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Rideau Canal and First Nations

Historians will tell you that the Rideau Canal system, which connects Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River, was begun in 1826 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel John By.

But in fact the history goes back much further and involves around 50,000 First Nations Peoples.The Algonquin People have inhabited the area we now call Eastern Ontario for around 10,000 years.  From their lands around the Rideau Valley they spread south to Lake Ontario.  By the 17th century, the lands were split up between the Algonquin, Huron, Iroquois and Montagnais Nations.  Small villages, from 35 to 100 populations sprang up along a series of water trade routes which criss-crossed the territory.Europeans began to arrive into the territory around 1610, when the French took note of the riches that could be had up the Ottawa River.  The first major settlement made by the Europeans was the fur trading station and fort built by Count Frontenac at Kingston.  The First Nations and the Metis took on the role of fur trappers and used the well traveled waterways of Eastern Ontario.

Rideau Canal Canada 1827

Rideau Canal Canada 1827

In 1784, the British government began to make land grants to United Empire Loyalists in the areas between Kingston and the Ottawa River.  They used, as their land marks, the First Nation water trade routes and granted certificates of ownership of between 100 and 200 acres per Loyalist.  Over the next fifty or so years, settlements began to spring up, including, Kingston Mills in 1784, Burritt’s Rapids in 1793, Merrickville in 1795,  Wright’s Town (now called Gatineau) in 1800, a military settlement at Perth in 1816 and the townsite at Richmond in 1816.  It is worth noting that these land grants and settlements were made and constructed without a treaty between the government and the First Nations; an issue that comes back to the forefront on occasion even today.

The Rideau Canal was constructed beginning in 1826 following a route set out by Col By but the real route was set out by First Nations a thousand years earlier.

Written by

Author of Mysteries of Canada

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