We are told that in those pioneering times, the principal topics of discussion were Politics and Religion. Running a close third in the post-war years was Public Works, which entailed the planning and building of canals. Last of all, Private Enterprise usually took the form of some purely local effort such as the bridging of a river or the erection of a mill, but in 1816 the era of steam navigation came to Lake Ontario, with the completion of the steamboat ONTARIO at Sackett's Harbor, N.Y. Another small, but nevertheless important event took place at Vaudreuil, in Lower Canada, where the Ottawa River entered Lake St. Louis. Here the St. Andrews Forwarding Co. built a small wooden lock to overcome the rapids at Ste. Anne, and enable Durham boats to enter the Lake of Two Mountains, at all stages of the river. This then, was the first step in the staircase of the Ottawa.
The year 1817 saw the launching at Finkle's Shipyard at Bath, of the FRONTENAC, the first Canadian steamboat on Lake Ontario, while down the river at Coteau du Lac, a new canal was built to handle boats of 35 tons capacity. On the 4th July, work was commenced on the Erie Canal which would connect Lake Erie with the Hudson River and which posed a very real threat to the prosperity of the forwarders plying their trade on the St. Lawrence route.
In 1818, Finkle's Shipyard turned out its second hull, the steamboat QUEEN CHARLOTTE, for service between Prescott,Kingston and the Bay of Quinte ports. In the country immediately west of the Niagara River, a mill owner by the name of William Hamilton Merritt was busily trying to drum up interest in a canal to by-pass Niagara Falls by way of the Twelve Mile Creek and the Welland River.
Another steamboat was built in 1819, this time at Kingston, and she was named DALHOUSIE. Down in Montreal, a joint stock company was organized for the purpose of constructing a canal around the Lachine Rapids. This was a belated result of a recommendation made in 1815 by Governor General Sir George Prevost. On Lake Ontario, the FRONTENAC, under Capt. James Mackenzie, was making three round trips per month from Kingston to York and Niagara, the cabin fare, one way, being £3.0.0, deck passage, 15s. The Royal Staff Corps began construction of the Grenville Canal on the Ottawa River. This undertaking resulted from the decision made in London, that a canal, available for military use between Montreal and Kingston should be at some distance from the International Boundary. The commanding officer, Lt. Col. du Vernet, decided to tackle the worst part of the job first - the Long Sault of the Ottawa, and between 1825 and 1834, work on this canal in addition to the Carillon and Chute á Blondeau Canals was brought to a successful conclusion. There was only one unfortunate incident in this story. As originally planned, these canals were to have very small locks, suitable for little more than Durham boats, and it was not until du Vernet had completed three of them, that the authorities realized that the steamboat was here to stay. They revised the design of locks, to the size of those subsequently built on the Rideau Canal, but they did not replace the three small ones, which remained a restricting feature for many years.
The company formed to build the Lachine Canal having failed, the Government bought out the stock-holders and on 17 July 1821, work was started. Four years later, the first Lachine Canal would be open for business. The bottom step in the St. Lawrence system would be complete.
In December 1821, an advertisement was placed in the Kingston Chronicle by the forwarding firms of W. L. Whiting & Co., Prescott, and Whiting & Crane,Lachine. The two partners, W. L. Whiting and Samuel Crane announced the appointment of agents as follows: Grant & Kirby,Queenston,John Chisholm, Head of the Lake (Hamilton), Wm. Allan,York,Wm. B. Smyth,Kingston and Trotter & Douglas,Albany, N.Y.
The year 1823 was one of major interest to the people of Hamilton and district, for on 19 March, an Act was passed authorizing construction of the Burlington Canal. The canal commissioners were John Aikman,Wm. Chisholm and Wm. Applegarth.John Chisholm was appointed Collector of Customs.
The steamboat QUEENSTON was built in 1824 at Queenston, financed by the sons of the late Robert Hamilton. Among Robert's eight sons was a young man of 22, John, who was vitally interested in this family project. Born in 1802, he was a half-brother of George Hamilton. After being educated in Edinburgh, he entered business life in Montreal and in 1831 was appointed to the Legislative Council of Canada. He moved to Kingston in 1840 and a year later was appointed to the Legislative Council of the United Canadas. John was called to the Senate in Confederation Year, 1867. In Kingston, he had become the foremost steamboat operator on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario. He died in 1882.
On the 30 November 1824, a momentous event took place at an obscure settlement called Allanburg. It was the turning of the first sod in the construction of the Welland Canal. To quote William Kingsford:
"as proof of how little the subject had attracted public enterprise at the time, not half a dozen gentlemen of capital or influence in the district attended this ceremony". However, the gentlemen who did attend, made their way to the Black Horse Inn, at the corners east of Allanburg and dined and wined themselves, no doubt proposing many toasts, as was the custom in those more gracious times. It is well they did enjoy themselves that evening. Before them lay five years, during which they would be faced with the incredibly difficult task of raising money for the completion of the monumental work they had undertaken.
As the gangs of men began digging through the sand of Burlington Beach in 1825, those interested in shipping were preparing for the canal's completion by building wharves. At Montreal, the Lachine Canal was opened, its six stone locks measuring 100 x 20, with 5 feet of water over the sills. The canal was 28 feet wide on the bottom and 48 feet on the surface. This little waterway served well for 23 years. On the lake, the FRONTENAC,Capt. Mackenzie and the QUEENSTON,Capt. Maxwell, were both in service between Prescott and the Niagara River ports, each making one round trip per week. On 26 October, the Erie Canal was opened for business. It was 363 miles long and had 83 locks, 90 X 15 with 4 feet of water.
On 30 January 1826, the Desjardins Canal Co. was incorporated. It was the brain-child of one Peter Desjardins, who realized that the digging of a channel through Burlington Beach was about to change Burlington Bay into Hamilton Harbour. Therefore, he decided that a tail should be added, extending westward through the Dundas Marsh to the village of Dundas. This village had grown up along the banks of Spencer's Creek, which supplied excellent water-power, and Dundas together with Crook's Hollows, above the Escarpment, was becoming an industrial area of some importance. It was logical that a good means of transport would be an asset, but Dundas would wait eleven years for this project to bear fruit.
On 30 May 1826, Lt. Col. John By landed at Quebec. He was the officer of the Corps of Royal Engineers, selected by the Duke of Wellington, to supervise construction of the Rideau Canal. The work would begin in 1827. On Lake Ontario, the steamboat CANADA,Capt. Hugh Richardson, was making calls at Burlington Beach. Another vessel, the steamboat NIAGARA came out this year, having been rebuilt at Prescott, from a sailing vessel named UNION. Under the command of Capt. J. Mosier, she ended her first season dismally perched on a reef near Long Point off Prince Edward County, on 2 November. By the 1 December, her machinery had been removed and an attempt was being made to haul the hull ashore for the winter. Other steamboats were having their troubles also, the TORONTO having grounded while on passage from Prescott to Kingston, and the QUEENSTON went ashore in Reed's Bay at the upper end of Wolfe Island. The FRONTENAC was called upon to release her from this exposed position.
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This volume is copyright The Estate of Ivan S. Brookes and is published with permission of the Estate. The originals are deposited in the Special Collections of the Hamilton Public Library.