Experience the Past Through the Lens of the Present



Notre Dame Basilica: First Among Equals (and Second, and Third…)

The plaque of Guigues’ statue (see above image for statue itself).

Sixteen years as a priest in France may have prepared Monsignor Joseph-Bruno Guigues for the theological issues he faced as the first Bishop of Bytown, but they almost certainly did not prepare him for the physical and organizational challenges he would be required to meet. When he was consecrated in 1848, the Diocese of Ottawa contained 40,000 Catholics.[1] This flock was spread out over much of what is today Eastern Ontario; as mentioned in the previous post, Guigues might be expected to travel 320 kilometres away to Temiscaming and his missionaries might need to reach as far as James Bay.[2] Furthermore, Guigues didn’t even have a formal seat of office for the first five years of his posting, until Notre Dame was completed; to add insult to injury, the hot water heating system was not installed until two years after his death.[3]

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Notre Dame Basilica: General

Most who have visited the Byward Market area of modern Ottawa would be capable of describing Notre Dame Basilica. The oldest standing church in Ottawa, and the seat of the Archdiocese of Ottawa in the Roman Catholic Church, Notre Dame is a landmark. Its twin towers can be seen from across Ottawa, and its roof is instantly recognisable (and occasionally blinding) at a closer distance. But Notre Dame is not just a pleasant addition to Ottawa’s skyline; as with many of the other historic areas in the city, it is home to a long and storied past.

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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 Cèdres 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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