Huge Expenses!

A Phenomenally Expensive Canal

Entrance to the Rideau Canal at Ottawa, circa 1838

Caption: Entrance to the Rideau Canal at Ottawa, circa 1838

At Quebec, and particularly at Halifax, the building of the citadels raised unexpected problems requiring considerable changes from the initial plans and many costly delays. However, it was probably the Rideau Canal that caused the most problems for the officers and men of the engineers. Work began with the building of locks at Carillon on the Ottawa River before construction of the canal proper began in 1827, not far from the current location of the federal Parliament in Ottawa. The undertaking proved to be exceedingly arduous, and hundreds of workers died, primarily from malaria transmitted by the mosquitoes in the swamps. Problems of all kinds plagued Lieutenant- Colonel John By of the Corps of Royal Engineers, who was in charge of the work. But he persevered, and the Rideau Canal, with its 47 masonry locks and 52 dams, was finally ready in 1832. The matter of the costs raised a political storm in the British Parliament, however, particularly since England was in a serious economic crisis. The initial £169,000 had already been increased to £474,000. By the time it was completed, the Rideau Canal cost more than a million pounds sterling, a phenomenal amount for the time. For comparison, the total budget of the Royal Navy for 1832 was five million. When called to England to explain, By successfully defended himself against the accusations against him: the Duke of Wellington had ordered him to go ahead with the work without waiting for the vote from Parliament. By was nevertheless a victim of political quarrels and his reputation was never restored to its former lustre. 88

The fact remains that Great Britain provided Canada with a formidable chain of fortifications, which undoubtedly had the desired effect on the Americans. To take these fortresses would have required resources that their army simply did not have. An officer from the United States visiting Quebec City was very much impressed with its citadel; he said that the only way to take it would be to have the troops brought in by hot-air balloon! 89

Additional Images

Colonel John By, Royal Engineers, circa 1830
Colonel John By watching the building of the Rideau Canal, 1826