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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 10

The Architectural Heritage of the Rideau Corridor

by Barbara A. Humphreys

The Heritage

The corridor including the Rideau Canal runs the entire 125-mile length of the canal between Ottawa and Kingston and varies in width to include parts of the counties of Carleton, Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, and Frontenac. The area surveyed excludes Ottawa and Kingston but includes the centres of Perth, Smith's Falls and Kemptville and a number of smaller, historically interesting communities (see Fig. 1).

1 Map of the Rideau Corridor showing the area covered in the survey. (click on image for a PDF version)

The corridor is largely rural in nature, encompassing recreational areas, woodlands, swamplands, pastures and farms and, too, some of the best 19th-century vernacular architecture in Ontario in the form of hundreds of stone cottages, outstanding for their excellence of proportion and fine simplicity of design. Most of these have been well maintained or restored and many of them remain in the families of the original settlers who built them. Some of these houses can be found grouped together in the older settlements of the area. Others remain as the farm homes they were meant to be and can be found bordering the main roads in those areas where initial settlement was early and concentrated such as the Burritts Rapids-Merrickville area, the road near Heckston and the area through Westport and Sunbury to Kingston. Still others are isolated and cannot be seen from the main road but make the required concession road detours most worthwhile.

In addition to these stone cottages for which the area is justly famous, there is a substantial representative group of other types of 19th-century buildings — mills, churches, schools and shops — which were an integral part of the life and development of the early communities of the area. Finally, there survive a number of the buildings erected to service and defend the canal. These include 4 of Canada's 11 remaining blockhouses and several defensible lockmaster's houses as well as a few service buildings. Together they constitute a style of "semi-military" architecture unique in Canada.

This is a rich heritage. The quantity and quality of the surviving 19th-century buildings in the Rideau Corridor, the beauty of their predominantly rural locale, the history they represent and the canal itself make this area of the province a fascinating one both historically and architecturally.

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