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Your Rideau Ancestor(s)

A common question in the emails that I receive is: "Where can I find information about my ancestor <insert name here> who worked/lived on the Rideau." The usual answer is that there is no easy answer. This page has been set up to help those researching Rideau Canal genealogy.

Before I start in, if you have any sources of information that would help people researching their Rideau ancestor, please let me know so that I can continue to improve the information on this page.

In terms of those who participated in building the Rideau Canal, there are no master lists of such people. The reason is that the canal was built for the most part by independent contractors under the supervision of the Royal Engineers. These contractors hired their own labour force. The "unskilled" workers (pick & shovel, axe, wheelbarrow, pumps) were immigrant Irish and French-Canadian with the skilled workers (stone masons, carpenters, quarriers, blacksmiths, etc.) a mix of French-Canadian, English-Canadian, Scots, Irish and Brits. The records of these people are spotty and this is one reason that arguments continue to this day over how many people actually worked on the canal. It is estimated that on an annual basis from 2,500 to 4,000 people worked on the canal, but the estimates of the total over the period of construction (1826-1832), taking into account death and employee turnover, vary from 4,000 up to about 10,000. To truly research this information you'll have to visit the Library and Archives Canada who hold most of original records about the construction of the Rideau. Note, you'll have to go there in person (they have not posted any Rideau records on the Internet).

Several memorials to the workers on the canal (a very rough guesstimate is that about 1,000 men, women & children died during construction, at least half of those from malaria, most of the rest from other diseases) have been erected. A list and photos of these can be found on the Memorials and Markers page.

The most complete list of Irish canal workers is perhaps the "McCabe List" This is actually a petition, signed by 673 individuals, mostly Irish canal workers in Bytown, in 1829. It lists their name, place of origin (county, parish & town), and relatives in Ireland who might wish to emigrate to Canada under the terms of the petition.

Not much more is known about immediate post-Canal settlement along the Rideau. Many of the labourers left to work on other jobs. Some migrated to the more urban centres of Kingston and Bytown. A few stayed. The 1840s brought in fresh waves of settlers including Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine, many of whom settled in the northern Rideau region.

The information and links below will hopefully provide some assistance in your search. Note that most of these links will lead you to other websites that will allow you to do more detailed searching.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Books about Ottawa or Kingston are not listed since there are hundreds. However, I have posted a list which covers the majority of books written about the Rideau. See the Rideau Bibliography Page. A few of the more pertinent books (in no particular order) are listed below. Not listed, but of significant genealogical interest are the various "Tweedsmuir Histories," community histories done by the various Tweedsmuir Women's Institutes of Ontario (there is a project underway to scan these and place them online at These and the books listed below might be found in a local library or genealogy society library. Some books are current and might be found for sale on sites such as Some are out of print and might be found as reprinted version at a place such a Global Genealogy, or for sale as a used book, the best place to search for these is

  • History of Leeds and Grenville by Thad. W.H. Leavitt. Originally published in 1879, reprinted by Mika Publishing in 1980.
  • Invisible Army by Ed Bebee, Friends of the Rideau, 2010. Info about the lock staff from 1832 to 2010.
  • Labourers on the Rideau Canal, 1826-1832, from Work Site to World Heritage Site edited by Katherine M.J. McKenna, Borealis Press, 2008 (contains a chapter about reseaching your Rideau ancestor by Bruce Elliott).
  • Smiths Falls - A Social History of the Men and Women in a Rideau Canal Community, 1794-1994 by Glenn J. Lockwood. Motion Creative Printing, 1994.
  • Hub of the Rideau - A History of South Crosby Township by Susan Warren. The Haynes Printing Company (Cobourg) Ltd., 1997.
  • Merrickville, Jewel on the Rideau by Larry Turner. Petherwin Heritage, 1995
  • Montague - A Social History of an Irish Ontario Township, 1783-1980 by Glenn J. Lockwood. Mastercraft Printing and Graphics, 1980.
  • A Pioneer History of the County of Lanark - by Jean S. McGill. T.H. Best Printing, 1968.
  • Kars on the Rideau - by Coral Linday. Tri-Graphic Printing Ltd., 1972.
  • Perth, Tradition & Style in Eastern Ontario by Larry Turner. Natural Heritage / Natural History, 1998
  • Hearth and Heritage, History of Chaffey's Lock and Area by Laurel Fleming. Brown & Martin Ltd, 1981
  • Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Leeds and Grenville by Mika Publishing, 1973
  • Carleton Saga by Harry and Olive Walker, The Runge Press, 1968.
  • Bytown, The early days of Ottawa by Nick and Helma Mika, Mika Publishing, 1982.
  • Rideau Reflections, South Crosby area history by G. Clare Churchill, 1000 Island Publishers, abt. 1992
  • South Elmsley in the Making 1783-1983, by James R. Kennedy, Township of South Elmsley, 1994.
  • Lilacs and Limestone - An Illustrated History of Pittsburgh Township, 1787-1987, by William J. Patterson, Pittsburgh Historical Society, 1989.
  • The Rear of Leeds and Lansdowne, The Making of Community on the Gananoque River Frontier, 1796-1996, by Glenn J. Lockwood. The Corporation of the Township of Rear of Leeds and Lansdowne, 1996.
  • The McCabe List, Early Irish in the Ottawa Valley, by Bruce S. Elliott. Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto, 2002
  • Military Paternalism, Labour, and the Rideau Canal Project, by Robert W. Passfield. Authorhouse, 2013
Internet Sources:

Historical Societies:

Historical societies tend not to do genealogy, but they often have background information on the historical period in which your ancestor lived. There are several societies active in the Rideau Corridor, including:

  • Early Lockmasters - listings of the lockmasters in the 19th century for each of the Rideau lockstations can be found in each section of my book, "A History of the Rideau Lockstations" which you will find on-line by following this link.
  • United Empire Loyalists - a little section on this website about United Empire Loyalists.

Comments: send me email: Ken Watson

©1996- Ken W. Watson