Other Architectural Endeavours

Besides the canal itself, a number of other important buildings needed to be designed and strategically placed in order to ensure that the project could be carried out efficiently and with minimal disruption. The Commissariat and Ordnance buildings were built directly beside the proposed Bytown Locks site and served as the project headquarters, as well as convenient storehouses for food, hardware, and other provisions needed specifically for the Bytown Locks. The Commissariat is also where all the building contracts and paycheques were prepared, making it the business centre of the project. Soldier barracks and a hospital were constructed on what is now known as Parliament Hill, providing lodging accommodations for the military and medical care for the sick and injured. As leader of the canal project, Lt. Col. By had his own house built on the east side of the canal, which is known today as Major’s Hill Park.

Points of Interest

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[Source: Locks On The Rideau Canal at Bytown, Canada West. Alice Mary Fulford (artist), W.H. Coverdale collection of Canadiana Manoir Richelieu collection, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1970-188-2159, C-040260; “The Commissariat Building” [Animation]. Dr. Stephen Fai. Carleton Immersive Media Studio. 2012.]

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The Commissariat Building

The contracts for construction of the Commissariat building were let in February 1827, and eventually granted to Thomas McKay. Its construction took a mere six months to complete, earning McKay praise for his efficiency as well as his fine craftsmanship. The stones used in its construction were taken directly from Entrance Valley excavation, as was the timber used to reinforce its walls and roof. The Commissariat building fulfilled multiple roles throughout the years. The ground floor acted as a storage space for bulk food provisions (from salt pork to rum) and supplied construction hardware and fuel needed through different stages of work. Today it houses Ottawa’s Bytown Museum and is recognized as the city’s oldest stone building.

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[Source: “Lt. Col. John By’s Residence” [Animation]. Dr. Stephen Fai. Carleton Immersive Media Studio. 2012.; Lower Bytown (Ottawa). Philip John Bainbrigge fonds, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1983-47-72, C-002163]

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Lt. Col. John By’s Residence

By June 10, 1827, Lt. Col. By had moved from his initial residence in Hull and relocated to his new house on Colonel’s Hill, now known as Major’s Hill Park. There is little detailed evidence of the estate, and the historical drawings that do exist often differ on the scale and size of the house, but it appears to have been a one-and-a-half storey rubble stone building with two large chimneys and a large three-sided verandah. The prominence of the location was remarked by Joseph Bouchetter (Surveyor General of Lower Canada), who visited Lt. Col. By in 1828. His personal description of the view from Lt. Col. By’s verandah speaks to the beauty of Entrance Valley and the allure of the Ottawa River.

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[Source: “Barrack Hill” [Animation]. Dr. Stephen Fai. Carleton Immersive Media Studio. 2012.; Lt C. Sedley, “Bytown C.W. Plans, elevation and sections of the Barracks”, [1852], Library and Archives Canada, NMC-0023053]

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Barrack Hill

Barrack Hill, now the site of the Parliament of Canada, was heavily used by military personnel during the canal’s construction period and beyond. After reviewing several draft proposals, By decided on three housing barracks, each measuring 108 feet (33 metres) by 70 feet (21 metres) in size. The buildings were constructed almost identically using rubble stone and wood, and were divided into sixteen rooms plus a garret or attic. By the summer of 1827, two companies of Royal Sappers and Miners-162 men in all-had arrived on site and promptly took up residence in the barracks, which were still unpainted and sparsely furnish due to their uncertain future use. On January 5, 1832, one of the central barracks being used as a mess room and officers quarters was lost to a fire. It was never rebuilt.

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[Source: “Ordnance Office” [Animation]. Dr. Stephen Fai. Carleton Immersive Media Studio. 2012.; Unknown Artist, The Government Building on the East side of the Rideau Canal, 1844, Ordnance Department, The National Archives of the UK, MPHH1-697 (35)]

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Ordnance Office

The Ordnance Office (also known as the Royal Engineers building ) acted as the Rideau Canal headquarters from 1828 until By’s recall in 1832, and was constructed under the direction of Robert Drummond. Built almost directly across from the Commissariat building, level with the second lock, the building was primarily used as a material storehouse and engineering office for construction-related issues. The first floor was originally designed in 1828 as a workshop for carpenters and stonecutters as they worked on the lock gates. The upper parts of the building served as Lt. Col. By’s headquarters until 1832. The Ordnance Office was demolished in 1911, but you can still see the building’s ruins on the east bank of the Entrance Valley site.

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[Source: Lower Bytown from Barrack Hill [1845]. Thomas Burrowes fonds. Archives of Ontario, C 1-0-0-0-11; Canal and Bridges. William James Topley, Topley Series E [graphic material], William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1936-270 NPC, PA-009306]

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Sappers Bridge

As the eight locks have an elevation of 79 feet (24 metres), a bridge was built in order to better connect the east (Lower Town) and west (Upper Town) of Bytown. Sappers Bridge, as it was then called, was a solid, military built structure positioned just south of the eighth lock. When it came time to demolish the bridge in 1912 to make way for a larger thoroughfare, the labourers got more than they bargained for. “So hard was the stone and so clinging and steel-like the grip of the ancient cement,” reported the Ottawa Free Press on July 23, 1912, “that even dynamite failed to wreck it.”

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