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Fall of 1816 Route
RIDEAU FERRY

Section Summary

In 1816, John Oliver and family settled on the south shore, on Lot 21, Conc. V of Elmsley Township, and started to operate a ferry service. After John died in about 1821, his son William took over the ferry service. By 1832 Archibald Campbell had taken over the ferry service, operating it from the north shore. In 1832 Campbell built a wharf and warehouse at this location. The ferry continued to operate until 1874 when the first bridge was built with fixed low level spans leading to swing bridge at the north end. In 1968 the entire bridge was replaced with a new high level bridge made of concrete.

Detailed Discussion

Rideau Ferry was originally known as First Narrows or sometimes as Lower Narrows of Rideau Lake. Second Narrows was "upstream" at today's Rocky Narrows and Upper Narrows is the location of today's Narrows Lock. Early surveyors reported the gap to be about 450 feet. Today it is a bit over 500 feet due to the 1832 rise of Rideau Lake.

Oliver's Ferry 1828 (looking south)
In this sketch the top is the south shore where the Olivers were located (noted as "Oliver's House" on map). The bottom is the north shore with the road to Perth. "Oliver's Ferry", by ?, 05/05/1828, Scottish Records Office.


To get across this gap, a ferry service was needed. The man that first supplied that service was John Oliver who arrived in this spot sometime in 1816, settling on the south shore, on Lot 21, Conc. V. He started up his ferry service at that time without an official government licence. In January 1817 he was told by the authorities that he could expect to receive a lease which would be subject to regulated tolls (Kennedy p. 22). In an 1819 petition to get his ferry licence (which he apparently had yet to receive) Oliver stated "That your petitioner settled in said Township in the Spring of 1816, and has kept the ferry at the narrows of the Rideau Lake ever since that time." (UCS, RG 5, A1, Vol. 43, p.21124).

It's uncertain if Oliver was completely truthful in stating that he started the ferry service in the spring of 1816, but perhaps he was providing a ferry service to those travelling by foot to Perth prior to the wagon road being cut. In 1819 he received the ferry licence he petitioned for to operate on Lots 21 and 22 of Conc. V. In 1820 his licence was renewed for 7 years. John Oliver died (shot himself) in about 1821 and his son William, who had moved to Lot 20, Conc. V in 1820, took over the ferry business.

William by all accounts was not a nice fellow, William Bell referred to him as a "wicked person." William Oliver's personality led to stories of travellers that never made it across the lake and of bones later found buried under Oliver's house – interesting tales but completely untrue. William met a violent end in 1842, accidently shot through the heart by a neighbour during a dispute over cows wandering onto Oliver's property (the neighbour was convicted of manslaughter). William had given up the ferry service several years before, likely sometime after the lease expired in 1827. By 1832 Archibald Campbell had taken over the ferry service, operating it from the north shore.

The site was described by John Mactaggart in 1827
“This will become an important station on the Rideau Canal, as the public road between Perth and Brockville passes by here; from Perth, 8 miles, from Brockville, 35 miles. Rideau Lake at this place, is 464 feet wide and 35 deep, and rises in spring 3 ½ feet; foot-passengers here pay three pence a piece for ferryage, and waggons fifteen pence. A wooden truss bridge might be raised over the Ferry for £1500. This Ferry runs across what is termed the Lower Narrows, Rideau Lake." (Welch, p.38)

Oliver's Ferry in 1830 (looking north)
A view of the ferry landing on the south shore at First Narrows of Rideau Lake. "Oliver's Ferry, August 20th, 1830" by James Pattison Cockburn, Library and Archives Canada, C-0124840



In 1832, after the water had risen in Rideau Lake with the completion of Rideau Canal, Archibald Campbell built a wharf and warehouse to service both his ferry and the barges plying the Rideau Canal. He died in 1834 and the ferry service was continued by his wife, Elizabeth.

There were many lobbies to replace the ferry service with a bridge but it was not until 1874 that the gap was bridged with fixed wooden spans on piers leading to a Kingpost Truss swing bridge at the north end. In 1896 the wooden spans of the fixed section were replaced with steel, but the swing bridge remained wood. The swing part of the bridge was repaired/replaced over the years. In 1968 the entire bridge was replaced with a new high level concrete bridge, the one that crosses the lake today.

Plan of the First Rideau Ferry Bridge (looking west)
In this circa early 1870s drawing we see the design of the original bridge, fixed wooden spans leading to a swing bridge at the north end. "Plan of Bridge proposed to be constructed at Oliver's Ferry. Rideau Canal," n.d., Library and Archives Canada, NMC 130280



Rideau Ferry Bridge, c.1900 (looking north)
This shows the bridge with the "new" (1896) steel fixed spans. The wooden swing bridge is visible at the north end with the Coutts House Hotel behind it. Parks Canada, Rideau Canal Headquarters (Smiths Falls), Library Photograph Collection Photo # 1102



Rideau Ferry Bridge Today (looking east)
The present high level bridge that was constructed in 1968




Fall 1816 - Rideau Ferry to Perth




Fall 1816 - Brockville to Rideau Ferry Top Fall 1816 - Rideau Ferry to Perth
Perth, the Capital of the District of Dalhousie; from the N-East bank of the River Tay - painting by Thomas Burrowes, 1828, Archives of Ontario, I0002141

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