Honouring those who perished building the Rideau Canal
than 500 workers died constructing
the historic waterway between 1826 and 1832
Ottawa - A new monument to workers has appeared within the shadow of
A simple Celtic cross commemorates more than 500 labourers who were
killed during the construction of the 200-kilometre Rideau Canal
between 1826 and 1832.
The monument is located on a peaceful hillside next to the first of
eight locks that lie between Parliament Hill and the landmark Chateau
Laurier Hotel, where canal system connects with the Ottawa River.
Many of the men who died during the intense construction project
perished in blasting accidents, others from typhoid and malaria, still
others from drowning.
Most were Irish immigrants who came to Canada desperate for work and
were quick to sign up for the difficult and dangerous project, headed
by a hard-driving Royal Engineer named Colonel John By. Many of the
victims lie buried in unmarked graves along the waterway, which
stretches from Ottawa to Kingston, at the head of Lake Ontario.
The original purpose of the canal was to open a safe shipping and
military route between Montreal to the Great Lakes. Today the canal is
a thriving waterway, used mainly by pleasure boats. It is operated in
much the same way as when it was built.
The monument was unveiled in a ceremony that included descendents of
some of the workers, Mayor Bob Chiarelli of Ottawa and Martin Burke,
the Irish ambassador to Canada.
Planning and development work for the memorial was carried out by the
Rideau Canal Celtic Cross Committee, chaired by Sean McKenny of the
Ottawa and District Labour Council. Various groups, including injured
workers and individual unions, played a role.
The National Union of Public and General Employees was among the
organizations contributing to the memorial and providing support to
"Nothing could be more fitting than to honour the contribution made by
these workers to the building of our country," says NUPGE president
"They gave their lives to build a great waterway, which endures to
this day as one of our Canada's most treasured national landmarks. To
each and everyone of these nameless workers we owe a debt of
gratitude. With this monument, we will remember them and honour their
place in our history."
Celtic cross overlooking the first locks of the Rideau Canal
"In memory of the 1,000 workers & their families who died building
The Rideau Canal
begins with a system of eight locks that raises and lowers boats
between the Ottawa River and the 200Km-long canal system.
Web posted by NUPGE
2 August 2004