13 May 2013

Perth Historical Society May Meeting

''Why World Heritage Site? The Rideau Canal Story” is the topic for the May 15 Perth Historical Society Meeting.

Rideau Canal expert, Ken Watson, will tell the story of how the system, with the Tay Canal, came to achieve the prestigious designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"While many Ontarions know of the Canal’s designation, few have heard the unique background to, and the reasons for, making it the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ontario. The Rideau system was judged by UNESCO to meet the criteria of ‘a masterpiece human creative genius’, and ‘outstanding example’ of an architectural landscape that illustrates a significant stage in history.

UNESCO describes the system as ‘constructed for military purposes which played a crucial (role in the defence) of Canada against the United States ….. leading to the development of two distinct political and cultural entities in the north of the American continent.’ It is ‘the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America (and) the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational.’

The Rideau Canal was built between 1826 and 1832 under the supervision, and design, of Lt. Colonel John By, and the Royal Engineers. It was constructed by independent contractors and tradesmen, and primarily French-Canadian and immigrant Irish workers, many of whom were lost to accident and malaria, and buried in small cemeteries along the canal, including locally at Chaffeys Locks. The canal runs 202 km, through 24 lock stations, on the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers, between the Ottawa River at Ottawa and Kingston Harbour on Lake Ontario.

Ken Watson, who lives on the Rideau near Elgin, is one of the foremost experts and authors on the Rideau Canal’s history, its character, and its protection. His six books have documented the waterway’s stories (‘Tales of the Rideau’; ‘History of the Rideau Lock Stations’) - its earliest history (‘Rideau Route – Exploring the Pre-canal Waterway’) – and its recreation (‘Paddling Guides’). Ken is a dedicated promoter of the Rideau system, and, amongst his many contributions, donates webmaster services to several non-profit organisations, including our society and Friends of the Rideau. He has been active in the recent debate over the substantial cuts to the Rideau Canal operations and staff. "

The meeting will be at the Royal Canadian Legion in Perth, 26 Beckwith Street East starting at 7pm.

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