After years of work to get recognition for the sacrifices of Irish workers who helped build the Rideau Canal, a celebration to mark the official commemoration will feature fun, laughter and good old fashion tune or two.
The Irish Society of the National Capital Region and the Ottawa and District Labour Council are sponsoring the event full of music and poetry to help mark the very special moment for Irish descendants, who will receive two plaques commemorating their contribution to the building of the Rideau Canal on March 14 at St. Brigid’s Centre.
“It may sound corny, but a lot of us sort of appreciate if we close our eyes on that day, we will all feel those workers looking down on us saying ‘thank you,’” said Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council.
The Rideau Canal was built between 1826 and 1832, with thousands of immigrants, including many from Ireland and France, laying the foundations of the world-famous waterway. It is estimated more than 1,000 workers died of malaria during the construction of the canal.
In 2006, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada was asked by an ad-hoc committee made up of members from the Irish Society of the National Capital Region and the Ottawa and District Labour Council to consider the contributions of the Irish workers for designation. Over the past six years, the nomination has been denied twice.
Local Irish musician and author Kevin Dooley worked with the committee.
After years of trying to make the case the Irish workers’ contribution with no avail, Dooley is happy this day is finally drawing near.
“Our group did the work and it was rejected twice but what I think happened was the public’s opinion changed,” Dooley said. “There is a bigger picture, the canal is a living part of our culture and you can’t mess with the canal and with that we found with that was people started to catch on that this cause of ours was important. Our catch phrase was that this country was built on blood, sweat and tears it was hard but they built it something and I think that once the heritage committee saw there was interest they began to change their minds.”
On Nov. 2, 2012, Parks Canada officially announced it would formally recognize the construction workers who built the canal.
McKenney credits Dooley as one of the individuals who made this upcoming event possible.
“A lot of people have done a lot of work to make this happen, but if it weren’t for Kevin I don’t think we would have ensure that forever more the workers will be recognized for their work,” McKenney said.
Two plaques will be placed along the canal: one located at Jones Falls in Elgin, Ont., and one located at the Corktown footbridge in Ottawa. The plaques will be large with two interpretive panels that will tell the story of how the canal was built in both official languages.
The evening’s celebration on March 14 will be part of the annual Irish Festival and will welcome the mayor and representatives from Parks Canada and the Irish Embassy.
Doors open at 7 p.m. with finger food to be provided by the organizers. A cash bar will be available.