Safe Passage: Aids to Navigation on the St. Lawrence
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1850-1885, 19th century
Ink on paper on supporting paper - Wood engraving
15.4 x 21 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Architecture (8646) , Print (10661)
Keys to History
The main impetuses in the development of Canadian shipping routes in the 19th century were economic and social. But there was another important reason: fear among the Imperial powers in London of the American threat. On two previous occasions (during the American Revolution of 1775 and the War of 1812) the Americans had compromised the safety of the St. Lawrence navigation routes and revealed the weaknesses of the network.
Aware of this strategic liability, in 1817 British authorities started work on improving inland shipping in Canada, in particular the Ottawa River route and the Rideau Canal. The largest public works projects were launched, however, after 1840 and the Act of Union. The Act opened the way for local authorities to borrow large sums of money in London and thus to finance such undertakings.
The Rideau Canal, which was almost 278 kilometres in length, was built so that Canada's inland waterways would be further away from the American threat. Recall that during the War of 1812 the Americans invaded Canadian territory and compromised the safety of shipping on the St. Lawrence River.
The Rideau Canal connects the Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence River along a north-south axis. From its northern end, next to the city of Ottawa (formerly called Bytown), the canal runs south to Kingston, where it meets the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.
The Rideau Canal was built between 1826 and 1832 under the direction of Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Considered at the time a marvel of Canadian maritime engineering, the canal is still open as a navigable route, making it the oldest canal of its type in continuous use in North America.
Approximately 2000 men worked on the construction of the waterway. Many fell ill with malaria while living at the site, where conditions were extremely unsanitary. It is estimated that one-quarter of the workforce, some 500 men, died either of malaria or accidents while working on the canal.