Classified Federal Heritage Building
Rideau Canal National Historic Site, Ontario
(© Agence Parcs Canada/ Parks Canada Agency (ORO), Couture, 1989.)
279 Saint Lawrence Street, Merrickville, Rideau Canal National Historic Site, Ontario
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1832 to 1832
Event, Person, Organization:
Colonel John By
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
Located just off the Rideau Canal side in the heart of Merrickville, the Merrickville Blockhouse is an imposing well-proportioned symmetrical two-storey pyramidal-roofed structure, 4.7 square metres at the base. Constructed for strength with thick masonry walls on the first floor and heavy timbers on the overhanging second floor, the blockhouse retains many defence related elements. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Merrickville Blockhouse is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The Merrickville Blockhouse is one of the best examples of a structure associated with the defence of Canada against possible American invasion. It served the local militia as a mustering point and supply depot for arms and provisions. Used routinely as a lockmaster’s residence and storehouse this defensive structure was occupied briefly by troops during the 1837-38 Rebellion. Sergeant John Johnson, involved in the initial construction of the canal, served as lockkeeper from 1836-1869, and drilled local militia during the rebellion. Merrickville was a commercial centre whose further growth and importance was stimulated by the canal construction.
The Merrickville Blockhouse is a very good example of a functional 19th-century military defence design. It is also a very good example of a blockhouse built to Colonel By’s original specifications focusing on functional design and materials. Designed to accommodate 50 men, it is the largest of its type just off the Rideau Canal and the building exhibits good craftsmanship and care in the execution of its construction and its details.
The Merrickville Blockhouse is located near both the lockstation and the canal bridge and is the largest of its type on the Rideau Canal. By virtue, it is a regional landmark because of its imposing size and prominent location. The structure reinforces the Rideau Canal setting in Merrickville and is a landmark and symbol to both local people and to visitors.
Sources: James De Jonge, Merrickville Lockstation, Buildings, Depot, Merrckville Blockhouse. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 91-078; Blockhouse, Rideau Canal, Merrickville, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement 91-078.
The character-defining elements of the Merrickville Blockhouse should be respected.
The functional military defence design and good quality materials and craftsmanship as evidenced in: the simple well proportioned geometric massing of the squat square profile tower with pyramidal roof covered in wood shingles; the carefully constructed thick limestone masonry walls of the first storey; the heavy one-foot square hand-hewn timbers of the overhanging second storey, including the heavy hand hewn knee braces, and vertical tongue and groove boards of the interior; the exterior covering of tin fireproof shingles on the second storey; the single elevated entrance reached by a platform over the dry moat; the many defence related elements such as the machiolations in the second- storey overhang and the loopholes flanking the second-storey windows; the remains of the rubble-stone magazine in the cellar.
The manner in which the Merrickville Blockhouse reinforces the character of the Rideau Canal area.
Heritage Character Statement
The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.
The Blockhouse was built in Merrickville in 1832 by the British Ordnance Department to designs by Colonel John By. Used routinely as a lockmaster's residence and storehouse, it was a defensive structure designed to accommodate 50 men and was occupied briefly by troops during the 1837-38 Rebellion. At the turn of the century, due to structural problems, modifications to the roof and interior supports were undertaken. Restoration was carried out between 1962-65. The blockhouse is currently operated as a museum by the Merrickville and District Historical Society. The Canadian Parks Service is the custodian. See FHBRO Building Report 91-78.
Reasons for Designation
The Merrickville Blockhouse was designated Classified because it is a rare example of a blockhouse built to Colonel John By's original specifications with respect to functional design and materials. It is the largest of its type on the Rideau Canal and, by virtue of its imposing size and prominent location, is a regional landmark.
It was Colonel By's intention to construct blockhouses at each lockstation, but only four were completed. Of these, the Merrickville Blockhouse is the most elaborate. Located near both the lockstation and the canal bridge, the Merrickville Blockhouse was well placed to protect the canal from attack. It also served the local militia as a mustering point and supply depot for guns, ammunition, and provisions. Sergeant John Johnson, involved in the initial construction of the canal, served as lockmaster from 1836 to 1869, and drilled the local militia during the Rebellion. The town of Merrickville, a Loyalist settlement dating from the 1790s, was a commercial centre whose further growth and importance was stimulated by the canal construction.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage character of the Merrickville Blockhouse is defined by its aesthetic and functional design, the use of materials appropriate to its defensive purpose, and its contribution to the historic character of the town.
The blockhouse is a well-proportioned symmetrical two-storey pyramidal-roofed structure, fifty-one feet square at its base and approximately fifty-seven feet in height - one of the largest of its type surviving in Canada. Although the second-storey "bomb-proof" masonry infill was removed in 1909 for structural reasons, the blockhouse retains many of its original defense-related elements, including machicolations in the second-storey overhang, loopholes flanking the second-storey windows, part of the rubble-stone magazine located in the cellar, and a single elevated entrance reached by a platform over the dry moat as it was historically.
The materials were chosen to make the blockhouse secure and fireproof. The carefully constructed thick masonry first-floor walls and heavy hand-hewn second-storey knee braces attest to the craftsmanship of the period. Although the roof is now covered with wood shingles, as opposed to the original tin fireproof shingles, the walls of the second storey are covered with tin as they were originally. The interior was restored in the 1960s to approximate its appearance in the 1850s.
Surrounded by its original dry moat and retaining its original orientation to the canal, the blockhouse is a major element in the historic streetscape of Merrickville and is a symbol of the area. The historic building materials, and the character of the site and setting, should be carefully maintained and preserved.