Tools and Trades

One of the first major tasks was to clear Entrance Valley so that work could commence on the Bytown Locks. Large timber was cleared using oxen, while their stumps and root systems were excavated from underneath using a technique known as “pooling in.” This was a dangerous task, which often involved the use of dynamite. To form the banks of the canal, a large amount of material – much of it limestone rock – required excavation. The Irish were thought better prepared for this kind of work, as many had experience building roads and canals before emigrating. Although expectations varied between work sites, the overseeing contractor typically provided larger tools like wheelbarrows, while workers were expected to supply their own picks and shovels.

Points of Interest

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[Source: Archives of Ontario, C 1-0-0-0-68. Thomas Burrowes fonds. Brewer’s Lower Mill: Masonry of the Lock Nearly Complete, Excavation for Canal in Progress 1831-2 [1831].]

Duration: 16 seconds
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Barrow Runs

Demand for teams of workhorses and oxen was high, and farmers from nearby Hull often took advantage of the excellent wages they could receive for their services. Since no machinery was available at lock stations during excavation, the use of barrow runs – a makeshift system involving the use of wide planks to assist moving wheelbarrows and other carriers over difficult terrain – was common, as seen in this watercolour by Thomas Burrowes. According to one report, guide ropes were attached between the barrows and the belts of the strongest men at each site. They would then run up the side of the slope and around a pulley at the top to haul the stones up.

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[Source: Archives of Ontario, C 1-0-0-0-68. Thomas Burrowes fonds. Brewer’s Lower Mill: Masonry of the Lock Nearly Complete, Excavation for Canal in Progress 1831-2 [1831].]

Duration: 16 seconds
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Hauling, Setting, and Sealing the Stone Lock Walls

Stones were hauled into proper position using a block and tackle system and fixed into place using crowbars and wooden mallets. Small rocks, cement (obtained from Hull), and clean white sand were used to fill in gaps between each stone, and a clay mixture helped create a water-resistant sealant on the backs of the lock walls.

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[Source: Sledge hammer head (34H2W2-1), Parks Canada, Ontario Service Centre; One side of the hand barrow (34H25A3-1), Parks Canada, Ontario Service Centre; Hauling chain (34H25A17-1), Parks Canada, Ontario Service Centre.]

Duration: 14 seconds
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Tools for Hauling and Splitting Stone

One method of splitting large stones during winter involved drilling a hole, filling it with water, and waiting for the liquid to freeze. As ice formed inside the stone the water expanded, causing the stone to crack naturally and with little physical effort. For the rest of the year, work had to be done by hand. The holes were drilled by three men: two facing each other evenly holding the chisel, and one on the sledgehammer. Once a stone was split, it was passed on to masons who would use chisels and other tools to give the massive stones their desired shape and size. A wooden line barrow was used to carry any extra stones away from the site. Putting stones in place required chains, pulleys, carts, and a series of hand winches, and brute physical stamina. This video showcases the remnants of a sledgehammer, line barrow, and chain that were recovered during an archaeological dig of the Bytown locks and dated to the period of construction.

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