Old fashion good time.
Kevin Dooley plays some traditional Irish music at the Rideau Canal Workers Designation at St. Brigid’s Centre of the Arts on March 14. The event welcomed dignitaries, families and friends to commemorate the Irish immigrant workers who helped build the canal. Two plaques marking the contribution will be placed at both ends of the canal in August by Parks Canada.
It was an old-fashion good time as members of the Irish society, family and friends gathered to officially celebrate the designation of the contribution made by Irish workers to the construction of the Rideau Canal.
St. Brigid’s Centre of the Arts was packed on March 14 at a celebration of the official designation from Parks Canada. While the event was months in the making, it has taken years for a dedicated group of people to actually reach the point where the placement of two commemorative plaques at either end of the canal will become a reality.
Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council, made a special point to thank the hard work of his friend Kevin Dooley for working for more than five years to reach this point.
“A tip of the hat is to a friend of mine, and a friend of all of yours, who rightfully demanded the workers be recognized,” McKenny said. “Thank you, Kevin.”
The Rideau Canal was built between 1826 and 1832, a Herculean effort that saw thousands of Irish and French immigrants laying the brickwork for the world-famous waterway. It is estimated that more than 1,000 workers died of malaria during the construction of the canal.
In 2006, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada was asked by a ad hoc committee made up of members from the Irish Society of the National Capital Region and the Ottawa and District Labour Council to consider the contributions of the Irish workers for designation.
Over the past six years, the nomination has been denied twice, but on Nov. 2, 2012, Parks Canada officially announced it would formally recognize the construction workers who built the canal.
The evening saw Mayor Jim Watson, Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi and representatives from the Irish Embassy in attendance.
“I want to thank all those individuals who worked so hard to get those workers designated,” Watson said. “We are fortunate to have individuals who worked so hard and they deserve our eternal thanks for recognizing the workers. A job well done and I thank you.”
The celebration began with a look back at the history of the building of the canal, featuring poems from local authors, who helped the crowd fall back in time to when bricks were being laid and lives were being lost.
Irish Ambassador Ray Bassett, was unable to attend the celebration, but sent a letter applauding the committee’s efforts and the official designation.
“The Rideau Canal is a monumental achievement realized by these workers,” said a statement read at the event by Bassett’s assistant Caoimhe Bennis. “The inclusion of these workers is a testament of their hard work.”
Bassett’s words had the crowd erupt with applause and cheers.
Once official ceremonies were complete, it became an old fashion good time, with music provided by Kevin Dooley and friends.
Two plaques will be placed on the canal, one located at Jones Falls in Elgin, Ont., and one located at the Corktown footbridge in Ottawa. The plaques will be large with two interpretive panels that will tell the story of how the canal was built in English and French.