Common menu bar links

Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada

The History of the Rideau Canal


Specifications of the Lockstation:

Ottawa Locks Ottawa Locks
©Parks Canada / Bill Pratt / Rideau Canal

The Ottawa Locks are the northern entrance to the Rideau Canal. A number of rapids and falls along the Rideau River between Hogs Back and the mouth of the river forced Colonel By to construct a bypass of 5 1/4 miles of artifical channel. Three lock groups (Hogs Back, Hartwells and Ottawa) lower the boat 115 feet from the dam at Hogs Back to the level of the Ottawa River. In September of 1826 By chose the natural ravine where the present day Ottawa Locks are situated as the northern gateway to the canal. With this decision, the community that is present-day Ottawa was established. Hull by this date was a prosperous logging town but there was little settlement on the southern side of the Ottawa River. Once construction on the canal started, land was cleared and the development of Bytown began.

An Engineering office and commissariat were built on each side of the lock site, and a barracks and hospital were constructed on the hill west of the lock, now Parliament Hill. Workshops were also built for carpenters and blacksmiths. It was not long until a village emerged. A bridge (The Sappers' Bridge) was also constructed early in the works. It was a stone arch bridge that crossed the canal above the upper lock and connected the buildings on both sides of the Canal.

Canal Structures:

The Commissariat: Thomas MacKay built this stores building in 1827. It is constructed of limestone and is a fine example of the excellent masonry work performed by MacKay. It was one of the first buildings constructed on the canal. The Commissariat's first function was in the form of a warehouse or storage area for the canal work. Today it is the Bytown Museum, operated by the Ottawa Historical Society.

Lock Office: The Department of Railways and Canals built the lock office in 1884.

Royal Engineers' Office: Thomas MacKay was also responsible for the construction of the Engineers' Office. It was a three-story stone building built in 1827 with an exterior design similar to that of the Commissariat. It was used as a storehouse and as an office for engineers until 1857 when Colonel Coffin, the Ordnance land agent, moved in. He continued to live there until 1879. At this time the government took the building back because of the need for office space. The third story was removed around the turn of the century when the railway from Ottawa to Hull was built. The rest of the building was demolished in the early 20th century.

Second Lockmaster's House: The first lockmaster's house was a log house built during the construction period. A defensible lockmaster's house was built in 1849-50. It was located near the site of the Chateau Laurier Hotel. In 1872 the construction of a new bridge (the Dufferin Bridge) connecting Wellington and Rideau Streets resulted in the destruction of the lockmaster's house.

Engineering Structures: Keeping water from the Ottawa River out and controlling the numerous underground springs that fed into the ravine proved to be the main concern of the contractors building the flight of eight locks. Limestone for the locks was excavated from the cliffs alongside the works.

Bridges: The first bridge (the Sappers' Bridge) was built in 1827. It survived until 1912 but was altered when an additional bridge, the Dufferin Bridge, was built in 1872. This bridge joined Wellington and Rideau Streets. The two bridges formed a triangle crossing the Rideau Canal. These two bridges survived until 1912 when the Plaza Bridge was constructed. The new bridge connected all three streets that were previously joined by the Sappers' and Dufferin bridges.