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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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
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.
PO Box 294
Merrickville, Ontario K0G 1N0
website maintenance & design donated by Ken W. Watson
©2007 The Merrickville and District Historical Society