The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Upper Canada Herald (Kingston, ON), Dec. 7, 1831

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p.3 To the Editor of the Upper Canada Herald.

Sir, - As the article in the York Courier upon the subject of the improvement of the St. Lawrence contains several statements at variance with the facts of the case, I deem it necessary to correct such of these misstatements as happen to be within my own knowledge. The writer is quite of opinion that all the improvement necessary, is that which will render the St. Lawrence more easy of ascent than it is at present. He says, "to descend upon the St. Lawrence, no artificial work of this kind is absolutely required - the river flows naturally, presenting a sufficient depth of water throughout, and it is only in the event to avoid a few rapids that resort is intended to be made to artificial improvement."

The writer, in another part of his communication, says of the few "who contended that the Rideau Canal would answer every purpose when completed, and that no improvement upon the St. Lawrence was necessary, I can only say, that they were actuated by self interest, which often leads people to the most unwarrantable lengths. - But in order that others may not be induced to follow in their train, I will state a few facts from which they may draw a correct conclusion." He then states that the distance from Kingston to Montreal by the Rideau Canal is 264 miles, and that the number of locks upon that Canal and on the Ottawa is 60.

How extraordinary it is, that the writer had not virtue enough to withstand the motions of "self interest" in his own case, when he saw as clearly the evil effect it produced on the conduct of others. What a pity it led him to the "unwarrantable length" of adding no less than 12 miles to the actual distance as now called between Kingston and Montreal, and of adding 10 to the actual number of locks on the Rideau and Grenville Canals! The "unwarrantable length" would not be considered very glaring or unpardonable in a mere private conversation, but when a man deliberately declares in a public newspaper that to be a fact which is demonstrably untrue, it is time not only that the taunt of "self interest" should be thrown back in his teeth, but that he should be held up to merited censure.

The distance from this to Bytown, according to Mr. Clow's actual measurement is 132 miles; and from that to Montreal is called 120 miles. The distance from this to Bytown is much shortened by means of the dams, which, in the writer's imagination, are giving way at all points, making the actual distance from Kingston to Montreal, by the canal, probably 245 miles.

The following is a statement of the number of locks on the Rideau and Grenville Canals, viz. - At Bytown, 8, Hog's Back 3, Black Rapids 1, Long Island 3, 0xford Line 1, Nicholson's Rapids 1, Merrick's Mills 3, Maitland's Rapids 1, Edmund's do. 1, Phillip's do. 1, Old Sly's do. 2, Smith's Falls 3, Upper Rapids of Rideau 2, Narrows of R. Lake 1, Isthmus 1, Chaffey's Mills 1, Davis's Mills 1, Jones' Falls 4, Brewer's Mills 1, Brewer's Lower Mills 1, Kingston Mills 4, at Grenville 6, Total 50.

If there is any mistake in this statement, it is I believe, in giving too large instead of too small a number. I know it to be perfectly correct as far as the lower end of the Rideau Lake. After that, I have taken the number as first fixed upon by Col. By. As, however, the number has since been lessened between this and the Rideau, and the dams raised higher, I have reason to believe similar alterations have taken place below the Rideau Lake, and the names of some of the places altered.

With respect to the quantity of Flour and produce passing from Upper to Lower Canada, and vice versa, I am not prepared to say whether the writer is correct or not in his statement, but does he suppose for a moment that all the produce of the country will pass down the St. Lawrence! By reducing the quantity, you reduce the revenue to be derived from it. It was clearly and satisfactorily shown last year, that a steam boat, having a covered barge in tow, carrying two or three thousand barrels of flour, would not be more than two days in going from Kingston to Lachine, and would take only the same time to return. Would any improvement that can be made on the St. Lawrence enable a Durham boat carrying one thousand barrels of flour down, and one hundred tons of merchandize up, to go from Kingston to Lachine and back in four days? I think not. What advantage then, would the St. Lawrence have over the Rideau canal? It surely cannot be considered more safe, and it never can be so cheap a route, as neither the province nor private individuals can afford to improve the navigation without exacting a pretty heavy toll in addition to the toll now paid and to be paid in Lower Canada. The advantage in distance is a mere trifle; three hours will be the most that can be gained, even if both routes were in all other respects upon a par. There are, according to Mr. Clows, seventy three feet of lockage between Prescott and Mille Roche, requiring, according to his plan, twelve locks. Then the descent from the Coteau to Lake St. Louis is very great, and will probably require fourteen or fifteen locks more. The advantage in point of lockage is then reduced one half. But this difference is more than compensated by the greater speed with which you can propel a steam boat on the beautiful lakes and rivers on the route of the Rideau canal. What will be the speed of a boat ascending, from the Cascades to the Coteau, and from Cornwall to Prescott - will it be equal to three miles per hour? On the Rideau, a steamer can go at full speed - say ten miles per hour - except when passing through the locks. It is necessary to be thus particular to avoid (collision?).

Whatever may be the decision of the legislature upon the present application, I should hope at least that they would not authorize any expenditure of public money in the improvement to the St. Lawrence until the Rideau canal is completed. If the work of improvement commences next year, will it not seriously interrupt the navigation of the river by the six hundred Durham boats and the one thousand bateaux? Has not the little improvement going on between the Cedar and the Cascades been a serious annoyance to the boats ascending? I know full well it has, at least if any credit is to be placed in the information received from a respectable forwarding merchant. He stated further, that the money expended by Lower Canada was completely thrown away.

Besides early next spring, the members of the Legislature will be able to judge of the Rideau canal by a personal inspection of it. They will then know whether there is any probability of the dams giving away, or whether, I had almost said, it is within the bounds of possibility, and if any one should give away, whether it would "occupy at least a season in reconstructing it." The water at the Kingston mills has been at its full height for a considerable time back, but there is no symptom of weakness shown, and if there is danger to be apprehended at all, (but which I deny,) it is there.

I observe that the notice in the U.C. Gazette is merely that an application will be made for an act of incorporation to authorize the improvement of the St. Lawrence for steam boat and sloop navigation. Not a word about £50,000 or about the navigation for Durham boats. The truth is, it is found that some of the leading merchants at Montreal see the advantages which the Rideau canal possesses over the St. Lawrence, and that they have in consequence petitioned the Legislature of Lower Canada to incorporate them for the purpose of cutting a canal, of the dimensions of the Rideau canal, from the lake of two mountains to the city of Montreal. It cannot be expected therefore, that they will lend money to improve the St. Lawrence. They are pretty sharp sighted gentlemen, and see plainly on which side the advantage lies.

The improvement necessary for a safe navigation of the St. Lawrence will be much greater than is at present contemplated, as will be apparent from the fact of a batteau having been lost, a few days since, after it had passed through the lock at the Coteau, and when it was supposed to be out of danger.


p.S. The editor of the York Courier will confer a favor and do an act of public justice by inserting the above in his paper.

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Dec. 7, 1831
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Upper Canada Herald (Kingston, ON), Dec. 7, 1831