city with poor streetcar service and a long haul for freight. Although he admitted it was not a business argument, Phillips also suggested that city authorities should remember that Ottawa owed its very existence to the Rideau canal and that the waterway had in fact been granted to the Canadian government on condition that it be perpetually maintained.401 The city's proposal, like that of the railway company, was not adopted and the system remained intact.

The attempts to limit traffic on the Ottawa end of the Rideau reflected one aspect of dissatisfaction with the role of the waterway. Similarly, conflicts with the millers and the protracted discussions concerning land claims indicated that to many people the benefits offered by the canal were outweighed by its inconveniences. At the same time as its commercial importance was increasingly questioned, however, use of the waterway for recreational purposes became more common and in fact presaged a growing trend in the 20th century.

Problems and Conflicts – Footnotes


  1. Canada. Department of Railways and Canals,,Annual Re ort 1881 (Ottawa, 1882), p. 125.
  2. Public Archives of Canada (PAC), RG11, Series III, Vol. 38, p. 22598, petition from mill-owners, merchants and farmers residing in the valley of the Gananoque River, received 3 May 1872. The conflict over the passage of water through the Morton dam formed part of the demand to have the Gananoque River made navigable with a connection to the Rideau at Morton. For further discussion of the issue, see "Proposed Branch Canals" below.
  3. PAC, RG11, Series III, Vol. 38, p. 25042, report of William Kingsford on petition of millers et al. on the Gananoque, 5 September 1872.
  4. PAC, RG43, B4(a), Vol. 213, Phillips to Fleming, 21 February 1895.
  5. Ibid., Vol. 216, Phillips to R.T. Walkem, K.C., Kingston, 3 December 1902. The waterpower on the Cataraqui was leased at Brewers Mills, Washburn and Kingston Mills.
  6. Ibid., Vol. 206, Slater to Braun, 14 January 1870. For further discussion of the Manotick bulkhead, see below, "Structural Changes, 1832-1914."
  7. See PAC, RG11, Series III, Vol. 238, p. 63583, M.K. Dickinson and William. McNaughton to chief commissioner of public works, 17 March 1863 with two enclosed letters from Dickinson to J.J.C. Abbott, MLA, specifying charges of Slater's incompetence. PAC, RG11, Series III, Vol. 37, p. 10560, Slater to Braun, 21 April 1870. Although Dickinson's request for Slater's dismissal seems not to have been acted upon the superintending engineer retired in 1872 before the normal age of retirement on the grounds of "failing health and energy." PAC, RG43, B4(a), Vol. 206, Slater to Braun, 12 September 1872.
  8. PAC, RG11, Series III, Vol. 37, p. 10628, Abbott to Slater, 25 April 1870; PAC, RG43, B4(a), Vol. 224, Phillips to Anglin, 28 December 1910.
  9. PAC, RG11, Series III, Vol. 26, p. 4847, Slater to Braun, 6 October 1868. For further discussion of reservoirs in the watershed, see "Reservoir Dams in the Watershed" below.
  10. PAC, RG43, B4(a), Vol. 225, Phillips to Jones, 21 July 1911; ibid., Vol. 228, Phillips to White, minister of finance, 12 September 1913. See also Phillips to Bowden, 5 February 1914 and ibid., Vol. 229, same to same, 21 March 1914.
  11. PAC, RG11, Series III, Vol. 35, p. 51158, annual report, Rideau canal, 1860. He repeated his complaint of the navigational hazards presented by sawdust three years later; ibid., Vol. 36, p. 67873, annual report, Rideau Canal, 1863.
  12. Ibid., Vol. 35, p. 51158, annual report, Rideau canal, 1860; ibid., Series VI, Vol. 10, pp. 270-71, Page to Braun, 11 October 1864; ibid., Series III, Vol. 36, p. 71558, Slater to Braun, 26 September 1864, and p. 71917, Page to Braun, 11 October 1864.
  13. Canada. Department of Public Works, General Report, 1867-1882 (Ottawa, 1883), App. 18, p. 595. "Report of the Commission appointed by Order-in-Council Dated 6th November 1871, 'To enquire into and report on the alleged obstruction of navigable streams and rivers in the province of Quebec and Ontario, by deals, edgings, sawdust and other refuse from saw mills;' together with the Act 36 Vic., Chap. 65, entitled 'An Act for the better protection of Navigable Streams and Rivers."
  14. Ibid., p. 597.
  15. PAC, RG11, Series III, Vol. 36, p. 4515, Slater to Braun, 31 August 1868. In contrast, he pointed out that although the mills at Brewers Mills did extensive business, no problem was created because the waste material was carted away and burned.
  16. Ibid., Vol. 37, p. 8136, Whitcher (Department of Marine and Fisheries) to Trudeau, 29 September 1869 with enclosed letters to mill-owners and lockmasters. Letters were sent to Hiram Easton and a Mr. Erritt of Merrickville, Hezekiel Andrews of Nicholsons, Richard Guest and Hugh Conn of Burritts, John and William Ward of Smiths Falls and M.K. Dickinson of Manotick.
  17. PAC, RG43, B4(a), Vol. 278, canal records, Merrickville, 27 November 1874.
  18. Ibid., Vol. 216, Phillips to Schreiber, 16 October 1901. In 1896, Phillips recommended that a channel be dredged at the millers' expense, as had been done in 1889; ibid., Vol. 214, Phillips to Schreiber, 8 September 1896.
  19. Ibid., Vol. 209, Wise to Bradley, 19 September 1884; Vol. 210, same to same, 19 June 1885.
  20. Ibid., Vol. 210, Wise to Bradley, 11 May 1886.
  21. Ibid., Bl(a), Vol. 234, p. 119272, minutes of meeting of the municipal council of Pittsburgh Township, 20 April 1888.
  22. Ibid., Vol. 237, p. 127992, Kirkpatrick to Macdonald, 28 January 1890, and p. 127669, same to same, 17 February 1890.
  23. Ibid., B4(a), Vol. 211, Wise to Kirkpatrick, 14 July 1890; ibid., Wise to Bradley, 12 August 1890, and same to same, 16 August 1890.
  24. Ibid., Vol. 211, Wise to Bradley, 9 December 1890.
  25. Ibid., Wise to Bradley, 21 September 1891. Wise gave an itemized estimate of the costs:

500,000 cubic yards dredging            $125,000

8000 cubic yards dredging lockpit            2,000

12,000 cubic yards dredging open cut            3,000

1 lock complete            45,000

taking down and rebuilding lock

Kingston Mills            10,000

granite rock excavation entrance to

lock--Kingston Mills, 1000 cubic

yards            2,500

waste weir at cut            2,000

$189,500. 10% contingencies            18,950


  1. PAC, RG43, B4(a), Vol.    210, Wise to Bradley, 19 June 1885, and same to same, 4 January 1886. In 1891, Wise had a search undertaken at the Dominion Archives to prove that By had intended the upper lock at Kingston Mills to have seven feet of water on the sill; ibid., Bl(a), Vol. 239, p. 136413, information from Dominion Archives obtained by Charles Costin, August 1891.
  2. Ibid., B4(a), Vol. 210, Wise to Bradley, 21 March 1889.
  3. Ibid., Vol. 211, Wise to Wood, 21 March 1892. Wood was also Liberal-Conservative MPP for North Hastings.
  4. Ibid., Wise to Schreiber, 12 January 1893 and Vol. 212, same to same, 21 February 1893. For sums paid out for drowned lands claims, see Canada. Parliament. Auditor-General, Annual Reports, 1886-1898.
  5. Ibid., Wise to Bradley, 30 April 1890.
  6. Ibid., Vol. 218, Phillips to George Taylor, MP, 23 July 1906.
  7. Ibid., Vol. 224, Phillips to Bowden, 25 January 1911.
  8. Ibid., Vol. 225, Phillips to Bowden, 8 September 1911.
  9. Ibid., Vol. 229, Phillips to Jones, 16 March 1914. A "Petition of Right" is a legal device for seeking restitution of either real or personal property from the crown. The document sets forth the rights which the petitioner claims controvert the rights of the crown.
  10. Canada. Parliament. House of Commons, Debates, 1 April 1876, p. 1003.
  11. PAC, RG43, B2(a), Vol. 312, p. 8702, McNicoll to Graham, minister of railways and canals, 2 May 1910. McNicoll suggested that the flight of eight locks at Ottawa could be retained and a small amount of water allowed to flow over it to form "a very attractive water fall."
  12. Ibid., Sands, city clerk, to minister of railways and canals, 27 may 1910; secretary, Kingston Board of Trade, to minister of railways and canals, 18 May 1910.
  13. Ibid., memorial of deputation attending on Ottawa on the 8th day of December, 1910, in the interests of the Rideau Canal.
  14. Ibid., McNicoll to Cochrane, 20 October 1911. McNicoll stated that the previous minister, G.P. Graham, had thought that the proposal had merit but believed that there would be considerable opposition to any change.
  15. PAC, RG43, B4(a), Vol. 230, Phillips to Bowden, 21 December 1914.

Taken from: "The Rideau Canal, 1832-1914" by Judith Tulloch, Manuscript Report Number 177, National Historic Parks and Sites Branch Parks Canada, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, 1975, p. 30 - 48. Reprinted with permission of Parks Canada.

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