Amidst the celebration of a balmy summer day and the final day of the second annual Rideau Canal Festival, dozens of people gathered near the Rideau Canal locks to pay tribute to the workers and their families who lost their lives during the construction of the canal.
About 1,000 workers and their families were killed — and many more injured — during the construction of the Rideau Canal between 1826 and 1832.
More than 2,000 craft workers and 5,000 labourers, many of them immigrants, built the canal and its 18 dams, 47 locks and four blockhouses using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows.
Although the memorial is only seven years old, talks had been going on for about 50 years prior about how to honour the people who lost their lives, said Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council.
“It’s important that we do this every year,” he said of the ceremony.
The cross tells the story of the building of the canal in four languages, including Irish, French, Scottish and Algonquin, said McKenny.
The cross — one of four located along the Rideau Canal — is rich in symbolism, said Ken Clavette, executive director of the Workers’ Heritage Centre. While the graphic of the pick, shovel and wheelbarrow show the equipment the workers used, symbols also depict the dangers the workers faced, including explosions and malaria.