The stories you’ll find here begin with William ‘Pammy’ Fleming, a sapper* with England’s Royal Engineers, who came to help build the Rideau Canal and stayed to help run it. They continue with some episodes from the lives of the Canadian family he started.
The history of Canada would be an entirely different history were it not for the Rideau Canal.There might not even be a Canada. In the early 1800s the Canal was a visible deterrent to American invasion, which had happened twice in the previous half century. And Ottawa would not be the capital. Ottawa might not be here if not for the Canal. Now a a world heritage site recognized by UNESCO, the Rideau Canal was a cornerstone of a crucial quarter century of economic and population growth, and political development. It is truly a wondrous waterway and the families spawned in the making of it have touched and been touched by much of what has made Canada today one of the best if not the very best of all the countries in the world to live in.
As we approach the duocentennial of the War of 1812, bicentennial of the birth of John A. Macdonald (2015), sesquicentennial of confederation (2017), duocentennial of the start of the Rideau Canal and settlement of Ottawa/Bytown (2026), the question arises. How did we get here from a wilderness dense with forest in summer and frozen in winter in just two centuries? Two hundred years is fast, lifetimes of three family members, two in some families.
The Rideau Canal from Ottawa to Kingston set the foundation. It is a critical component that, to say the least, doesn’t leap to mind. The Canal has slipped from the national consciousness as smoothly as it has transformed itself into a tourist waterway. But the Canal is still with us. And we are still here. These two facts are intimately connected. The Canal held off American aggression, which had escalated twice to war, until the threat subsided. The Canal provided an interprovincial traffic link for goods and waves of immigrants until work on the St. Lawrence opened that route. And the Canal established the site of the national capital.
An explosion of high tech enterprise dominated Ottawa’s economy in the last quarter of the twentieth century, branding it Silicon Valley North, lifting it to the rank of a world recognized cluster of digital and telecom output. It was the culmination of centuries of engineering excellence in Ottawa, building on By’s example. Tom Ahearn and Warren Soper incorporated their firm to deliver pioneering telegraph and telephone services in 1881, just five years after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Ahearn is credited with the invention of the electric cooking stove, though it was primarily a heater for the streetcars in use by the Ottawa Electric Railway that Ahearn & Soper started in 1891. Tom “Carbide” Willson discovered an economically efficient process for creating calcium carbide, used in the production of acetylene gas. He sold the patent to Union Carbide but built a carbide plant in Ottawa, where he was the first person to own an automobile.
The history of engineering and innovation in Ottawa stretches back through the founding of the National Research Council in 1916, where both the Academy Award and the Nobel Prize are cultivated, prior to the first engineering classes at the University of Ottawa in 1874, to its astonishing beginnings under command of the genius who crafted a marvel of design and transport from a vast, virgin landscape. Employing technology at the edge of what was understood, innovating and improvising where necessary, Lieutenant Colonel John By built the waterway better than anybody knew, for the ages.
Distinguishing the generations: The convention ‘great2granddaughter’ indicates the fourth generation of descendants from William ‘Pammy’ Fleming (his great-great-granddaughter), ‘great3grandson’ indicates the fifth generation of descendants (great-great-great grandson), etc. The easiest way to understand it is to see the subscript digit as the actual number of ‘greats’ in the relationship.

* Sappers build bridges and clear obstacles for advancing troops. Their modern role was famously depicted in this passage from William Manchester’s definitive biography of Winston Churchill, describing the attack at El Alamein of the British Eighth Army across a six mile front where “sappers cleared narrow paths just wide enough to accommodate tank treads through the half million land mines Rommel had buried at his front.”



  1. We Canadians don’t really have much of a grasp of our history. I know I had not real appreciation for Canadian history until at age 68 I went back to school full time and picked up my post graduate certificate in Documentary Production.
    My main documentary project was about Perth Ontario, the very first military settlement in Canada, founded in 1816. Perth was not built on the Rideau canal system, although later, business men tried to construct a Tay canal to connect Perth to the Rideau Canal.
    The first secretary/stores-keeper of the settlement was Daniel Daverne, an ensign sent up from Kingston in 1816. The settlers found it extremely hard, since 1817 was the year summer never came to eastern Canada. A volcano the other side of the world covered much of the planet in dust and ash – and all the crops failed.
    In 1995, an old book was found in the rubble of a downtown building being renovated. This book turned out to be the Perth copybook written by Daniel in 1816-1818. Now curiously, Daniel, in the history books is considered to be a criminal, and all round bad guy – but this copybook showed a completely different side of Daniel.
    A local historian decided to follow up and did some research… leading to the discovery of the living relatives of Daniel, still living on the very farm that Daniel bought for his parents in 1815, just down the road from where John A. McDonald lived in Adolphustown. They had boxes of documents from the early 1800’s that revealed a completely different history.
    My Documentary covers the time period, from when the copybook was discovered to the present time. It was filmed in Ottawa, Perth and Adolphustown. It should be released on DVD shortly “Daniel’s Journal – History Rewritten”. The production site is at http://DanielDaverne.com and the Facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=45912699838
    Although I thought this might be the end of the story, I recently received a mysterious email from northern BC telling me I hadn’t uncovered all the secrets yet – like how did the copybook get into the rubble? – and are the other 24 journals still in the secret underground tunnels?
    Well – I was intrigued to say the least. So my next documentary will be – “The Great Perth Historical Archaeological Expedition”…. where I hope to prove the tunnels exist, and if I am very lucky – locate the other 24 journals.

  2. We Canadians also don’t seem to have much of a grasp of what we want to be and where we want to go, either. If we focussed hard on the economy and making it perform properly – for everybody’s benefit – , we would have a much better idea

  3. Our current immigration policy will work to Canada’s advantage in the long run only if there is proper attention to making the economy perform such that it creates enough jobs to employ properly everybody who wants to work. The current focus on “credentials recognition” and other aspects of “labour market integration” for foreign trained professionals and trades people, and overcoming the challenges therein, represents at best only a partial solution to the problems. The vast over-supply of people in Canada, relative to jobs available, is being caused by pretending that people out of work – but classified by Statistics Canada as “Not in the Labour Force” – can just be ignored. Based on the “Ottawa’s Hidden Workforce” report of Fall 1998, some 38% of people so classified are in fact people out of work and wanting work. If you take that figure as representative for Canada as a whole, that translates into roughly 3 million people – IN ADDITION TO the so-called “official unemployed”. On top of this there is a massive under-employment problem, as evidenced by the March 2006 Statistics Canada report, “Work Hours Instability in Canada”. See also my web site at http://www.unempgeninfo.com These problems won’t go away by just “wishing them away” and adopting ill-informed and pejorative attitudes towards people having persistent trouble finding work, and then telling them that if they want jobs then you have to “know somebody”. People dishing out that sort of so-called “advice” to the jobless either don’t know what they are doing – or are just saying this so that they can show off to their little workplace cliques how “tough” they think they are – or both. That sort of approach will serve to perpetuate the current problems for everybody – to everybody’s detriment. So Canada needs to put better economic management than we are seeing at present on its “wish list”.

  4. I think this article should read the bi-centennial of John A. MacDonald’s birth since he was born in 1815.

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