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Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada

The History of the Rideau Canal


Specifications of the Lockstation:

Narrows Blockhouse Narrows Blockhouse
©Parks Canada / Rideau Canal

At the Narrows, a four-foot drop takes boats from Upper Rideau Lake, the summit of the Rideau system, to Big Rideau Lake. This is the first of 31 locks in the descent to the Ottawa River along the Rideau River system. Before the canal was built, this site, as its name implies, was a narrow channel only 100 feet wide. The water was so shallow here that it could be used as a ford from the Brockville Road to a footpath leading to Perth. Today one of the busiest lockstations on the canal, the Narrows has remained isolated in terms of settlement and visitation by road.

Canal Structures

Blockhouse: The blockhouses built along the Canal were to serve both as a military fortification and a residence for the lockmaster and labourers. The contract for the blockhouse was given to William Tett in 1831. He was also responsible for the Newboro blockhouse. Both were completed in fail of 1833. A number of renovations to the blockhouse have occurred through the years. Most of the alterations were attempts to make the structure more liveable. In 1890, a two storey frame addition was added to the blockhouse. Today the blockhouse serves as the lock office and provides washroom facilities to the public. The blockhouse remains today as a reminder of the canal's military past.

Engineering Structures: Colonel By's initial plan was to deepen the channel to a navigable depth. The contract was granted to William Hartwell in 1827, but Hartwell had to withdraw due to financial problems. The problem in excavation of the rock at Newboro forced By to change his plan. In the end, he chose to raise the level of water in the Upper Rideau by four feet through the construction of a dam at the Narrows. The contract for the dam and lock was given to Bell and Richardson who completed the work by late 1831. As mentioned before, the single lock was built in the embankment constructed to raise the waters of the Upper Rideau Lake. Also incorporated in the dam was a wooden waste weir. It was built at the site of the original channel. Many waste weirs have replaced the original. The first concrete waste weir is believed to have been built in 1925.

Bridges were a late addition to the Narrows lockstation. When the lock was constructed no permanent bridge over the lock was built, although temporary bridges in the 1840's were built in the winter months. In 1858 a petition from local residents asked the government to build a bridge at Narrows, Chaffeys, Davis and Jones Falls. At the time the only bridges to the south were at Newboro and Upper Brewers Mills. To the north the closest bridge was at Smiths Falls, 22 miles away. A ferry service was being provided at Olivers Ferry (Rideau Ferry), approximately half way between the Narrows and Smiths Falls. The petitioners believed the lack of a bridge connecting the Kingston to Perth road at the Narrows was not only an inconvenience but a drawback to development of the area. In 1867 a swing bridge was built. A number of wooden replacement bridges followed (1885, 1897-98, 1911, 1937 and 1848-49). The timber king post truss swing bridge was replaced in 1964 by a steel swing bridge.