Experience the Past Through the Lens of the Present


Dow’s Lake

Dow’s Lake: To Kill a Swamp

Dow’s Great Swamp, as the name implies, was hardly a paradise. Throughout the construction of the canal, “swamp fever” was a routine complaint, likely referring to some form of malaria; many of the workers died from this disease, and both John MacTaggart and Colonel By himself were sick with it at various points.[1] MacTaggart, in fact, had to leave Canada after one particularly bad bout. More importantly, the swamp was nearly totally impassable and certainly could not be used as part of the Canal. By’s solution was draining the swamp through the use of the embankments mentioned in the first post on the subject. The purpose of this post, then, is to explain how this was done; how can a swamp be drained?

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Dow’s Lake: Who Was John By?

By Family Home
By’s family home at Frant near Sussex. Image source:

The early history of Canada is filled with individuals whose names, through enterprising spirit or acts of bravery, became associated with entire regions; Colonel John By was one such man. A key figure in the founding of Ottawa, John By was born in Lambeth, England, in 1779, to a family of watermen on the Thames.[1] However, he decided to take a different path and in 1799 joined the Engineers at Plymouth; his career advanced rapidly from then on. He first traveled to Canada in 1802, where he worked on a canal at Les C├Ędres in Quebec; he then returned to England in 1810 to serve under Wellington in the Peninsular War.[2] Two decades of unremitting warfare had left the British Treasury diminished and the Army vastly inflated; as a result By, along with hundreds of other officers, was dropped from the payroll following Waterloo.[3] However, his reputation as an engineer remained strong, and his name was at the top of the list when the Rideau Canal began construction in 1826.

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Dow’s Lake


Welcome, everybody, to Today’s post, and the very first full post on this site, will be on Dow’s Lake in Ottawa, certainly one of the most recognisable features of the national capital. Located along the Rideau Canal, between the Bronson Street bridge and the Hartwell Locks, Dow’s Lake is the widest and most heavily trafficked area the canal has to offer. Dow’s Lake, naturally, was constructed at the same time as the rest of the Canal- in the 1820s by Colonel John By (the namesake of Bytown, as Ottawa was originally known). Today, we will explore this history.

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