Ottawa – To mark the 175th anniversary of the building of the Rideau Canal, members of CUPE’s National Health and Safety Committee attended a commemorative ceremony with members of the Ottawa and District Labour Council, the Ottawa and District Injured Workers Group and the Canal Commemorative Group to remember the workers who died building the canal.
The gathering took place on April 21 at the Celtic Cross memorial where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River. The Celtic Cross is a memorial to the 1,100 workers who died while building the canal under brutal conditions between 1826 and 1832. Canal workers often died from landslides, cave-ins, or dynamite explosions. Many died from malaria or “ditch fever.”
Committee co-chairs, Pearl Blommaert and Rex Hillier, laid a wreath at the Celtic Cross in an act of remembrance.
“It was an honour to come to the Celtic Cross and remember these workers from so long ago,” said Sister Blommaert. “It’s important for us to acknowledge the struggle of all workers.”
The canal workers, referred to as navvies, dug the waterway with picks and shovels. Most of the workers were Irish and French. Native Canadians also made up the ranks of workers who toiled on the canal.