The canal ruins at Grenville are a beautiful place to spend an afternoon near the Ottawa river. Picnic tables and nearby restaurants are available at this location. Whether your in the area or just driving along the river be sure to stop and visit this piece of local history.
Location ID #BR0008.1
Work was completed in 1834, with 12.9 kilometres of canals and eleven locks. With the completion of the Lachine Canal in 1825 and the Rideau Canal in 1832, the entire system was navigable. The building of the Rideau Canal attracted new settlers to Bytown, but otherwise construction had little direct impact on the settlement of the Ottawa River. Building the canals required the Crown to expropriate a narrow strip of land between the river and the canal. Farmers and landowners protested, sought compensation from the Crown in court and won their case in 1832 (Labelle). This affected around twenty farmers between Carillon and Grenville (Lafrenière 37). The township of Grenville experienced an increase in population because of the labour needed to build the canals: Irish and Scottish immigrants provided this labour and many settled permanently in the area. When the military canals were built, canoes were still in use. By the time they were completed, steamboats had made their appearance. Because the first locks were initially built using military specifications, they were too small for most commercial steamboats to pass. Three of the seven locks in the Grenville canal as well as the Lachine canal were built using the smaller military scale of 33 metres by 6.1 metres. The locks at Carillon as well as those on the Rideau system were larger, measuring 40.8 metres by 10 metres. This poor planning created a bottleneck at Grenville, limiting navigation to ships under 6 metres wide (Lafrenière 25). In 1857, the Sykes and Deberg Company built a twenty‐one kilometre long railroad between Carillon and Grenville. Cargo and steamboat passengers in both directions had to take the train for a short distance before embarking in a different vessel to continue their journey (Labelle: “Outaouais”). It wasn’t until the 1870s that the locks were enlarged.
Starting in 1851, after the St. Lawrence locks were enlarged, all freight destined for Lake Ontario traveled up the St. Lawrence rather than taking the less direct Rideau‐Ottawa route.
But the bottleneck at the Grenville canal hindered commercial traffic on the Ottawa. In the 1850s, the canals began to show signs of wear. In 1866 unsold sawn timber piled up in vast timber yards in Hull because the canals could not carry the quantities of timber being produced. Prominent lumbermen petitioned the government to improve the system, and the Canal Commission upgraded it during the 1870s (Lafrenière 44). The Commission built a second Carillon Canal from 1873‐1882 with two locks and a semicircular timber crib dam above the village of Carillon (Canadian Public Works Association 124). The dam drowned out the rapids at Chute‐à‐Blondeau, creating a direct navigation route from Carillon to Grenville. The Grenville canal was improved from 1871 to 1884 with five locks that had the same dimensions as the Carillon locks (Labelle: “Outaouais”). The Ste. Anne’s canal was enlarged from 1879 to 1883. All the new locks were built using cut‐stone masonry, 61 metres by 14 metres with 3 metres of water on the sills (Canadian Public Works Association 124).
The final, perhaps most dramatic changes to the Ottawa River military canal system occurred from 1959 to 1962 when Hydro Quebec constructed a power dam at Carillon, flooding the former Carillon and Grenville canals (Canadian Public Works Association 124). The new lock at Carillon boasted a lift of nearly 20 metres. Its official opening in 1963 marked the end of commercial navigation on the Ottawa River canal system (Lafrenière 60). The only place you can still see evidence of both the first military canal and the second Ottawa River canal is at Grenville. The upstream lock of the second Grenville canal is visible: it is a masonry ship lock with carefully carved stone quoins (Legget 1975: 133). The walls of the old canal can be seen downstream from the lock (Lafrenière 51).