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Behind the Scenes
Maintenance of the Canal

This article originally appeared in the Winter/Spring, 1999 issue of the Friends of the Rideau newsletter, The Rideau Ripple. It was based on information received from Kathy Best of Parks Canada

We all enjoy the beauty of the locks, and love watching boats (or being in one) as the lock moves them up or down. The workings of the locks are a marvel of 18th century engineering, however their continued opera-tion are a marvel of 20th century maintenance. If just one lock fails during navigation season, the Rideau is no longer a full navigation route. The quiet, efficient operation of the locks belie the fact that a great deal of maintenance is required to keep the locks looking quaint, charming, and in full operational order.

It is during the off season that much of the mainte-nance is done. Once the navigation season ends and stop logs are put in place, the locks can be drained and maintenance performed. In addition to the locks, there is the conservation of the heritage buildings associated with the locks, and maintenance of other items such as the swing bridges and retaining walls.

In 1998, some of the work performed included re-pairs to the wall at Kingston Mills, replacement/repairs of gates at locks such as Old Slys, the completion of the cleaning of Victoria Creek and rebuilding of the stone walls along the creek. The lockmaster's house at Davis Lock underwent extensive stabilization, renovation and reconstruction. Without this type of work, a building such as the lockmaster's house would eventually crumble with decay. Most of the work is performed using both Parks maintenance employees and seasonal lock staff.

In 1999, several projects will be going on. At Edmonds Lock this spring, sections of the lock will be repointed and pressure grouted. The pressure grouting is used to stop the inflow of water through the masonry structure. Pressure grouting will also be used in one of the upper sills at Jones Falls. In addition, at Jones Falls, concrete work will be done as a temporary measure until more extensive remediation work on the lower flight of locks can be performed in 2004.

In May, the second phase of the painting of the swing bridge at Old Sly's lockstation will done. The masonry piers and abutments of the Beckwith Street bridge in Perth will be pressure grouted and pointed. The underwater pointing of the masonry will be done by divers.

In late summer/early fall on-going maintenance work on the west clay dam at Kingston Mills will resume. This work will include the removal of large trees, the installation of sheet piling when leakage holes are starting to develop and the widening of the dam in some areas. The last major project for 1999 will be repointing and pressure grouting of the upper lock at Long Island. This gives you some idea of what goes on. Much of the maintenance is scheduled preventative maintenance, fixing problems before they occur. However, with capital budget cutbacks in the past few years, a few new problems are cropping up. For instance some unscheduled emergency repair work had to be done at Kingston Mills this fall.

Colonel By would be proud to see his locks in operation today. It is also a testament of our love of Canadian Heritage that we have not allowed a treasure like the Rideau to fall into decay. A big thanks goes out to the men and women who perform this maintenance work. A job well done!

Comments: send me email: Ken Watson

©1996- Ken W. Watson