2007 Lecture Series
The Rideau Route
an illustrated presentation
by Ken W. Watson
April 15, 2007

In an effort to find new territory for settlement for the growing numbers of United Empire Loyalists the British Colonial Government sent parties to explore the previously unsurveyed Rideau area. In the second Rideau 175 lecture, author and Rideau historian, Ken Watson took the audience on a 1783 canoe trip along the Rideau Route, from present day Ottawa to Kingston, revealing the rapids, waterfalls, marshes and lakes that existed prior to any European settlement along the route. This was the year that Lt. Gershom French made the first survey of the Rideau Route, travelling in two birch bark canoes along the Rideau Route, with “seven men of the Provincials, Two Canadians and an Indian as Guide.” With a remarkable collection of slides, Ken Watson revealed what French, as well as later Rideau Route surveyors, such as Lt. Joshua Jebb in 1816 and Samuel Clowes in 1823/24, would have seen on their journeys. Using many illustrations from his book, “The Rideau Route” Ken described and showed the un-revealed world that lies below the waters of the Rideau Canal – the drowned landscape of the original Rideau Route.

The Rideau Canal Waterway that we see today is a flooded environment, created by the building of canal dams, in 1826-31, to form a slackwater navigation system.

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 a wild place of lakes, marshes, canyons, rivers and sinuous creeks, the latter two often interrupted by rapids and waterfalls.

Much of the geography has changed from the pre-canal era. 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. Watson’s talk set the stage for that tremendous feat of human effort and engineering accomplishment, the building of the Rideau Canal. The exact placement and size of each lock and dam is based on the pre-canal geography. In his talk Ken Watson helped explain how and why Colonel By designed the canal the way that he did.

Watson’s talk was illustrated with many period maps and paintings as well as present day photos. His presentation was based on his new book, “The Rideau Route,” which was officially launched at this talk on April 15, 2007.

On right are Tim Armstrong (voyageur) and Pat Molson   Selling the book


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