Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | December 8, 2013

Artifact of the Week. Gong from the Cornwall Canal,1842 1958.

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Gong from the Cornwall Canal.


Described as “by far the most important section on the whole (St. Lawrence Canal) line,” when completed in 1842, the completion of the Cornwall section of the Canal linked the Great Lakes with the world, and was at the time an engineering, transportation, energy and economic feat on par with the building of the St. Lawrence and Ontario Hydro Project a century later.


Steamships lining up to enter the eastern entrance of the Cornwall Canal around 1900, loaded with passengers and cargo on their way to the Great Lakes.


The west end of the Cornwall Canal, near the soccer fields, April 30, 1897.  Work started on the deepening of the Canal to 14 feet in 1891 and was completed six years later.

The digging of the Cornwall Canal completed the last link in the water transportation route between Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec), and signaled the realization of a 250 year dream to create a water link between the Canadian interior and the rest of the world.  Remember if you can your grade  school history.  Canada was originally explored to find a short cut to the Orient.  The canal may not have given access to the Orient, but it did help open up the Great Lakes and the Canadian West.

It was necessary to build the canal to circumvent the Long Sault Rapids.  Construction on the canal also changed Cornwall’s history by introducing thousands of Irish workers and their families, a fact that led to the construction of St. Columban’s, and laid the basis for the town’s Catholic and Irish population.


canal0004A  postcard showing the eastern entrance of the Cornwall Canal.  Along with providing a transportation link with the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, the waterpower from the Canal provided electric power for the building of Cornwall’s industries starting in the 1860s.  The waterpower from the Canal allowed Cornwall to turn into an industrial centre, while the easy and cheap transportation afforded by the Canal allowed Cornwall’s industrialists to ship Cornwall-made goods across North America.  The first Mill to use the canal was located near the Cornwall Community Museum in the 1850s when flour, saw and woollen mills moved here.  In 1870 the Stormont Mill was constructed.

The East End was developed in 1861 with the construction of Mack’s Express Roller Mills.  The Cornwall Manufacturing Co. (Dundas Mill) built its woollen mill in 1870, in the middle.  In 1872 the Canada Mill in the distance was constructed and in 1883 Thomas Edison “electrified” the newly built weave shed, making it the first industry in Canada with electric lights.


Canal activity increased to the point that in 1882 the eastern entrance was moved closer to the river, creating locks 15 and 17.  In 1897 the original entrance locks were converted into dry docks.  Ross Bingley of Bingley Steel Works recalled “the basin between the two made and excellent dry dock, about 300 feet long and 200 feet wide…It wasn’t unusual to have two or three canallers – boats up to 225 feet in length – tied up…for repairs or winter maintenance.”  Covering nearly two acres, the docks were capable of handling ships with a draft up to 12 feet.

The dry docks also generated a small boat building industry.  The entrance gates can still be seen, and there must be a “treasurer trove” of archaeological material in the old basin.

canal0006Mrs. Lee and Jessie G. Williams pose in front of the dry docks in 1913.  Mack’s Mill is in the background to the right, and behind it you can see Nativity’s spire.

canal0008 The dry docks around 1926, with the canal and government warehosues to the left.  The curve in the river, centre, is Amelia Street.  The river to the left is now filled in and is home to the Curling Club, the Acquatic Centre, the Civic Complex and the bandshell.  The Stormont Mill, the present site of  the museum is in the distance on the river bank.


The eastern entrance to the Cornwall Canal, with Pointe Maligne to the left.  The Pointe was used by the Loyalists to make potash, and in 1847 for a cholera hospital.  It is one of Cornwall’s most historic locations.  Locals called the area Merry Widow, Cornwall’s Lover’s Lane.

The whole north bank of the St. Lawrence around Cornwall is of historic importance, not only to Cornwall but the history of Canada.  The north shore has been the site of human habitation for over 3,000 years.  The traditional land of the Iroquois; French fur traders were the first Europeans to voyage past Pointe Malinge, the geographic name given to the land adjacent to the rapids near present day Cornwall.

The City has recognized the historic, social  importance and economic significance of the waterfront and have spent over $40 million on waterfront redevelopment over the past 35 years.


The eastern entrance of the Cornwall Canal, 1920s .  Understanding the natural beauty provided by the River the Federal Government of the time enhanced it with a park, rather than let industry prevail.


The park-like setting around the entrance to the Canal in the 1920s was on Federal Land.


Dry docks, 1920s.


The entrance to the Canal in the 1940s.


The dry docks in winter.


The dry docks in the summer.

canal0015Postcard of the powerhouse and locks at the Cornwall Canal, 1940s.


Government Offices surrounded park land near the entrance to the Cornwall Canal, ca. 1914.

go 002Cornwall Canal Lockmaster’s badge.


The eastern entrance to the Cornwall Canal looking west.  Historic Pointe Maligne is in the forefront and dry docks in the centre right.

canal0019The eastern entrance of the Cornwall Canal, looking east with the dry docks in the forefront.  Much of the stonework from the original dry docks still remains.  Once the docks closed in the late 1950s, the site was filled with oil tanks, which have since been removed.  As the final link in the 19th Great Lakes transportation system, the area must be filled with invaluable archaeological material, and should be treated as a National Historic treasure.

canal0020The remains of the Canal entrance’s second set of locks.


This aerial photograph shows the canal and oil tanks before the canal and dry docks were filled in.   The whitened part of the photographs shows the outline for today’s Lamoureux Park.canal0022

The eastern entrance to the Canal before being filled in and the removal of the oil tanks and digging of Marina 200.

The construction of the Seaway and the drowning of the Long Sault Rapids made the Canal obsolete and it closed on June 30th, 1958.  In 1971, the City of Cornwall, understanding the potential value of the waterfront to the City and citizen’s of Cornwall undertook a study that looked into future usage.  In 1988, the City’s Waterfront Improvement Committee, headed by Councilor Chuck Charlebois started work on waterfront clean-up with a $123,000 grant.  Over the years, the City has spearheaded the development of the waterfront with the bicycle path, the Marina, the Civic Complex, the bandshell, the splashpad, the Museum, the Aquatic Centre, the baseball diamonds and open park land.  Groupe Renaissance has looked into developing the idle industrial land and property east of the entrance, to return the waterfront, where Cornwall began, back to the community.

©Cornwall Community Museum

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Cornwall Industry

A Cornwall Community Museum Blog

Cornwall Canal and Shipping History

A Cornwall Community Museum Publication

Cornwall Community Museum

In The Wood House at the waterfront, Cornwall, Ontario, Canada

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