An Irish Lament
I'm bidding you a long farewell, my Mary, kind and true
But I'll not forget you darling in the land I'm going to
They say there's bread and work for all and the sun shines always there
But I'll not forget old Ireland where it fifty times as fair
The Celtic Cross Memorial.
In memory of the over 1,000 Irish labourers and family members that died building this canal.
The Rideau Canal, a Canadian National Park and a World Heritage SiteBetween 1826 and 1832, a series of rivers and lakes was transformed into a canal enabling ship and barge travel between Kingston harbour and the Ottawa River. The War of 1812 had shown that American cannons could command the narrow part of the St. Lawrence River so a canal was needed to provide a secure route for supplies and troops from Montreal to Kingston. To build the canal, locks for the approximately 275 feet required to get up to the Upper Rideau Lake watershed from Ottawa and then about 170 feet down to Kingston were needed. It took 6 years, 45 locks at 23 locks stations, 52 dams, 12 miles of artificial channels and over 1,000, mostly Irish, lives to complete the 126 mile long canal. Less than 50 of those lives were lost to work-related accidents. Seven of the twenty-two Royal Sappers (explosive experts) also died from accidents or malaria.
Malaria was the primary killer of the workers and many of their families. The little McGuigan Cemetery near the Clowes lockstation has numerous rock headstones for those poor souls; many have no markers at all. Clowes lockstation was named for Samuel Clowes, an engineer and the original surveyor for the Canal. Clowes died of malaria while building the lock that now carrys his name.
Forty-four year old James Bigham, my wife Phyllis' gggrandfather, was buried in the McGuigan Cemetery in August of 1840, having contracted malaria while visiting a good friend. Although brought under control earlier, malaria wasn't totally eradicated in Canada until the late 1940s.
Note that the Rideau Canal is still in Imperial units - not metric - as it was when it was built 175 years ago, so I have kept that convention. For example, the engineering documents state that the locks should be 33 feet wide, not 10.0584 meters wide.
Sunday June 10, 2012
Kingston Mills to Upper BrewersThe Kingston Mills put-in above the locks. Plaque for the civilians that built the canal. After an easy 2 hour drive, we arrived at the Kingston Mills Locks. The lockstation is comprised of 4 locks with a drop of just over 48 feet. Portaging kayaks with carts is pretty well impossible due to the long and steep stairs so we opted to put-in above the locks and directly into Colonel By Lake. Packing all of our gear into the 'yaks' proved a challenge, although, by the end of trip, fast and easy. According to Phyllis, who had come down to drive the truck back to Ottawa, the process of packing was great fun to watch. We pushed off at 12:40 into beautifully warm and sunny weather.
White Swans. Doug with his non-waterproof camera taking photos of the swans. A few hours into the paddle, we came across about a dozen white swans swimming close to the north shore. For us it was a rather interesting sight as we'd never seen swans in "the wild" before. In fact, until I saw their size and the length of their necks, I thought that they were snow geese. Our speed immediatly dropped from 6kph to zero as we broke out the cameras and binoculars to enjoy the view. Taking photos from the kayaks with non-waterproof relatively expensive cameras was a tad nerve-racking. However, by the end of the trip, we had became quite adept at dangling $300 cameras over the water - sometimes in fairly rough weather.
Enjoying the shade at Brewers. A lovely spot to overnight. Notice the big orange weed eater used to keep the Cataraqui River channel open. Our original Sunday plan had been to make the 10 mile paddle to and then overnight at Lower Brewers. However, as the weather prediction was calling for a scorching 34° C the next afternoon, we decided to continue with a short paddle to Upper Brewers to spend the night. We topped up our potable water supplies at Lower Brewers but soon discovered that it was too iron rich to be drinkable. Another reason to continue to Upper Brewers on the hopes of good drinking water. Arriving at Upper Brewers, we set up camp quickly enjoying the shade and getting our lower body muscles moving again. Thankfully, the water was usable. The two platforms shown on the right are for kayakers and canoeists. The lower one was the older version with the newer one having no powerboat tie-up cleats, a few rope grabholds at the water-line and a big sign saying that use was restricted to kayaks and canoes. A great Parks Canada idea as the taller concrete jetties are quite problematic for most kayakers.
Monday June 11, 2012
Upper Brewers to Jones FallsDoug enjoying the morning paddle. A really large water snake sunning itself on a rock We were up before 6:00 to get that early start before the crippling heat. It was a wonderful morning paddle. We spotted a very large water snake sunning itself. It was still warming up as I was able to get relatively close without disturbing it. It's the largest water snake that I've ever seen. I'm glad we covered the miles in the quiet and comfort of the early morning, as it wasn't long before the sun started to beat down - and reflect back off the water - so by the time we paddled into Little Cranberry Lake, the heat was taking its toll.
Jones Falls upper lock and blacksmith's shop Jones Falls Dam - a remarkable feat of engineering. We were quite thankful that we reached Jones Falls around noon as the temperatures on the water were getting extreme. The first thing on the agenda was a refreshing swim between the lower and upper locks. Camping was a bit awkward as the best camping was on river right whereas the take-out is on river left. We decided to do the entire portage to above the upper lock and camp near the put-in. Pulling a loaded kayak and cart up that 60 foot hill between Whitefish and Sand Lakes definitely got the blood flowing in our lower extremities; a nice change from kayaking.The Jones Falls Lockstation was quite the engineering project. Before canal construction, it was originally the Long Falls Rapids that dropped 60 feet over 1 mile. A large dam was constructed to drown the rapids and change the water flow over to the locks. At the time of its construction in 1832, the 360 foot long 60 foot high dam was the largest in all of North America and fourth largest in the world. The dam was built in an arch so that no mortar or concrete was needed.
Fortified lockmaster's home As can be seen by the gun ports, this lockmaster's home was fortified to protect the lockstation. It has been totally restored to its 1830 character and filled with many antique treasures from that era. A true gem that gives a realistic feel for lockmasters and their homes. It's called the Sweeney house after the first lockmaster. Unfortunately, due to isolation and the rigid British social stratification of the day, the Sweeney family fared rather poorly. I was given a fantastic tour of the house by Alex, a very personable young lady and knowledgeable guide. Her period costume weighed just over 10 pounds which couldn't have been much fun in such hot 32° C (90° F) weather. Just for fun, supper was venison and a cold craft beer at the Hotel Kenny, a hotel built near the locks in 1903.
Tuesday June 12, 2012
Jones Falls to ChaffeysThe old mill at Chaffeys A large turtle floating leisurely in the canal. The rain that had started the previous evening carried on through the night and into the day; a nice change from the previous two days of heat. Today was the first day that we started meeting large power boats and yachts. This was most likely due to some very interesting passages through narrow channels. The small channel between the Eel and Hanlon Bays can only accommodate one large craft at a time so care is needed when traversing. Less than two hours and 4.3 miles later, we were at Davis Locks and time to portage.
Davis Lock is known as the Solitude Lock as it is the most remote lock in the system. It has the best example, in terms of architecture, of a defensible lockmaster's home. As the upper kayak platform wasn't ready yet, the lockmaster kindly offered us lock access. Unfortuntely, I wasn't paying sufficient attention when lining around an open lock gate and drove the bow of my kayak into a nice chunk of steel where it promptly jammed. It took a few minutes to get it backed out but, by that time, it had lost a good tooney-sized chunk of gelcoat on the lower hull. Ouch, very embarrasing and nobody to blame but myself. Good old duct-tape to the rescue - never leave home without it. It was then off to Chaffey's Lockstation, less than 2 miles further on.
It was a short rather dizzly day, and if it weren't for the "incident", an easy-going one. Chaffey's Lockstation was the only lockstation that we encountered that did NOT have kayak platforms at both ends. Nothing but a ladder at the lower end. So we moved back a bit, found an accessible shore at the point and used that. We set up our tents in the rain and even put up a tarp. We went for a walk and picked up some bottled water. The Celtic Cross Memorial (the photo at the top of this page) was erected here.
The building of this lockstation was difficult due to the overwhelming prevalence of malaria. In the summer of 1828, most of the labourers were sick with "lake fever". Even the prime contractor, John Sherriff, died of malaria that year. All-in-all, a rather nasty and deadly place to work.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Chaffey's to The NarrowsThe Blockhouse at the Narrows. The power boat dock at the Narrows. Photo by Doug. As we only had slightly over 11 miles to go that day, we left Chaffey's relatively late (08:40) - next stop the Newboro Lock 5 miles away.
The Isthmus - now Newboro - Lock is at the lower end of an engineered canal 1.1 miles in length. It cuts through the isthmus that separates Rideau and Newboro Lakes. Like Chaffey's, building Newboro was problematic as malaria took a deadly toll, killing 27 men, 13 women and 15 children in 1830 alone. Most lie in unmarked graves in the Old Presbyterian Cemetery at Newboro.
Once past the rather enchanting canal, it was into Big Rideau Lake, and 4 miles to the Narrows. The Narrows was a welcome sight. It was warm and sunny, had a large grassy area where we could camp and, more importantly, dry our gear and have a swim! Doug's photo on the right shows just how high the regular docks are and why the specifically designed kayak-canoe landing platforms are so important. My tent area must have looked like a garage sale to passing motorists as I had every piece of gear and clothing laying out on the grass drying in the sun. Early evening, one of our buddies, Bruce Watts, drove in with a cold beer, his tent and his kayak. Yeah Bruce! Bruce had come down from Ottawa to paddle Big Rideau Lake with us. The Narrows to Beveridges is 16 miles and we're hoping for a light breeze and an overcast day.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
The Narrows to BeveridgesPulling into Beveridges Locks. Camping at Beveridges Lockstation on the Tay River.
Doug's photo. Most publications state that winds generally blow from Kingston to Ottawa. So much for conventional wisdom as we always paddled into the wind. Even though we were on the water at 07:30, it wasn't long before we had strong winds and no clouds in the sky. Thank goodness that we carried lots of potable water. All three of us are strong paddlers so, inspite of the wind, we still managed a respectable 3.5 mph for a significant portion of the day. We were sometimes down to less than 1.5 mph but nothing untowards. The only real issue was finding places to land and stretch leg and glute muscules. Almost all of river left was either too rocky to land or posted as "no trespassing" by cottagers.
Rideau Ferry was a great spot to stop. We spent an hour sitting in air conditioned comfort enjoying an ice cream. Definitely decadent but certainly worthwhile before heading back into the wind. Less than 40 minutes later we rounded the point and headed straight for our take-out at Beveridges Lock. Beveridges is not in a direct line from the Narrows to Poonamalie but a very nice and quite place to camp. We arrived at 2:30 for a good rest - except for Bruce of course. Bruce jumped on his bicycle and peddled the approximately 31 km back to the Narrows Lockstation where he'd left his car. Doug and my original intention had been to overnight before heading to and ending the trip at Smith Falls. Since the proposed car shuttle to/from Smith Falls was a bit awkward I just jumped into Bruce's car and drove to Ottawa to get the big truck which easily carries all of our gear and the two sea kayaks.
Tout finis! All finished - at least for another year when we intend on paddling the upper half of the Rideau Canal to Ottawa. All-in-all, an absolutely wonderful trip and a great shake-down cruise for our 10 day Georgian Bay paddle this August.