Earthquake!

28 February 1925

When most Canadians or Americans think of earthquake-prone areas, what first comes to mind is the west coast of North America, especially California, the site of many memorable earthquakes, including the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 which destroyed over 80 per cent of the city and killed roughly 3,000 people. Baseball fans of a certain age will also recall the Loma Prieta quake that hit the San Francisco area in 1989 and disrupted Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. 67 people lost their lives and close to 4,000 people were injured in that disaster. Property damage was estimated at $5 billion.

Both of these San Francisco earthquakes occurred on the 1,200 kilometre-long San Andreas Fault, the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate, which is sliding northward, and the North American Plate which is moving southward. The fault is part of the “Ring of Fire,” an area prone to earthquakes and volcanoes that follows the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean.  The Loma Prieta quake had a magnitude of 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale (Mw). The moment magnitude, which is typically used today, is calculated slightly differently from the older but better known Richter scale developed by Charles Richter in 1935. But both scales measure the magnitude of the earth’s movement as detected by a seismograph on a logarithmic scale. The moment magnitude scale is more accurate, especially for large earthquakes. The 1906 quake is estimated to have had a magnitude of 7.9 Mw. Although it was only one step larger on the logarithmic scale than the 1989 temblor, it released roughly 32 times more energy (101.5). A two-step increase in magnitude would release 1,000 times more energy (103).

Vancouver and Victoria are Canada’s most earthquake-prone cities. They are located in the Cascadia subduction zone, a 1,000 kilometre-long fault that stretches along the west coast from the top of Vancouver Island down to northern California. Three tectonic plates, the Explorer, the Juan de Fuca and the Gorda, are moving east under the North American plate. This area has been hit by several major earthquakes in the past, including a massive one in 1700 centred off of  Vancouver Island that had an estimated magnitude of 8.7 to 9.0 Mw. In other words, it released roughly 32 times more energy than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and more than 1,000 times more energy than the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1949, an 8.1 Mw tremblor hit the Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) region, north of Vancouver Island.

After the western metropolises of British Columbia, the next most seismically active cities are Montreal and, believe it or not, Ottawa. Both cities are located in the Western Quebec Seismic Zone which has two sub-zones, one along the Ottawa River and the other from Maniwaki, north of Ottawa, to Montreal. Incredibly, there is on average one earthquake every five days in this region. To the east of the Western Quebec Seismic Zone is the even more active Charlevoix Seismic Zone, located close to Quebec City along the St Lawrence. Here, one earthquake is recorded on average every one and one half days. Of course, the vast majority of the earthquakes in both zones are only small earth trembles that are scarcely noticed except by seismographs—but not always. A powerful earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7 Mw struck the Charlevoix-Kamouraska area in 1663, followed by nine days of aftershocks.

Earthquakes, Natural Resources Canada

The Western Quebec Seismic Zone. The dots represent earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher since the beginning of the twentieth century. Source: Natural Resources Canada.

Seismic activity in this part of Canada is not well understood. Much of central-eastern Canada is covered by the Canadian Shield, a massive, ancient, and stable rock formation that makes up the interior of the North American Plate. Lacking plate boundaries, this is not a locale that one typically associates with earthquakes. According to Natural Resources Canada, eastern Canadian earthquakes are due to “regional stress fields” and are concentrated in areas of “crustal weakness.” The end of the last ice age, which had caused land once pressed down by the weight of glaciers to rebound, may be a factor. Some scientists believe that “post-glacial rebound stress” has directly caused earthquakes, or has reactivated old faults which have led to earthquakes.

Ottawa residents are likely to remember the moderate magnitude 5.0 Mw earthquake that struck the nation’s capital in late June 2010. The epicentre was located roughly 60 kilometres north of Ottawa near Buckingham, Quebec. It was felt in Toronto, Montreal and south to New Jersey in the United States. Damage was slight. Some windows were broken, and power was cut in parts of downtown. No injuries were reported.

This earthquake was reportedly the strongest Ottawa had experienced in sixty-five years. That earlier earthquake struck on 28 February 1925 at 9.20.17 pm Eastern Standard Time. The capital was shaken by a 6.2 Mw earthquake whose epicentre was located near Shawinigan, Quebec, 260 kilometres distant, in the Charlevoix Seismic Zone. So strong was the quake that it was felt more than 1,000 kilometres away. On the Modified Mercalli Index, which measures an earthquake’s intensity or effects as opposed to the amount of energy released, the earthquake reached level VIII (severe) (out of ten grades) in the area close to the epicentre. At this level, people panic, trees are shaken strongly, and there is widespread building damage, including fallen chimneys, walls and pillars.

While the epicentre of the 1925 earthquake was more than 200 kilometers further away than the 2010 earthquake, its effects on Ottawa were considerably larger owing to its increased magnitude. A 6.2 Mw earthquake is almost 16 times bigger than a 5 Mw earthquake and is 63 times stronger in terms of energy released.   After the earthquake, The Ottawa Evening Journal reported that the capital had not seen such excitement since Armistice Day that ended the Great War in 1918. Fortunately, there were no injuries and property damage was slight.

The 1925 earthquake lasted ten minutes or longer in some locales, though tremors apparently continued for several hours, keeping anxious citizens awake through the night wondering whether a still larger quake was still to come. Residents of Sandy Hill and Ottawa South were the worst affected in Ottawa, mostly likely because of the soft clay on which these neighbourhoods sit. Some people became nauseated by the rolling motion underfoot which was described like “the swaying of a rapidly moving train or the rolling of a small boat.” This was followed by an intense up and down bumping, accompanied in some areas by a low, thunder-like noise, or rumble. The earth’s movement was most strongly felt by those in the upper floors of apartment buildings, especially those situated close to the Victoria Memorial Museum (now called the Museum of Nature). At the Queen Mary Apartments on the corner of Elgin and McLeod Streets, walls and ceilings cracked, furniture bumped, plaster fell from walls, china rolled off of plate rails, and doors creaked. In the nearby Mackenzie Apartments, several windows broke while on the upper floors plaster dust covered furniture and mirrors broke. Many residents rushed from the building in panic. At the Victoria Memorial Museum, plaster fell from the walls. Oddly, cracks in the entranceway closed, making it the only building to have possibly benefited from the earthquake. The building, which was constructed on clay, had been plagued with cracks since it was completed in 1911. Indeed, the tower above the main entrance had to be removed a few years after the museum was completed for reasons of public safety owing to settling.

At the Auditorium on Argyle Street, the Ottawa Senators had just started the second period of a game with their arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens when the earthquake struck. With the teams locked 0-0, many of the rabid 8,000 fans in the Ottawa Auditorium didn’t at first notice anything was amiss. A loud noise that rattle the arena was attributed to an automobile that had just completed an advertising tour of the rink during the first intermission. According to The Globe newspaper, the arena vibrated violently. A crash, possibly due to a falling window, almost sparked a panic. However, once the vibrations eased, people settled down again to continue watching the game. On the ice, the Ottawa goalie, Alex Connell, thought he was becoming ill. A “shimmy” under his feet made him feel dizzy. He called out to his defencemen that he felt funny. (For those who are wondering, the Senators went on to beat the Canadiens 1-0.)

At the Lisgar Collegiate, a musical event was underway in the school’s auditorium. Miss Roxie Carrier was on stage singing a solo as the Belle of Antiquera in a production of the Spanish operetta “El Bandido.” When the earthquake struck and built in intensity causing the floor and walls to sway, members of the audience began to panic. Shrieks from the balcony brought people to the feet. Many started to head to the exits. However, the presence of mind of Miss Carrier, who calmly remained on stage, as well as the prompt response of the ushers and policemen settled the audience who returned to their seats.

In the hours following the initial shocks, in what may have been an international first, Ottawa’s radio station, CNRO of the Canadian National Railways, broadcasted full and authoritative news updates about the earthquake, relaying the latest information from the Dominion Observatory, which was monitoring the tremors with its seismograph, and from railway agents through the Canadian National Telegraphs. These news reports did much to allay the fears of area residents who were concerned for the safety of absent loved ones. Mr J. G. McMurtrie, superintendent of broadcasting at CNRO, said that the shock was plainly felt at their studio. Conditions were quite alarming for a time at their operating room on the roof of the Jackson building, one hundred and twelve feet above Bank Street.

Although Ottawa was badly shaken, damage was slight. Other cities experienced more serious effects. In Quebec City, there was a general panic. A section of Union Station’s roof was damaged and many windows were broken. Several poorly-built shacks on the city’s outskirts were reportedly flattened. In Montreal, a fire started in the furnace room of St James’s Basilica owing to a broken fuel line causing $10,000-15,000 damage. A stone church in St Hilarion, Quebec also collapsed. Although details are sketchy, newspapers attributed the deaths of two women to the earthquake, one in Trois-Rivières and another in Toronto, due to fright.

Roughly ten years later in November 1935, the same area, including Ottawa, was shaken by another serious earthquake, this time a slightly smaller magnitude 6.1 Mw tremblor centred in Timiskaming in the Western Quebec Seismic Zone 360 kilometres from Ottawa. Again, although the capital region received a good shaking, there was little damage.  The most significant effect was a landslide in Parent, Quebec which took out a section of the Canadian National Railway line.

With increased awareness of Ottawa’s vulnerability to seismic disturbances, work has been undertaken to assess and strengthen existing buildings, such as the Bank of Canada’s head office on Wellington Street, and the Museum of Nature on McLeod Street. Fortunately, the Parliament Buildings are constructed on solid rock and are less susceptible to damage from earthquakes. A major quake could however cause serious damage to historic masonry buildings in the Byward Market area. Timber-framed homes, even those that are externally brick-clad, are likely to fare relatively well as timber frames can flex in response to tremors. Natural Resources Canada’s website provides a useful list of things that can be done to protect our homes from damage in the event of a significant earthquake.

Some words of caution: when earthquakes occur, our natural reaction is to run outside. However, studies have shown that it’s better to drop down, and cover your head preferably close to an interior wall or, better still, under a sturdy table, and wait until the shaking stops. Being outside exposes people to the risk of falling glass, masonry and other debris, a particular concern in high-rise urban areas. If you are outdoors, get away from buildings. If you are in a car, pull over and stay away, if you can, from anything that might collapse such as buildings, overpasses or bridges. Good luck to all should “the big one” strike!

Sources:

CBC. 2011. 2010 quake led Ottawa to change policies, 23 June.

Earthquake Alliance, 2018. How to protect yourself in an earthquake, https://www.earthquakecountry.org/dropcoverholdon/.

Globe (The), 1925, “Eastern Canada and U.S. Shaken By Earthquakes,” 2 March.

Montreal Gazette (The), 1925. “Great Mass Of Rock In Earth’s Crust Slipped,” 2 March.

—————————-, 1925. “Seismic Narrative Told By Broadcast To Radio Fans,” 2 March.

—————————-, 1925. “Fought Blaze In Furnace Room Of St. James Basilica,” 2 March.

Natural Resources Canada, 2016. Earthquakes Canada,” http://www.earthquakescanada.ca/index-en.php.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 2017. “A major earthquake could hit Ottawa. Are we prepared?” 21 April.

————————-, 2017. “Magnitude 3.3 earthquake shakes Ottawa-Gatineau,” 14 August.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1925. “Villages Are Terrified As ‘Quake Wrecks Church.” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Quake Closes Cracks In Victoria Museum,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Many Tenants Of Apartments Were Alarmed,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Ottawa Severely Rocked By Heaviest Earthquake Recorded For Centuries,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Miss Carrier IS Heroine At School Event,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “First Shock Worst Down Quebec City,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “People Of Ottawa Relate Earthquake Adventures,” 2 March.

—————————, 1935, “Locate Centre of ‘Quake 200 miles From Ottawa,” 1 November.

—————————, 1935. “Ottawa Shaken Today By Three Earth Tremors,” 2 November.

Wu, Patrick and Johnston, Paul, 2000. “Can deglaciation trigger earthquakes in N. America?” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 29 pps.1323-1326, 1 May.

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Dow’s Lake and Its Causeway

27 December 1928

Dow’s Lake nestles in the heart of Ottawa much like a pearl in an oyster. It’s the centre of much of the city’s recreational activities, hosting skating in the depths of an Ottawa winter and canoeing and kayaking during the glorious days of summer. The boathouse at Dow’s Lake Pavilion provides welcome marina facilities for sailors travelling from Kingston to Ottawa through the Rideau Canal system. There too you will find canoes and pedalos for rent as well as restaurants to tempt the taste buds of Ottawa residents and tourists no matter the time of the year. Around the lake’s perimeter are parks, pathways and driveways frequented by joggers and cyclists. On one side is the Dominion Arboretum, part of the Central Experimental Farm, a favoured venue for picnics by families and lovers alike. On the other is Commissioners’ Park, the home of Ottawa’s annual tulip festival in May, and magnificent beds of annuals during the rest of the summer.

Of course, this was not always the case. At one time, Dow’s Lake marked the outer limits of Ottawa—beyond here be devils, or at least Nepean. But urban sprawl and amalgamation with surrounding communities have brought it well inside the Capital’s embrace. The lake is named for Abraham Dow, an American who came north in 1814 and acquired “Lot M in Concession C” in the Township of Gloucester. Samuel and Mabel Dow followed him two years later and settled nearby. Much of the Dow land was a mosquito-infested swamp that extended from the Rideau River to the Ottawa River. Roughly two-thirds of the swamp’s water flowed into the Rideau River, with the remainder debouching northward into the Ottawa River. Samuel and Mabel Dow must have despaired of their new home as they returned to the United States in 1826.

That same year, however, things began to change with the building of the Rideau Canal through Dow’s Great Swamp.  To make a navigable route, Irish and French-Canadian workers, labouring under the direction of Lieutenant-Colonel John By’s Royal Sappers and Engineers, built two embankments. The first was constructed along what became the southern end of Dow’s Lake. Work on the embankment was started by a contractor named Henderson but was finished by Philemon Wright & Sons. The second, was constructed by Jean St. Louis, a French-Canadian pioneer in the region. Known as the St. Louis Dam, it blocked a creek flowing northward to the Ottawa River. The creek bed is now Preston Street. The work was difficult and dangerous. Many workers sickened with malaria. But they succeeded in raising the level of the water in the swamp to a depth of twenty feet, more than adequate for boats to traverse. Dow’s Great Swamp had been transformed into Dow’s Lake.

Dow's lake causeway circa 1888

Dow’s Lake, circa 1888. Notice the St. Louis Dam. Today’s Queen Elizabeth Driveway runs on top of the St. Louis Dam. The Central Experimental Farm is on the left side of the map. The “macadamized road” north of the Farm is now Carling Avenue. The railway line to the left of Dow’s Lake is the Ottawa and Prescott Railway. Source: City of Ottawa Archives.

The new lake remained a remote place for Ottawa citizens for most of the remainder of the nineteenth century. But as the city’s population increased, the city expanded southward towards the lake, a process that was accelerated by the creation of the Experimental Farm on Dow’s Lake’s northern fringe in 1886. The extension of the electric streetcar service to the Farm ten years later turned Dow’s Lake into a popular boating and swimming area. One indignant boater of this time wrote an angry letter to the editor of the Journal newspaper complaining that foul-mouthed, naked boys were diving into the Canal at its juncture with Dow’s Lake, swimming under pleasure boats, and shocking the ladies.

In 1899, the Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC) was formed by the Dominion Government for the express purpose of beautifying the nation’s capital which was still largely a rough lumbering town. The Commission’s first big project was the creation of the Rideau Canal Driveway, renamed three decades later the Queen Elizabeth Driveway after the wife of King George VI. The Driveway ran from downtown Ottawa at Elgin Street, along the western side of the Canal, to the Experimental Farm.  This became the scenic southern gateway road into the Capital during the early part of the twentieth century. Conveniently, much of the land used for the Driveway was already owned by the Dominion government as an ordnance reserve.

As part of the Driveway, the Commission constructed a diagonal causeway across Dow’s Lake from the eastern shore of the lake to the Experimental Farm. The first intimations of such an idea emerged in 1900 when it was revealed that the OIC was considering the building of a “pier” across the lake to the Experimental Farm, similar to the one that had just been completed at Britannia Bay. The OIC hoped that the pier would be “of ample width and character to make it one of the prettiest portions of the drive.”

Dow's Lake Causeway ross Dunn Flickr

Dow’s Lake Causeway to the Experimental Farm, circa 1904.  Notice the macadamized road surface. Source: Don Ross, Flickr

In 1902, the five OIC commissioners decided to proceed. It was a close 3-2 vote. One of the dissenters was Ottawa’s Mayor Fred Cook who favoured extending the Driveway around the perimeter of the lake to the Experimental Farm instead of cutting through the lake. However, this would have meant displacing the J.R. Booth Company’s lumber piling ground located on the north-western part of Dow’s Lake close to the St.-Louis Dam. Booth had moved his lumber to this site in 1885, which was then beyond the city limits, due to concerns about the risk of fire—a not insignificant risk. But Booth was a major taxpayer and employer in the city. Weighing the economic and political risks, the Commission apparently felt it prudent to build a causeway rather than displace a company owned by one of the city’s most prominent citizens.

The causeway was constructed in 1904 linking Lakeside Avenue on the eastern side of the lake to the corner of Preston Street and the Experimental Farm, roughly where Dow’s Lake Pavilion stands today. Consequently, Dow’s Lake was bisected, with a triangular northern section cut off from the main body of water. Although the Commission got its way with respect to a causeway across the lake, it failed in constructing a huge aviary that it had hoped to build on the shores of Dow’s Lake similar to the one at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Cost was the likely factor. The Commission had planned to stock the aviary with representatives of every species of native Canadian bird.

The Dow’s Lake causeway lasted for roughly a quarter of a century. Narrow, high-crowned and unlit at night, the causeway was the location of many accidents. Apparently, the sight of automobiles being winched from the lake was not uncommon.

In 1926, the OIC, which became the Federal District Commission (the forerunner of the National Capital Commission) the following year under the direction of Thomas Ahearn, asked the Dominion Government to remove the causeway and extend the Driveway around the lake as originally championed by former Mayor Cook. In March 1927, the Railways and Canals Department of the Dominion Government agreed to demolish the causeway once 2,500 feet of new driveway had been laid through the old Booth piling grounds to the Experimental Farm.

Dow's Lake and Causeway 1928

Aerial map of Dow’s Lake, 1928, taken a year before the causeway was removed. The lake is oriented slightly differently from the 1888 map. The causeway runs from Lakeside Avenue on the right to the corner of Preston Street on the left. The St. Louis Dam is the thick white line that forms the shortest line of the triangular northern section of the lake above the causeway. Source: GeoOttawa.

On 27 December 1928, after the water level in the Rideau Canal had been lowered for the winter, a steam shovel began to deconstruct the causeway. Excavated material was repurposed to reinforce the retaining wall at the lake. Along the new stretch of Driveway, the FDC planted young trees to hide what was left of the Booth piling yards. The project was wrapped up by the end of March 1929. When the water was let back in the lake the following month, Dow’s Lake was restored to its full extent, much to the delight of boaters and canoeists. Residents along the lake were also pleased with the sparkling blue expanse in front of them.

All that was left of the old causeway were remnant rock piles that were covered with several feet of water. Alex Stuart, the Superintendent of the Federal District Commission, assured boaters that these rock piles would not pose a threat to navigation. He expected that there would be roughly five feet of water above the site of the old causeway, more than sufficient clearance for boats on the Canal which typically had a draught of no more than three feet. He also claimed that the action of flooding the lakebed would cause the remaining pieces of the causeway to subside.

Dow's Lake --2017

Aerial Map of Dow’s Lake, 2017.The white dot at the north-west end of the lake is Dow’s Lake Pavilion.  Source: GeoOttawa.

Still, additional work was carried out in 1936 to dredge sections of the old causeway. This action enabled fish to swim into the deeper parts of the lake during the winter. It seems that the remnant foundation of the causeway was sufficiently high to trap fish once the water level in the canal and lake was lowered in the fall. During a cold winter, the shallow water remaining in the northern part of the lake froze to the bottom killing trapped fish.

Today, the causeway is all but forgotten by Ottawa residents. However, when the water is let out in the fall, traces of the old causeway in the form of low, narrow, stone islands that cross the lake can still be seen. Its location can also can be determined with hydrographic charts. 

Sources:

Bytown or Bust, 2008. Dow’s Lake, Hartwell Lock and Hog’s Back, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, http://www.bytown.net/dowslake.htm.

Kingston-Wayne, 2011. Dow’s Lake Causeway, http://kingston-wayne.ca/node/121.

Ottawa Journal, (The), “Chase Those Boys,” 5 July.

—————————, 1900. “A Pier Across Dow’s Lake,” 11 October.

—————————, 1904. “Proposal For Giant Aviary,” 12 March.

—————————, 1904, “Plans For The Ottawa Improvement Commission,” 7 April.

—————————, 1904. “The Ottawa Improvement Commission’s Part In Making The Capital A City Beautiful,” 16 September.

—————————, 1921. “Dangerous Driving,” 21 June.

—————————, 1926. “Have Other Plans To Provide Work,” 4 November.

—————————, 1927. “Laurier Statute Will Be Placed Before July 1,” 27April.

—————————, 1928. “Dow’s Lake Road Will Be Built In Early Spring,” 24 March.

—————————, 1928. “Start Tomorrow Remove Causeway,” 26 December.

—————————, 1929. “Familiar Crossing Over Dow’s Lake Had Now Vanished,” 3 April.

—————————, 1929. “Sees No Danger To Craft,” 4 April.

—————————, 1929. “Dow’s Lake Takes On New Beauties,’ 30 April.

—————————, 1936. “Breaking Hole To Free Fish,” 9 November.

Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, 2018, A History of the Rideau Lock Stations, http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/locks/h01-08-ottawa.html.

Ross, A.H.D. 1927. Ottawa Past and Present, The Musson book Company Limited: Toronto.

Urbsite, 2010. Canal Crossings, http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2010/05/canal-crossings.html.

 

The Canal Basin: Going, Going, Gone

14 November  1927

Readers may be surprised to learn that the Rideau Canal of the twenty-first century is considerably different from the Rideau Canal of the nineteenth century. In the old days, the Canal was very much a gritty, working canal. While it had its share of pleasure boats that plied its length, commerce was its main function. At its Ottawa end, barges, pulled by horses and men along canal-side tow paths, were drawn to warehouses that stretched from the Plaza at Wellington Street to the Maria Street Bridge (the predecessor of the Laurier Avenue Bridge). Lumber, coal and other materials were piled high along its banks awaiting delivery. Consequently, the Rideau Canal was anything but a scenic port of entry into the nation’s capital. Later, railroads and train sheds replaced the warehouses on the eastern side when the Central Depot, the forerunner of Union Station (currently the Ottawa Conference Centre and soon to be the temporary home of the Senate), opened in 1896. While practical, this was not an aesthetic improvement.

The quality of the Canal’s water during the late nineteenth century was also considerably different than that of today. While we sometimes complain about the turbid nature of the water and the summertime weeds that choke stretches of the waterway and parts of Dow’s Lake, this is nothing compared to the complaints of residents of the 1880s. Then the Canal literally stank. The sewer that drained the southern portion of Wellington Ward, the neighbourhood located between Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) and Bank Street flowed into the Canal at Lewis Street. The smell was particularly bad in spring when the effluent that had entered the Canal through the winter thawed. Reportedly, the stench of festering sewage was overpowering. So bad were the conditions, the federal government forced the municipal authorities to fix things. After considerable delay, a proper sewer was constructed.

The other not so delightful feature of the waterway was its flotsam and jetsam. Stray logs—a hazard to navigation—was the least of the problem. Prior to the first annual Central Canada Exhibition held in Ottawa in 1888, one concerned citizen pointed out the many nuisances to be found by boaters on the Canal. These included several carcasses of dead dogs floating in the Deep Cut (that portion of the Canal between Waverely Street and today’s city hall) and a bloated body of a horse bobbing in the water opposite the Exhibition grounds. The citizen also groused about the “vulgar habit” of people swimming in the Canal without “bathing tights.” He didn’t comment on the advisability of canal swimming given the horrific water quality.

The physical geography of the Rideau Canal was also different back then. Patterson’s Creek was much longer in the nineteenth century than it is today; its western end became Central Park in the early twentieth century. There was also Neville’s Creek that flowed through today’s Golden Triangle neighbourhood and entered the Canal close to Lewis Street. The Creek, which was described as a cesspool in the 1880s, was filled in during the early twentieth century.

But the biggest difference was the existence of a large canal basin located roughly where the Shaw Centre and National Defence are today on the eastern side of the Canal and the National Arts Centre and Confederation Park are on the western side.  This basin, which was lined with wooden docks, was used for mooring boats, turning barges, and picking up and delivering cargo and passengers.

Canal Basin 1842 (2)

Map of Bytown, 1842, Bytown or Bust. Note the Lay-By (Canal Basin) in the lower centre of the map on the Rideau Canal. The By-Wash can be seen running north east from the Lay-By to the Rideau River. Barracks Hill will become Parliament Hill in the 1860s.

Before the Canal was constructed, the canal basin was originally a beaver meadow from which a swamp extended as far west as today’s Bank Street. Following the Canal’s completion in 1832, which included digging out the basin, a small outlet or creek called the By-Wash extended from the north east side of the basin. It was used to drain excess water from the Canal. Controlled by a sluice gate, the By-Wash flowed down Mosgrove Street (now the location of the Rideau Centre), went through a culvert under Rideau Street, re-emerged above ground on the northern portion of Mosgrove Street, before heading down George Street, crossing Dalhousie Street on an angle to York Street, and then running along what is now King Edward Street to the Rideau River. In addition to controlling the Canal’s water level, the By-Wash was used by Lower Town residents for washing and fishing. In 1872, the City successfully petitioned the federal authorities who controlled the Rideau Canal to cover the By-Wash. It was converted into a sewer with only a small rump remaining close to the canal basin that was used as a dry dock.

Canal Basin 1888

Detail of 1888 Map of Ottawa, City of Ottawa Archives. Note the Canal Basin. By now, only a rump of the By-Wash remained.

Big changes to the canal basin started during the last decade of the nineteenth century. John Rudolphus Booth, Ottawa’s lumber baron and owner of three railways, the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (the O.A. & P.S.), the Montreal & City of Ottawa Junction Railway, and the Coteau & Province Line Railway & Bridge Company (subsequently merged to form the Canadian Atlantic Railway–CAR), received permission from the Dominion government to bring trains into the heart of Ottawa. Hitherto, his railways provided service to the Bridge Street Station in LeBreton Flats and to the Elgin Street Station, both a fair distance from the city’s centre. In early March 1896, Booth, through his O.A. & P.S. Railway, acquired from the government a twenty-one year lease for the

Canal Basin Evening Journal 30-10-1897

Diagram of the Rideau Canal and the covered eastern Canal Basin, 1897, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 30 October 1897.

east bank of the Rideau Canal from Sapper’s Bridge (roughly the location of today’s Plaza Bridge) to the beginning of the Deep Cut for $1,100 per year “for the purpose of a canal station and approaches thereto.” Lease-holders of properties between Theodore Street (today’s Laurier Avenue East) and the canal basin were told to vacate. After building a temporary Central Depot at the Maria Street Bridge on the Theodore Street side, Booth subsequently extended the line across the canal basin to a new temporary Central Station at the Military Stores building at Sappers’ Bridge.

Canal Basin c. 1900

Detail of Map of Ottawa, circa 1900, City of Ottawa Archives. Note that the eastern Canal Basin has disappeared.

Initially, the railway crossed the basin on trestles, leaving the basin underneath intact while Booth dredged the western side of the canal basin and built replacement docks—the quid pro quo with the government for removing the eastern basin’s docks. It seems that the government was reluctant to allow Booth to fill in the eastern portion of the basin until the western portion had been deepened, fearing that any unexpected rush of water might be larger than the locks could handle leading to flooding. By mid-March 1896, 75 men and 25-35 horses were hard at work excavating the site. The Central Depot at Sappers’ Bridge was completed in 1896, and was promptly the subject of dispute between Booth and his railway competitors who also wished to use a downtown station. There was rumours that if the Canadian Pacific Railway could not come to terms with Booth, it would build a railroad on the western side of the Canal with a terminus on the other side of Sappers’ Bridge across from the Central Station. Fortunately, with government prodding an accommodation was made. Initially covered over with planks, the western portion of the Canal Basin was subsequently filled in. A new Central Station, later renamed Union Station, opened in 1912.

Canal Basin Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys LACanadaPA-023229

Rideau Canal, circa 1911. The western Canal Basin is on the left. Union Station and the Château Laurier are under construction. Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, Library and Archives Canada, PA-023229.

If the eastern Canal Basin was sacrificed to the railway, the western Canal Basin was the victim of the automobile. This time, the Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, was responsible. Consistent with its plan to beautify the nation’s capital, the FDC in cooperation with the municipal authorities decided to extend the Driveway from the Drill Hall to Connaught Plaza (now Confederation Plaza) at a cost of $150,000. These funds also covered the construction of two connections with Slater Street, a subway at Laurier Avenue, new light standards, landscaping, and a new retaining wall for the Rideau Canal. Again, firms with warehouses at the Canal Basin, including the wholesale grocers L.N. Bate & Sons and the wholesale hardware merchant Thomas Birkett & Son, were forced to relocate. By the end of April 1927, workmen using steam shovels and teams of horses were hard at work filling in the western Canal Basin. Huge piles of earth were piled up near the Laurier Street Bridge ready to be shifted into the basin. On 14 November 1927, the last renovations to the Rideau Canal commenced with the construction of the new retaining wall from Connaught Plaza to the Laurier Street Bridge. With that, the old Canal Basin, which had served Ottawa for almost 100 years, vanished into history.

Sources:

Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages, 2017. The Railways of Ottawa, http://churcher.crcml.org/circle/Central_Depot_stations.htm#CARCentralDepot.

Daily Citizen (The), 1895. “Central Station Site,” 1 August.

Evening Citizen (The), 1898. “The New Line.” 11 June.

Evening Journal (The), 1888.” The City Sewerage,” 19 April.

—————————, 1888, “The By-Law,” 27 April.

—————————, 1888. “Canal Nuisances,” 28 May.

—————————, 1895. “Notice to Quit,” 3 October.

—————————, 1895. “Now For The New Basin,” 9 November.

—————————, 1896. “Now For The Depot,” 4 February.

—————————, 1896. “Basin Widening Begun,” 4 March.

—————————, 1896. “Pushing It Ahead,” 11 November.

—————————, 1896. “For The New Station,” 23 May.

—————————, 1897, “Picked From Reporter’s Notes,” 20 October.

————————–, 1897, “Special C.P.R. Depot All Talk,’ 30 October.

————————–, 1898, “The Central Station,” 7 November.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1925. “History of Early Ottawa,” 10 October.

————————–, 1927, “Start Filling Basin Of Rideau Canal,” 26 April.

————————–, 1927. “Artist’s Conception of Park Scheme Proposed by The Prime Minister,” 11 June.

————————–, 1927, “The Railways And he Central Station,” 1 November.

————————–, 1934. “Understanding Shown In Letters Between King Ministry and Ottawa Concerning Beautification of City,” 6 January.

————————–, 1935. “Ottawa’s Beauty Developed On Broad Lines,” 10 December.

————————-, 1949. “Ottawa’s Vanished Water Traffic,” 15 September.

Ottawa, Past & Present, 2014. “Aerial View of the Rideau Canal 1927 and 2014,” http://www.pastottawa.com/comparison/aerial-view-of-the-rideau-canal/474/.