2007 Lecture Series

Another Rideau World
Underwater Archaeology in the Rideau Canal
Rideau 175 Lecture, October 21, 2007

Recording a wreck in Big Rideau Lake
In the eighth Rideau 175 Lecture presented by the Merrickville & District Historical Society, Parks Canada Underwater Archaeologist, Jonathan Moore took us on a dive into the murky depths of the Rideau Canal. We see stumps of trees cut for canal passage that stand truncated just below the surface that are a well-recognized hazard for boaters who stray off the marked canal channels. In an underwater video taken in the deep water of Sand Lake, flooded by the dam at Jones Falls we gaze up 30 feet along the trunk of an ancient maple, one of the few examples of old growth forest to be seen in the Rideau corridor.

At virtually every lock location along the Rideau route there were mills powered by the fall of water. A few like Smiths Falls remain relatively intact. At other sites like Andrewsville, Burritts Rapids and Merrickville crumbled courses of cut stones provide only hints of the mills which once prospered there but fell victim to fire and new technologies.

Along the Canal route we glimpse the remains sunken barges and steamers; a few remains of the vessels resting on the bottom of the Rideau, victims of hidden rocks, faulty steam boilers, poor navigation or abandonment once their working lives came to an end. Some like the ‘Mary Bedford’ are clearly outlined and relatively intact, others, are a jumble of inverted boilers and timbers.

Other ghostly remains reveal interim constructions abandoned after the Canal was built. At Jones Falls we see the remains of a wooden bridge used during construction, still caked with the clay used to ease passage over the rough log corduroy road surface. This bridge was also flooded when the waters rose behind the stone arch dam.

Side Scan Sonar
A side scan sonar view of the wreck
of the steam-scow "Robert Anglin"
But, the life of a underwater archaeologist is not spent entirely underwater. Or even partially for that matter. Historical records are searched to find evidence of shipping disasters and references to now lost structures. Initial mapping from the river surface, using a side-scan sonar, reveals shapes and anomalies that bear further investigation. Local knowledge and oral history from long-time residents are invaluable in providing clues to the way things were. These findings are meticulously mapped and recorded prior to conducting an organized dive which then seeks to refine an understanding of the site. Finally, an archaeological reconstruction using the data obtained can give us a vision of what was but is no more.

In his entertaining and informative lecture, he struck a humorous note in noting the presence in the Rideau of some items of future archaeological value: stubby beer bottles, abandoned tires (even whole autos) and, most inexplicably, an unbelievable number of shopping carts.

Jonathan Moore giving lecture    Jonathan Moore in his more usual garb

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