Entrance Valley

Entrance Valley, set between Barrack Hill and Major’s Hill Park, marks the northernmost entry point of the 202-km Rideau Canal waterway between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario. Entrance Valley – formally known as Sleigh or Rafting Bay – was selected by Lt. Col. John By largely for its favourable topography. This allowed for the construction of eight lift locks to raise vessels 83 feet (25 metres) from the base of the Ottawa River. Entrance Valley was also the site of the Ordnance Office, the Commissariat Building, and the Lockmaster’s Quarters.

Points of Interest

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[Source: John By, “Plan of the line of the Rideau Canal Lt. Col. By Commanding Royal Engineer”, 1829, Library and Archives Canada, H2/410/Rideau Canal/1829, NMC 21972]

Duration: 40 seconds
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Plan of the Line of the Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal integrates numerous watersheds and large lakes, some naturally occurring along the route, and others that had to be artificially created and connected using dams and flooding. In the end, 12 miles (19 kilometres) of the canal waterway would be man-made. The ingenuity and creativity of linking these waters to carve out the Rideau Canal can’t be overstated. The above map, attributed to Lt. Col. By, depicts this route in detail. Beginning at the Ottawa River, the canal travels through the Rideau River, past numerous small and large lakes, into the Cataraqui River, and ends at Lake Ontario, with the St. Lawrence River as the outlet. It remains one of the best-preserved slack water systems in North America.

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Painting of the first eight locks of the Rideau Canal, from the Quebec side of the Ottawa RiverEnlarge

[Source: First eight locks of the Rideau Canal, from Quebec side of the Ottawa River [1834]. Thomas Burrowes fonds. Archives of Ontario, C 1-0-0-0-13.]

The Eight Locks and Entrance Valley

By choosing Entrance Valley, Lt. Col. By spared his workers many kilometres of laborious and often dangerous rock excavation. Entrance Valley already had a natural ravine that could be expanded upon and steep 80-foot (25-metre) cliffs on each side. And it wasn’t just a safer and more economical choice, but also provided the visual grandeur that By desired in an entrance.

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Drawing of a plan and section of the 33’ lock designEnlarge

[Source: Great Britain Army Corps of Royal Engineers, “Plan of the Approved Locks for the Rideau Canal, Lt. Col. By Commanying Royal Engineer John By, Lt. Colonel Roy’l. Engrs. Com’g. Rideau Canal, 8th July 1828”, [1828], Library and Archives Canada, NMC-21893]

Approved 33-foot (10-metre) Lock Proposal

The 33-foot (10-metre) locks that were eventually chosen were the result of decades of surveys and years of debate that stretched across continents. While they ultimately didn’t match By’s grandest vision, they did satisfy his desire to accommodate a wider range of vessels and watercraft. The chosen dimensions were especially prescient, since the canal was never actually used for its original military purposes, becoming instead a successful commercial and recreational route. Upon its completion in 1832, the canal’s final cost came to a whopping £822,000-almost five times the Board of Ordnance’s original estimate.

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Drawing of a plan and section of the eighth gate of the first eight locks of the Rideau CanalEnlarge

[Source: Unknown Artist, Lock Gate (II), n.d., Ordnance Department, The National Archives of the UK, MR1-502 (2)]

Lock Gate Drawing

The locks on the Rideau Canal form part of a slack water system. Slack water is water without any current or pull, and it is recreated in the pool between two closed lock gates. A boat floating in a lock will therefore not list in any direction, as it is not affected by the water beyond the closed lock gates. Above is a drawing of the eighth lock gate at Entrance Valley.

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Drawing of a section of the pointed cill and recess of the combined locksEnlarge

[Source: Unknown Artist, Pointed Cill and Recess (II), n.d., Ordnance Department, The National Archives of the UK, MPH1-238 (3)]

Plan of Sluice Channel

The locks along the Rideau Canal use a basic system of small tunnels under the waterline, which add or drain water away from underneath the boat. These tunnels are called sluice channels and are controlled by a separate, smaller gate system called sluice gates. Above is a plan of the pointed sill found at the threshold of each individual lock, with the sluice channel visible on the left-hand side.

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[Source: Great Britain Army Corps of Royal Engineers, “Plan of the Approved Locks for the Rideau Canal, Lt. Col. By Commanying Royal Engineer John By, Lt. Colonel Roy’l. Engrs. Com’g. Rideau Canal, 8th July 1828”, [1828], Library and Archives Canada, NMC-21893; “Tour of the Eight Bytown Locks” [Animation]. Dr. Stephen Fai. Carleton Immersive Media Studio. 2012.]

Duration: 59 seconds
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Tour of the Eight Bytown Locks

This series of eight locks is the most complex along the canal and resolves an 80-foot (24-metre) difference in the elevation between the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal. A lock system essentially acts as a “water elevator,” allowing vessels to pass safely from higher elevations to lower ground (and vice versa) by connecting uneven watersheds.

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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.]

Duration: 23 seconds
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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: “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)]

Duration: 37 seconds
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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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