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This history of Manotick, Ontario, is excerpted from Inventory of Heritage Buildings, Volume II - Manotick and Area, compiled and edited by David W. Bartlett, former Mayor of Rideau Township. The print publication includes photographs by C. W. Barrass and additional commentary from Dora Stamp. The book was produced by the Rideau Township Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee and the Rideau Heritage Board. This article was also published in Rideau Watch, a web archive of Rideau Township 1996-1999. *Numbers are linked to footnotes at the bottom.

A Capsule History of Manotick

by David Bartlett

Reprinted with permission of the author.

This book is mostly about old buildings. It is accordingly not the place, nor does the Editor have the resources, to attempt a comprehensive local history of Manotick.(5) On the other hand, it may be helpful to include a short outline so that readers not familiar with the background can situate the buildings in their historical context.

The founding and early history of Manotick was a consequence of the development of the Rideau Canal, so it appears paradoxical that the canal had been in operation for almost thirty years before the village appeared.

The canal was designed and constructed for the Imperial government under the supervision of Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. For almost all the way, his approach was to build dams to raise the water level In the existing channel, and so to eliminate upstream rapids by flooding them out (6). The dams were then by-passed by locks, and sluices or waste weirs were constructed to control the water levels. Control weirs were used where necessary to keep the water from finding another channel around the dam.(7)

Villages tended to appear at the lock stations since they provided a head of water for milling, the boats had to stop there anyway, and the canal could readily be crossed by a road along the top of the dam and a short bridge over the locks.

In the Manotick area, all this happened at the Long Island Lockstation, where a village appeared following the opening of the canal in 1832. Indeed, it is reported that a rudimentary sawmill owned by a Mr. Hulbert was in place though not actually operating on this site when the Royal Engineers came through with their planning survey in 1827(8). At any rate, the Belden Atlas of 1879 shows a street layout providing for 160 lots and reports that Long island "was at one time quite a thriving village.... The first church in [Gloucester] Township was built here and the second schoolhouse", -the first one being near Billings' Bridge.

Meanwhile, nothing much was happening on the present site of Manotick. Patents had been issued for some of the land around 1820, both to "late loyalists" and their children and also to members of the Family Compact and other influential speculators, but much of it remained with the Crown. Mark time until about 1850 when land clearing and agricultural settlement reached this part of the Township. For example, some of the former Cameron property in Lot 1 concession A, which included the land where the stoplight is now located, was owned by one John Harvey from 1819 to 1854 (9), though it is very doubtful if he ever saw his holdings or would have had any reason to do so. The first Daniel Cameron arrived from Scotland by way of Nova Scotia in 1854 and proceeded to turn the property into a farm which was occupied by Camerons until the mid-1980s. (10)

The Village followed about ten years later, as a delayed consequence of one of Colonel By's few mistakes. Foundation conditions for the waste weir and control dams which were originally constructed in the vicinity of the Long Island locks proved very much worse than expected. The waste-weir washed out on June 8, 1836, and was replaced by the beginning of August, which was no small accomplishment in such an isolated location. Nevertheless, through traffic was interrupted for two months of the short shipping season. Other foundation problems appeared frequently in the ensuing years.

The whole scheme was accordingly rethought in the 1850's, and a new dam was constructed across the back channel in a new location on the site of the present Manotick bulkhead. This was well upstream from the earlier failures, and from an engineering and navigational standpoint it provided an effective long-term solution.

The dam also produced a head of water for which the rights were purchased by Moss Kent Dickinson in partnership with Joseph Currier. Mr. Dickinson was a substantial businessman and freight forwarder who owned a fleet of boats and barges plying the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers end the Rideau Canal. He also served as Mayor of Ottawa for the three years 1864-66, before moving to Manotick. Mr. Currier's principal interests were in lumber. Their grist-mill, which still stands as the centrepiece of the village, went into service in 1859 (11), shortly to be followed by a sawmill and carding mill which were later destroyed by fire.

To provide for their various businesses and for housing required by their employees, Messrs. Dickinson and Currier apparently acquired about thirty acres from several farmers on both sides of the back channel. We know that Mr. Dickinson bought twelve acres from Daniel Cameron, which would be the parcel on the mainland north of Mill Street. Employment prospects and the bustle of the new village rapidly drew population. They included virtually all the residents of the former village of Long Island, where no traces except the lock station and the graveyard remain to interest modern visitors (12). The Belden Atlas reports that "in 1859, when Mr. Dickinson purchased, there was but one log house in the village which [twenty years later contained] nearly 100 residences, five general stores, one drug store, one school, three churches, five blacksmith shops, four wagon shops, cabinet, carpenter, tailor, shoe, tin and harness shops and a population of 400. . . The principal manufacturing establishments already in operation include a saw mill and novelty works, flour and grist mill, and carding and cloth factory, and to these are attached wharf, storehouses, sheds, storage, cooper and carpenter shops. . . . The village has telegraphic and daily mail facilities. Mr. Dickinson named it 'Manotick' which is the Indian word for Long Island".

Even allowing for the boosterism expected in Belden - after at, the businessmen were subsidising the book - there seems no doubt that by 1879 Manotick was a bustling little place. All the buildings were then less than twenty years old! The growth seems to have continued, though probably more slowly, until the early twentieth century. Most of the good buildings listed in the inventory were built in the fifty years after 1860.

The village then went into a period of slow decline which lasted until the end of the Second World War. Three factors largely account for this:

    a) Well before the turn of the century, railway trains had largely replaced canal steamers and barges, and the railway bypassed Manotick. A horse-drawn express service met the trains at Manotick Station to carry passengers and mail but this was not an adequate substitute for a station in town.

    b) Immediately after the first World War, the private car came into its own. Manotick's first dealership, which opened in 1918, was in the building at 5541 Main Street now occupied by the Gift and Stationery. The first purpose-built commercial garage was erected in 1922 at 5549 Main Street, where it remains.

    Highway 16, which had been under construction since the end of the war, was finally finished in 1926; it may be significant that Kemptville was the home and political base of G. Howard Ferguson, Conservative premier of Ontario from 1923 to 1930! On its original alignment, the Highway followed the Manotick Main Street to Century Road, thence to Todd's Corners and the present Regional Road 73 to Carsonby and North Gower.

    It would be hard to over-estimate the economic and social consequences of the individual mobility offered by reliable cars running on good roads. Home, work, church, friends, services and shops no longer needed to be within walking distance of each other. People tended increasingly to look to larger centres, particularly Ottawa, for employment, shopping and entertainment. Local business declined. By the early 1950's, Manotick was down to two general stores, one very small grocery store which also rented cold storage lockers, three convenience stores, a modest hardware store, two garages and a gas bar, a car dealership and one small bank.

    c) People who lived in Manotick for much of this century remember different events like the "trekker's" march on Ottawa during the depression or the completion of the highway, but without exception, everybody remembers the day in 1926 when Ontario Hydro switched on. Street lights were nice and electric appliances were convenient, but the real social significance of this event was that you could power a water pump, and if you could power a water pump, you could install a bathroom indoors. This made a real difference to the quality of life in January!

On the other hand, the use of electric and diesel power changed industrial technology. Mr. Dickinson's water-powered mill, which had been state-of-the art when it was built in 1859, became obsolete and there was no compelling reason to replace it or to install other manufacturing capacity in Manotick. Far better to go someplace with a railway and a versatile labour force or an all-season port or a local source of raw materials or some other notable advantage.

In short, Manotick was no doubt a nice little place but during the first half of the twentieth century, it had no economic edge.

Automobiles and electric power had interesting consequences for the physical appearance of the village. For one thing, horses and other domestic livestock disappeared, and over a period of time the stables, sheds, hen houses and manure piles which went with them were torn down and carted away. A few old town barns remain (13) but 100 years ego they would have been everywhere. Indoor plumbing also meant the end of the outhouse. There is a legend that residents organised a joyous bonfire when the power went on, but the story may be apocryphal.

Electric power had other consequences for the form of the village. Street lighting is an obvious example, but the disappearance of summer kitchens is probably more significant. When everybody cooked on a wood stove and there were no electric fans, the heat of summer in a conventional "winter" kitchen was very uncomfortable. Many houses accordingly included an attached, breezy shed with plenty of screened windows which was used as a kitchen in the summertime and for storage during the rest of the year. With electric stoves and fans and pressurised water systems, the move to the summer kitchen probably came to represent more trouble than it was worth; a few were converted to year-round living space but most were simply torn down (14).

All this suggests that Manotick a century ago was much more densely occupied than the land in the present central village. Barns, shops, woodpiles and woodsheds, privies, carriage sheds, hen houses; summer kitchens, cowsheds: pigsties and small commercial buildings like blacksmith and millinery and barber shops (15) fitted in between the residences, though in large measure only the houses remain today. The trade-off, of course, is space for weeping tile. The Manotick household of 1890 used far less water than we do, not least because it all had to pumped by hand. Disposal did not require the tile beds that keep our wide lawns green!

What goes around comes around, and the investment in roads and automobiles which edged the village into economic decline after the First World War was the engine of a renewed half-century of growth following the Second. A few hardy souls realised in the 1930's that it was practical and pleasant to live in Manotick while working in Ottawa. More came after 1945. Until the 1970's, Ivan Driscoll ploughed village streets with his big farm tractor after the morning milking. Highway 16 was occasionally impassable, but as their numbers grew the commuters lost the blissful idleness of the snow-days!

The LACAC files include a photo of a highway sign, probably from about 1945, reading "MANOTICK pop 300". Fifty years later, an estimated 4,000 - 5,000 people slept within two or three kilometres of Dickinson Square. This second surge of growth may call for revision of this Inventory, say sixty years hence, when time has sorted out the strengths and sins of twentieth century design and construction in our village.


5. We do not yet have a general local history of Manotick. The best sources are probably Dora Stamp's articles in the 1959 Centennial Year Book, and Catherine Carroll's docu-novel based on the life of M.K. Dickinson, where the historical setting is careful. The chapter in Harry and Olive Walker's Carleton Saga [Runge Press. Ottawa, 1968] is interesting but not entirely reliable: for example, they kill off M.K. Dickinson 27 years too soon!     BACK

6. This was unconventional at the time. To save land, English canals of the period mostly consisted of narrow artificial ditches, and weirs were used primarily to direct water into them. Colonel By's problem was not a shortage of land but a shortage of labour, supplies and draft animals. In these circumstances, it was much cheaper and more efficient to raise the water surface rather than digging out the "invert" - i.e., the bottom - of the channel.     BACK

7. The definitive work on the history of the canal is R. F. Leggatt: "The Rideau Waterway", University of Toronto Press, revised edition, 1972. See also Robert W. Passfield: "Building the Rideau Canal: A Pictorial History", Fitzhenry and Whiteside in association with Parks Canada, 1982. for interesting early sketches and a Good bibliography.     BACK

8. Passfield, supra, p 72     BACK

9. Though the connection has not been verified. the absentee owner may well have been Lt.-General Sir John Harvey, who was deputy adjutant-general in Upper Canada during the war of 1812. He served subsequently in Lower Canada and in all the Atlantic colonies. He would probably have been governor of Nova Scotia when Daniel Cameron was passing through.     BACK

10. See the entry for 1175 Highcroft Drive.     BACK

11. Following the loss of his young wife in a mill accident the following year, Mr. Currier sold out to Mr. Dickinson and disappears from the local history of the village. His other enterprises must have been profitable, for 24 Sussex Drive was built as his Ottawa residence. Long-time residents report that the mill ghost, said to represent the lady, is a figment of recent imagination.     BACK

12. In King of the Rideau, Catherine Carroll records that M.K. used his considerable political influence to secure the construction of the Rideau bridge at his new settlement rather than at Long Island. The decision was significant, since this was for more than a hundred years the only dry crossing of the Rideau between Hog's Back and Kars. It effectively doubled the trading area available to Manotick merchants and services.     BACK

13. for example, behind 5514 Main Street, 1143 Mill Street and 5640 Rideau Valley Drive.     BACK

14. One example of a conversion is at 1139 John Street. The account of the house next door, at 1137, records a demolition.     BACK

15. One at least with chickens in the attic: see entry for 1135 Mill Street.     BACK

In 1875 Moss Kent Dickinson created the Canada Bung, Plug and Spile Factory near his mill. The factory quickly became a world-leading supplier of bungs, which are used to help the carbon dioxide that is created during the fermentation process to evaporate.

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