The War of 1812 Bicentennial
Celebrating 200 Years of Cross Border Friendship
by Neil Patterson
In 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism's Investment Development Office determined that a commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 would be a solid economic opportunity for Ontario. As such, six Ontario regions received funding to support projects and programming that will encourage growth in tourism, particularly those that support heritage, culture and recreation.
An Alliance that represents both sides of the Border along the St. Lawrence from Adolphustown to Cornwall has been established as one of the six regions. The Alliance will encourage 1812 affiliated activities with area attraction, partners, and Municipal, Provincial and Federal Governments. Rideau Lakes own Jan Bonhomme has taken on the role of Executive Director for the Eastern Region. Ms. Bonhomme, who successfully coordinated the 2007 International Plowing Match & County Festival in Crosby, is looking forward to creating this new heritage-tourism initiative. The Alliance is already making plans with representatives from New York State, and as Ms. Bonhomme has stated, "that this is an ideal way for our community's to celebrate 200 years of friendship with the United States'.
The War of 1812 played a pivotal role in the creation of what Rideau Lakes Township is today. Many men from Rideau Lakes were part of both the First and Second Leeds Militia and served in such actions as the capture of Ogdensburg. But, more specific to the Township, the Rideau Canal was constructed due to the war as a future defense measure and the settlement along its corridor was to provide a militia for its protection.
The War of 1812 left in doubt the security of Upper Canada (Ontario) and paved the way for large-scale schemes to promote immigration. Immediately after the war a plan was formulated for a Canal from Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River. This original canal route was through Morton, Delta and Plum Hollow coming out to the Rideau River at Merrickville. The purpose of the canal was to supply Kingston with military supplies that would not have to travel on the St. Lawrence River where they could be destroyed by cannons on the American shore. This first proposed canal would be a tow path canal with a horse path along the side to pull the barges. Early in the 1820's, the canal route was changed mainly to accommodate steam boats which were of a much larger size.
The first wave of immigrants arrived in 1815 and by 1817; twenty eight settlers had been given land in South Elmsley and another 30 in Bastard and South Crosby. The scheme of providing free passage from Britain and free land in Upper Canada ended in 1823; but by that time, several hundred families had developed their new homes in what would become Rideau Lakes Township. New roads had to be constructed, such as the now 15 highway to Portland and then the Kingston Road through Bastard and South Elmsley, also the now 42 highway and the road from Toledo to Rideau Ferry.
In 1826, the construction on the Rideau Canal began and was completed in 1831. It was never used for military purposes other than to transport troops between Montreal and Kingston before the St. Lawrence Canal was opened in 1854. The Canal was the commercial link that allowed first logs and then sawn lumber to be moved to market as well as minerals such as phosphate, lead, iron, feldspar and mica. This was followed by passenger vessels that began the era of tourism. The canal was the commercial link to the outside world and is now the tourism and lifestyle generator for Rideau Lakes.
It can truly be said that the years 1812-2012 will be celebrating our roots.