Building the Rideau Canal and the Making of the Ottawa Working Class

Tour Details

Between 1826 and 1832, the Rideau Canal was built by the British colonial authorities for military defence purposes. More than 200 km. in length and including 45 locks, the canal uses the Rideau River, Rideau Lakes and the Catarqui River to join Ottawa and Kingston.

This 2.5 to 3 hour tour visits the first section of the Rideau Canal to discuss the work done by the Irish Navvies, French Canadian labourers, skilled stonemasons and others who built it (1826-32) under military and contractor supervision. The tour covers wages, working and living conditions, racial discrimination, riots and protests by the workers, and the high incidence of accident, disease and death.

Other topics covered while exploring the area around the first 8 locks of the canal include:

  • The Ottawa River as Algonquin territory and the founding of Gatineau (Wrightville)
  • The reasons for building the Rideau Canal
  • How the six year construction project was organized
  • Construction methods and the role of the British soldiers
  • Housing conditions and social class in Bytown (Ottawa)
  • Corktown: the Irish shantytown
  • The graveyard
  • How canal building helped make a Canadian working class

Those interested in learning more about the topics covered can consult:

  • Labourers on the Rideau Canal – 1826-32: From Work Site to World Heritage Site,  edited by M J McKenna, , Borealis Press, Ottawa, 2008
  • Common Labour: Workers and the Digging of North American Canals, 1780-1860, Peter Way, John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1993

These books are available at Octopus Books (downtown location): 251 Bank Street, 2nd floor.
Phone: (613) 688-0752

Book Rideau Canal Tour

  • All tours are $35 (cash) payable at the end of the tour.
  • Tours must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. (You will receive confirmation of your booking.)
  • Tours proceed rain or shine and begin at the giant spider statue (Maman) in front of the National Gallery on Sussex Drive.
Book Rideau Canal Tour

Starting Point