Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Lockside Love

This past summer (seems forever ago) I spent the better part of a week at wonderful Murphy's Point Provincial Park, solo, much of it devoted to summer writing deadlines. But I did take a day trip to Smiths Falls, a city I recall from long ago visits with DC and our lovely dog Star.

The three of us wandered Victoria Park, created from marshland in 1897 as a "public pleasure ground," viewing lawns and cooling shallows from a dog's simple perspective.

This visit I spent several  hours beside the Rideau River, contemplating the town's industrial past, and finding my own respite from the heat.                                                                                                                                         
The somewhat diminished grand house across Lombard Street would have enjoyed its superior setting next to the park. In recent years the street leading out of town has shouldered its way very close to the cast iron fences, pushing the  house into restaurants and other bad decisions. I noticed it's again for sale.

I found a 'strolling' guide which recounted that the home with its delightful verandah, turreted corner, dormers, tall hip roof with iron cresting and twin flue chimney was built in 1895 for Ogle Carss, an early mayor of Smiths Falls.

Looking further back in my own story, I  recall the mid-sixties, when dad would drive me back to school at Carleton, and would invariably get lost (and irritated) in the town, while I was so anxious to see more of its grand houses and stone mills that I didn't mind at all ("try down here, Dad!") I remember this busy intersection being particularly fraught. Smiths Falls is a great town to get lost in, and last summer I did.

When the sun grew too hot, mindful as I was of not getting sweaty fingerprints on an exquisite borrowed camera, I repaired to the lock stations of the Rideau Canal, and fell once again in love. With the history, the engineering, the topography (for they are by nature, a motte, bailey and ditch sort of landscape,) the trees and gardens, the coolness and the serenity. Fun to ignore bronzed posers on the shiny boats, as they pretended not to notice folks watching the locking operations - and them.

Defensible Lockmaster's House (1838)
Earlier that morning,  I stopped at Old Slys lockstation upstream. I came upon it by accident, following leafy terraced lawns leading downhill from the 1862 Joshua Bates museum home . I spent a good while around the damp cool monumental sandstone blocks of the lock walls, wondering as I always do about the men and horses who struggled to bring it into being. The plans were supervised by Royal Engineers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John By.

I was drawn to the domestic scale of the hip roofed building across the lawn - waiting patiently for the traffic waiting patiently for the draw-bridge to open, so I could take a photo without traffic. Turns out this doughty square rough masonry structure is one of the 'defensible lockmaster's houses' which lined the new Rideau Canal- they all seem so benign now, weathered warm, part of the park-like surroundings at the locks. This Historic Places link may serve to jog your memory - a reminder that in the nineteenth century the Rideau Canal was part of Britain's military defense strategy for her valuable colonial real estate (remember that cross-border skirmish in 1812?)

The Rideau Canal system was built between 1826 and 1832, extending over 126 miles, with 47 locks navigating around rough water and heights of land, carrying traffic from settlers to steamboats, and always in peace.

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