I do not know where to start and what to share as there is so much. But a plaque has been on my desk for decades that reads, “The Best Way to Get Something Done is to Begin.” And, remember, “To Write About Something is to Live it Twice.”
Yesterday (October 3rd) we headed east by bus to Smith Falls (one of the major towns on the canal) to tour the canal museum there. In an old mill building the museum was a simple introduction, but nothing new to me since I had done much preparation into the history and building of the canal.
There was plenty of time there so I ran out and took a short walk to see the abandoned three combined locks (now a water garden) and the adjoining replacement single automated lock.
What is so fascinating about the Rideau Waterway/Canal is that it is essentially as it was when completed in 1832 – a 175 plus living history working museum which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Of the 202 kilometers it covers connecting Ottawa with Kingston on Lake Ontario only 16.2 kilometers were actually cut where necessary to connect the lakes and rivers, usually with locks to circumvent falls and rapids. The locks go up from Ottawa to Upper Rideau Lake summit (the highest elevation of the waterway) at which point the locks step the waterway back down to Lake Ontario – fascinating.
We then bussed a short distance in town to Park Canada’s maintenance yard for the canal. Our group guide is a retired Park Canada employee who spent maybe 20 years associated with the canal, and she had arranged a visit to the Gate Shop where the gates for the locks are made – a place no one gets to see. Up until maybe the 1960s gates were still made on site but now are made in this one facility.
Some great “fast facts” follow. Originally the gates were made of oak found on site, but now Douglas Pine is used brought in from Oregon or Western Canada. The gates are still made of wood instead of steel (used in the three new automated gates) to retain the historicalness of the canal. It can take from 3 to 4 months to make a set (all by hand) and they are built with a slight curve to deflect the pressure of the water to the outer edges. Gates made today last 10-12 years, but the oak lasted much longer. In the 1980s the pine was pressure treated after cut and fitted, and some of those gates are still in service and looking good. Environmentally pressure treated wood is now a no-no. When the canal shuts down in the winter the locks are drained and coffer dams installed to keep water, and ice, away from the gates. Well, I found this all interesting, including the niches cut into the stones for planking to be installed for the coffer dams. Hard to imagine that everything was engineered so long ago and is still utilized
without need for improvement. One last detail I learned later. The wood in the gates is deteriorating faster now also because the rings in the wood are larger. The trees are growing faster and healthier (possibly from specialized tree farming to maximize profits), and since there is less compression within the wood the interior spaces are quicker to rot. Alright, one additional unrelated “fast fact” – how do you survey in a thick and dense and thus dark virgin forest when you cannot see 10 to 15 paces in front of you? You survey at night sending your assistance out holding candles to shoot your survey lines to!
Following lunch back at Hotel Kenney we had a tour of the Jones Falls grounds with its four locks, original 1840s blacksmith shop, lockmaster’s blockhouse quarters, and the unique dam which could be the subject of an entire blog. The layout is ingenious, and the main thing you have to think about in the operation of locks is basically filling and emptying a bathtub. Our guide for the afternoon was the blacksmith. Usually I skip blacksmith shops at restored villages, but this young man was especially knowledgeable in all areas of the site, and I was part of a captive audience. Learned more than ever before about blacksmithing. Do you know why
it is always dark in a blacksmith shop? The smithy has to see the hot metal, and if it was light and sunny inside he could not see his “red hot” work. Also the layout of the blacksmith shops on the canal is not what you usually see. No large doors or wide open spaces because no work was done on horses or wagons. Now, make sure you remember what I tell you for your next cocktail party conversation, you will thank me! I just could go on and on, but the education I am getting will help when I tour England’s canals on my own rented narrow boat (hint Scott, Betty and Rich !!!)
Today, Tuesday I think, we bussed to Poonamalie Lock just this side of Smith Falls to tour back towards the Hotel, but stopping at Chaffey’s Locks where we will begin the second day of our trip. We first passed through the Narrows Lock Number 35 where we got off before our boat locked through. The young lockmaster was passionate about his work and shared so much about the various operations as I will show below. We later transited the Newboro lock before tying up for the day at Chaffeys Lock. Such fun, and the journey continues tomorrow.