Wooden Bridge

By: Dan Mack

Volume 15, Issue 8, August 2020

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing triggers a memory from the past, whether good or bad, like a distinct smell.  Curiosity getting the better of me, I looked up the reason why.  It has everything to do with something called ‘olfactory senses.’  The proximity of the nerves in your nose to the base of the brain and the ‘olfactory sense’ is the culprit for this trigger.

At this point you are thinking, “Enough of the lesson in anatomy of the nostrils, get to what triggered it!”  Alright, I will.

My family and I were spending a few days at Walt Disney World, before this Pandemic started. Just a quick little vacation before our son starts back to college. The hotel is huge but due to the setting, feels like we are in the old south, like Charleston, Savannah or the bayous of Louisiana.  

We were walking across a creosote treated wooden bridge, when the smell of the sun-baked wood stopped me in my tracks.  I was immediately transported back in time, back to a much simpler time of life, the summer of 1971.  

My 1971 photograph of the step-lock system, just above Jones Falls, Ontario, a particularly gorgeous setting on the waterway. 

I was finally in double-digits in my age, looking forward to turning eleven in just a few short months. Summer, particularly July that year, was unseasonably hot and very humid. Cape Vincent is a wonderful town, unless it is hot.  Then it's time to venture a bit farther North. That we did!  

Myself, my younger cousin and her parents and my folks all went on a boat trip up the Rideau Canal in eastern Ontario. We left in the afternoon from our home port of Cape Vincent and spent the night in Kingston, Ontario. After clearing Canadian customs and immigration, it was time for the grocery walk. Snacks and soft drinks for Cindy and me, plus adult beverages for the parents. Bright and early the next morning, with bikes strapped to the bow rail and full fuel tanks, the adventure began.  

I remember it vividly!  A  short ride through Kingston Harbor and we came to a set of locks, four in a row.  We had never seen step locks.  The front of one is the back of the next one and so on.  This was a new adventure for all and we were watching intently!  This was also the last of the automatic locks until very much father north.  

It was amazing that, soon after passing through the Kingston Mills locks, the temperature dropped, and the humidity left us.  I remember a lot of  "no wake zones" due to the camps and boathouses, so a slow cruise a, 8-10 knots was a must; but it was quite relaxing.

About the Rideau Today

I have been an airline pilot for 34 years.  The memories of the Rideau in the summers from 1968 to 1978 are still some of the best!  Every year I long for the St. Lawrence River and the surrounding areas of southern Ontario.

Today, I am sitting in Florida and a long way from my memories of Cape Vincent and our voyage up the Rideau Canal, back in 1968. I was curious to see if COVID-19 has made a difference.  A quick look at the Internet assured me the Canal is now open and will be until October 12.

See https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/rideau/visit; Also see 2020 Fees and Schedules http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/fees.html

The Canal was closed until June 1 this year and there are still published cautions: “Parks  Canada is asking Canadians to be cautious and conservative in their use of these places, to observe any regional or Ontario travel restrictions and to respect any closures that are in place. Anyone participating in  recreational activities should be extra cautious to avoid injury and/or  getting lost to help minimize the demands placed on search and rescue  teams and on the health care system,”

The Rideau Canal, ending in Kingston, Ontario, is manmade, hand dug, and is 126 miles long, and starts in the Capital city of Ottawa. On a historical note, construction started in 1832, as a precaution in the event that Canada went to war with the U.S.  Thankfully that never happened.  Today it is used primarily for pleasure craft between the months of mid-May to Mid-October.  Within the City of Ottawa, there is a four-mile stretch that is used as an ice rink in the winter months.

The locks, as well as the water valves, are hand-operated by crank, chain and pulley.  As boats pull into the lock, the doors are closed by hand, and often the lock tenders will accept help from little kids , and big kids alike, onboard the various watercraft.

As the big metropolis of Kingston is left behind and after the four step-locks, the ride up the River takes you through many lakes, narrow rivers, and numerous riverside villages.  Due to the rather shallow nature of the canal, attention to navigation is a must.


As you approach the locks, notice the gates made of wood, Douglas Fir, and all are miter cut for a tight fit.  They are hand operated to this day, which is well worth the trip just watching the operation of the lock.  Given the age of this waterway system, the technology is ahead of its time.

So, lockdown and Corona news got you down? Take a walk, as they say and "smell the roses", which may bring back fond memories - Better still, find a boat, some water and family.  It cures the ‘ills.’

By Dan Mack

Editor's Note:  The following note was written by a real TI Life editor, Elspeth Naismith, who volunteered to assist. Elspeth has a passion for military history and was delighted to see this piece. She thought I would be interested in a wee bit more, and I think you will be too.  

Lt Col John By started building the canal in what was subsequently named Bytown and is now known as Ottawa! After years of sweat, labour, disasters, and set-backs, it was finally finished when it was linked into the Cataraqui River, north of Kingston. And even though it wasn't started until sometime around 1832, the planning started during or immediately after the War of 1812, when the British realized that the damned yankees could easily cut off shipping traffic in the River. You can spit from Prescott to Ogdensburg, and there's not a lot of separation between Canada and the US from Cornwall west to Mallorytown! There wasn't much in the way of settlements on the US side between Montreal and Cornwall, which meant that shipping could be diverted safely up the Ottawa River to Ottawa and then down the canal to Kingston.  E. Naismith, Gananoque, ON.

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 8, August 2020, Nature, Sports

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