Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Tragedy of Colonel By

And not a Starbucks in sight . . . 
BUT first, a digression:

Ten years ago, Bill and I traveled all across America in a sweet Airstream RV blazoned with the NASA logo. (Why did we do it? Deets on the "Blue Highways" blog.)

Where's the Wi-Fi?

I was working remotely for the eight weeks we were on the road and needed plenty of bandwidth to send big files to the office. My boss was sanguine. "Wherever you go, you can find a Starbucks and get free wi-fi," he said

Ha! Each night, for fun, I would Google "Starbucks near me." 100 miles in rural Minnesota. 150 miles in South Dakota. And so on.

It's not quite like that now, but if you're wondering why you haven't heard from us in a few days, w're pleased to report that cell phone coverage and free wi-fi do NOT blanket the remote reaches of Ontario's Lake District.

Meanwhile, Back on the Rideau Canal . . .

Check out the curved limestone blocks that flank the
entrance to the Jones Falls flight of four locks
We had dreamy overnight stays tied to the lock walls at Upper Brewers Falls and the topmost Jones Lock.  Both are parklike settings far enough from settlement that at night, when the fireflies and the stars come out, you hear no road noise at all . . . no sounds of the 21st century.

Let Us Now Praise the Chief Engineer

At each lock, we've marveled at the work of Lt. Colonel John By, the engineer who directed the construction of the Rideau Canal. The locks today are living museums, most of them operating using the same forged iron machinery put in place in the 1830s.

Notice the walls slanting AWAY from the boat. Bow bunny
gives this feature a thumbs up!
And the locks are beautiful: carefully fitted limestone blocks forming walls that slant, so the top of the lock is wider than the bottom.

(Speaking as the bow bunny, when you are standing on an eight inch wide walkway next to the lock wall, you appreciate those extra inches between you and the stone!)

Those Dam Rapids

Col. By was a visionary. The canal followed a route traveled by Native Americans in birchbark canoes. Where there were rapids, canoes could be portaged. To let larger vessels pass, some engineers would have blasted a side channel AROUND the rapids.

But the red granite was difficult to cut through. So Col By arranged to build dams that simply flooded the rapids. Building structures from the ground up worked better than drilling down through rock. The dam at Jones Lock was the largest in North America at the time it was built

Bring on the Steamboats

The lockmaster's house at Jones Falls. Completely adorable inside,
including the rifle ports next to each window.  I love it! I'll take it!
He also pushed back against his superiors to have the locks made wide enough to accommodate steamboats, which were just coming into use. That decision helped make the canal a commercial success.

You'd think Col. By would be covered with glory for his achievement in creating an efficient, defensible, solid canal so the British military could move betwee Lake Ontario and Ottawa/Montreal without exposing themselves to the risk of attack by Americans across the St. Lawrence River.  You would be wrong.

There were some cost overruns, and the higher-ups were not happy. By was disgraced. He died soon after. What a shame.

It's a Military Installation! It's a Tourist Attraction!

A stop to cool our batteries at the base of a scenic little
mound of granite called "Dunder's Mate."

Fast forward to 2018. All those dams created vast lakes. That meant habitat for fish. Shoreline for summer cottages.  Last year the canal saw more than a million visitors. Income for small towns.

As we walked around the Jones Falls Dam this morning, we marveled that a former massive military installation is now a major tourist attraction.

The Hotel Opinicon at Chaffey's Lock just got a major facelift.  Adirondack
chic meets Brooklyn culinary sensibilities!
 Col. By, we had a gourmet lunch at Hotel Opinicon at Chaffey's Lock today, and we hoisted a glass of Pilot IPA in your honor.

1 comment:

  1. So interesting! Thanks for your great blog! Mark and I are also enjoying a water view at Greenwood this evening. My first chance to follow your adventure.