2007 Lecture Series

Lieutenant Pooley with Colonel By at Merrickville United Church
It’s Official !
Merrickville and District Historical Society
175 Lecture Series a Great Success

Over the last nine months, the Merrickville & District Historical Society has presented a memorable series of lectures celebrating the Rideau Canal and its 175 years of history. Subjects were chosen and presented by recognized authorities who provided an entertaining and informative perspective on the Canal, its origins, its uses, its successes and failures and its people.

Arriving at the Historic Merrickville United Church for the first lecture in March, attendees were greeted by Colonel By himself, assisted by Lieutenant Pooley realistically portrayed by Allan Meltzer and Steve Dezort.

From the opening overview lecture by Professor Emeritus Brian Osborne to the concluding summary in November by Doug Stewart the lecture series was a popular success by any account. On average some 240 keen Rideau history buffs attended from all up and down the canal and beyond (one enthusiast commuting on lecture day to and from Toronto for five of the nine lectures).

Brian Osborne   Doug Stewart
Professor Brian Osborne
Professor Emeritus
Queen's University
  Doug Stewart
Director General, National Parks
Parks Canada

To a large measure the success of the lecture series can be attributed to the quality of the speakers all of whom were published authors, historians and popular raconteurs.

Faced with the daunting task of portraying the multifaceted Rideau history, John Cowan, Past President of the Merrickville & District Historical Society and his committee of volunteers sought to find respected lecturers who would guide their audiences on a Rideau journey through history.

Ken Watson
Rideau Voyageur Ken Watson
The expedition began in 1783 with a canoe trip along the Rideau Route with Lt. Gershom French whom the British sent to survey the river systems from present day Ottawa to Kingston. Following the American Revolution of 1776, and with the echoes of war still ringing, the British Colonial Government sought new safe land for settlement for the thousands of Loyalists crowding into Sorel Quebec and the St Lawrence north shore. The land of lakes and rivers north of the St. Lawrence had been known for over a hundred years but had seldom been accessed except by the Native People who had known it as home for thousands of years.

With Ken Watson at the helm of our voyageur canoe we rode through the rapids, paddled through the marshes and lakes and forded the waterfalls that existed prior to any European settlement along the route. In the pre-canal era, the Rideau Route spanned three watersheds, those of the Rideau River, the Gananoque River and the Cataraqui River. It was much different from the present landscape.

A wild place of lakes, marshes, canyons, rivers and sinuous creeks, the latter two often interrupted by rapids and waterfalls it was much different than the serene controlled environment of today. Watson showed why, in the pre-canal era, there were no waterfalls at either Hog’s Back Falls or Jones Falls and why Lt. French ended up paddling to Gananoque rather than Kingston. While these initial surveys were primarily intended to encourage settlement, they soon took on a greater importance as the need for a canal system developed. New surveys were conducted and choices utilizing the existing topography were made to determine the present slackwater Canal route.

Victor Suthren
Victor Suthren as
1812-14 Royal Navy Lieutenant
In the third Rideau 175 Lecture Victor Suthren took us through the battles of the war of 1812 that threatened to end British rule in North America and indeed, Canada itself. Immersing himself in the role, Victor Suthren dressed as an 1812-14 Royal Navy Lieutenant, described the critical sea-saw battles of the war on land and water, wherein at numerous stages given more competent leadership, one side or the other could been victorious. When finally the war concluded, the British Military recognized that had the Americans choked off supplies to Kingston on the St. Lawrence, the war would have soon been lost.

Consequently, the British Government influenced by the Duke of Wellington ordered that a secure canal route between Montreal and Kingston be established. The route through the newly settled Rideau/Cataraqui corridor was a logical selection and in 1826 Royal Military Engineer Colonel By began the job.

Mark Andrews
Mark Andrews
Faced with the daunting task of describing the immense work of constructing the Canal, Mark Andrews chose to describe the construction of the Canal in terms of the major influences that determined its configuration at three particular locations along the route. At he Jones Falls dam he demonstrated the ingenious engineering accomplishment of Colonel By’s Royal engineers in constructing at the time the largest masonry dam in the world.

At Hog’s back it was left to Philemon Wright’s frontier ingenuity to resolve a problem which had twice defeated the best efforts of the same Royal Engineers who triumphed at Jones Falls. And, at the eight entrance locks at Bytown it was not the Engineers nor Surveyors who determined the route, but rather avaricious politicians and land speculators that caused the canal to be constructed in perhaps the most difficult and inappropriate location.

Coral Lindsay, Bob Sneyd and Mark Jodoin
Coral Lindsay, Bob Sneyd, and Mark Jodoin
Bob Sneyd, Coral Lindsay and Mark Jodoin spoke to the mainly unheralded success of the Rideau Canal as a corridor for commerce, immigration and leisure during the romantic era of steam, Using extensive research Mr. Sneyd showed that not only was the Rideau Canal considered important for military defence but, that as the only canal in North America capable of accommodating the burgeoning growth of steam vessels it served as a main corridor for immigration and commerce in Northern America.

Coral Lindsay and Mark Jodoin presented stories and images of this early commercial navigation and westward immigration during the 1830s to the 1850s and on through the Victorian period. Through images collected by Coral Lindsay, whose family operated the Lindsay Warf in Kars, for over 100 years, we were able to relive this romantic era until its demise when, in 1935, the last steam vessel, the graceful Ottawan made its final passage back to Ottawa.

Glenn J Lockwood
Glenn Lockwood
But of course, the main story of the Rideau is closely tied to the people who came to settle along its shores. Not only did it supply a livelihood for workers along its route, but it influenced the entire population who were drawn north of the St. Lawrence by its presence and the new settlement areas created.

Glenn Lockwood, in an entertainingly personal presentation told of the struggles of two Rideau district immigrant families, the Lockwoods and the Edgars, and the British Governments largely unrecognized subterfuge to assimilate the (suspected) less than loyal American arrivals into the larger Irish Rideau immigrant population.

Jonathan Moore
Jonathan Moore
Finally, Jonathan Moore took us on an underwater archaeological dive to another Rideau world beneath the surface of the Canal to reveal the skeletons of canal construction sites and forest landscapes, which disappeared from view when flooded to create the new navigable waterway.

In recognition of their contribution to the series, each speaker was presented with an attractive commemorative Rideau 175 plaque donated by Karl and Linda Feige of Alloy Foundry and Metalsmiths in Merrickville. Cast at the Alloy Foundry, the plaques are particularly significant commemorations. Dating back to the decade following the opening of the Canal, the Alloy Foundry is the oldest continuously operating foundry in Canada and the wood upon which the castings are mounted is recycled wood from the Canal donated by Parks Canada.

Sheena and John Cowan
Sheena and John Cowan
Upon seeing the first plaque, lecture Chairman John Cowan was heard to remark “They are so great, I wish I was a speaker myself!” While not able to rise to that challenge, Cowan none the less was recognized for his Committee leadership role with a surprise presentation of a plaque of his own at the final lecture. His wife Sheena was presented with a bouquet of roses for her efforts on the organizing committee (and keeping John more or less sane) over the last two years.

Very special thanks were extended to our hard working Lecture Committee: Beverley Burpee, Sheena Cowan, Nina Donald, Denis Faulkner, Gillian Gray, Jim Skelding and Victor Suthren, as well as to many others who lent a hand both in planning and conducting the series.

The Merrickville & District Historical Society is grateful to its Patrons and Sponsors who supported the series,

Patrons: Lenore Newma, the Village of Merrickville-Wolford, the Heritage Merrickville Foundation

Sponsors: Alloy Foundry & Village Metalsmiths, Rowland Leather, Prudential Town & Country Realty, Sam Jakes Inn, Finnegan Insurance Brokers, Stone House Gallery, Dr. Alison Greenop, BDS, G. Tackaberry & Sons, Hammond~Osborne, Barristers & Solicitors, Valley Bus Lines, Millers of Merrickville, Millisle Bed & Breakfast, Mrs. McGarrigle's Fine Food , Minto Foundation Inc, Wolford House Bed & Breakfast, Wood-N-Feathers, Anonymous Sponsor and Contributors

Merrickville United Church Sanctuary
Thanks also to the Reverend Christine Lowson and the congregation of the beautiful Merrickville United Church for allowing us to use their historic Sanctuary, and in particular thanks to Hugh Little who videoed all of the lectures. And thanks to all the volunteers who helped and of course most importantly to all our members and supporters. Merrickville United Church Sanctuary

And to our speakers, Brian Osborne, Ken Watson, Victor Suthren, Mark Andrews, Bob Sneyd, Glenn Lockwood, Coral Lindsay and Mark Jodoin, Jonathan Moore and Doug Stewart, thanks for the enlightening and entertaining presentations.

And, finally, thank you to the faithful attendees. Over the nine months total attendance topped 2000 people, making the 175 Series one of the most successful celebratory events of 2007.

Back to 2007 Lecture Series Page

Merrickville and District Historical Society
PO Box 294
Merrickville, Ontario K0G 1N0
email: info@merrickvillehistory.org

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