On Thursday, 20 June, 2013, President Bob Hatfield represented the Workers’ History Museum as Peter Kent, Minister of Environment and Parks Canada, unveiled a plaque commemorating the national historic significance of the contributions of the Rideau Canal workers.

Hatfield remarked that it was a “moving ceremony,” especially noting the speech by Kevin Dooley of the Canal Workers Commemorative Group that made reference to the canal workers – the Irish and French Canadians in particular – who laboured to build the canal, and to the hundreds of workers and family members whose lives were sacrificed during its construction. “He made the connection between those people and workers today who are still being injured and dying at work,” said Hatfield, “and how that struggle for better safety conditions for workers is an important one, and an ongoing one.”

Ensuring that workers were recognized in this national monument was an important campaign for the WHM. An earlier designation of the Rideau Canal as a site of historical import credited Colonel John By, who supervised construction, but failed to mention those who actually built the canal: the Scottish and English masons and the labourers – the Navvies – who were largely Irish immigrants and French Canadians.

This oversight was contested by the CWCG. The WHM was among the groups that successfully lobbied Minister Peter Kent and other parties in support of the CWCG’s proposal. The contributions and sacrifices of working men and women are now enshrined on the plaque that stands at the Rideau Locks in Ottawa.

For more information about the ceremony and the struggle for recognition, please see Kevin Dooley’s report at True North Perspective.

By Cydney Foote, photo by Bob Hatfield.