The Forgotten Years of Its Greatest Importance
In the fifth Merrickville Historical Society, Rideau 175 lecture, “Boom Canal Years”, local historian Robert Sneyd describes the years of the Rideau’s most important functionality from 1832 until 1856. Ironically, although the Rideau fulfilled its intended mandate as invasion deterrent well into the mid 19th century, and although it became the main path for commerce and immigration in Canada, competing with all American routes, still, historians have invariably denigrated its role to military white elephant and commercial flop.
In Bob Sneyd’s words: “It is the paradoxical story of the Rideau, Britain’s largest overseas military expenditure, becoming a vital component in the development of the North American economy. For its first 20 years the military canal was caught up in a world of commerce. Yet it is a story that has been largely neglected for 175 years. Ironically, the waterway’s economic significance was even ignored during its commercial hey-day, when it operated as the linchpin of a grand trans Atlantic trading system”.
Using extensive research Bob Sneyd showed that not only was the Rideau Canal considered an important military defense and deterrent to invasion, but, that as the only canal in North America capable of accommodating the burgeoning growth of steam vessels, the Rideau played an essential element to the growth of immigration and commerce in Northern America. It was not until almost mid-century, when canals were built around treacherous St. Lawrence rapids and when water gave way to rail, that the Rideau began its slide into its leisure uses.
It was Bob’s expressed hope that, particularly now in the 175th year of continuous operation, “historians” will recognize the true facts and give the Rideau Canal the credit it richly deserves.
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