Here's a November Entry From James Powell's Blog:

The Canal Basin: Going, Going, Gone

14 November 1927

Readers may be surprised to learn that the Rideau Canal of the twenty-first century is considerably different from the Rideau Canal of the nineteenth century. In the old days, the Canal was very much a gritty, working canal. While it had its share of pleasure boats that plied its length, commerce was its main function. At its Ottawa end, barges, pulled by horses and men along canal-side tow paths, were drawn to warehouses that stretched from the Plaza at Wellington Street to the Maria Street Bridge (the predecessor of the Laurier Avenue Bridge). Lumber, coal and other materials were piled high along its banks awaiting delivery. Consequently, the Rideau Canal was anything but a scenic port of entry into the nation’s capital. Later, railroads and train sheds replaced the warehouses on the eastern side when the Central Depot, the forerunner of Union Station (currently the Ottawa Conference Centre and soon to be the temporary home of the Senate), opened in 1896. While practical, this was not an aesthetic improvement.

The quality of the Canal’s water during the late nineteenth century was also considerably different than that of today. While we sometimes complain about the turbid nature of the water and the summertime weeds that choke stretches of the waterway and parts of Dow’s Lake, this is nothing compared to the complaints of residents of the 1880s. Then the Canal literally stank. The sewer that drained the southern portion of Wellington Ward, the neighbourhood located between Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) and Bank Street flowed into the Canal at Lewis Street. The smell was particularly bad in spring when the effluent that had entered the Canal through the winter thawed. Reportedly, the stench of festering sewage was overpowering. So bad were the conditions, the federal government forced the municipal authorities to fix things. After considerable delay, a proper sewer was constructed.

The other not so delightful feature of the waterway was its flotsam and jetsam. Stray logs—a hazard to navigation—was the least of the problem. Prior to the first annual Central Canada Exhibition held in Ottawa in 1888, one concerned citizen pointed out the many nuisances to be found by boaters on the Canal. These included several carcasses of dead dogs floating in the Deep Cut (that portion of the Canal between Waverely Street and today’s city hall) and a bloated body of a horse bobbing in the water opposite the Exhibition grounds. The citizen also groused about the “vulgar habit” of people swimming in the Canal without “bathing tights.” He didn’t comment on the advisability of canal swimming given the horrific water quality.

The physical geography of the Rideau Canal was also different back then. Patterson’s Creek was much longer in the nineteenth century than it is today; its western end became Central Park in the early twentieth century. There was also Neville’s Creek that flowed through today’s Golden Triangle neighbourhood and entered the Canal close to Lewis Street. The Creek, which was described as a cesspool in the 1880s, was filled in during the early twentieth century.

But the biggest difference was the existence of a large canal basin located roughly where the Shaw Centre and National Defence are today on the eastern side of the Canal and the National Arts Centre and Confederation Park are on the western side. This basin, which was lined with wooden docks, was used for mooring boats, turning barges, and picking up and delivering cargo and passengers.

Before the Canal was constructed, the canal basin was originally a beaver meadow from which a swamp extended as far west as today’s Bank Street. Following the Canal’s completion in 1832, which included digging out the basin, a small outlet or creek called the By-Wash extended from the north east side of the basin. It was used to drain excess water from the Canal. Controlled by a sluice gate, the By-Wash flowed down Mosgrove Street (now the location of the Rideau Centre), went through a culvert under Rideau Street, re-emerged above ground on the northern portion of Mosgrove Street, before heading down George Street, crossing Dalhousie Street on an angle to York Street, and then running along what is now King Edward Street to the Rideau River. In addition to controlling the Canal’s water level, the By-Wash was used by Lower Town residents for washing and fishing. In 1872, the City successfully petitioned the federal authorities who controlled the Rideau Canal to cover the By-Wash. It was converted into a sewer with only a small rump remaining close to the canal basin that was used as a dry dock.

Big changes to the canal basin started during the last decade of the nineteenth century. John Rudolphus Booth, Ottawa’s lumber baron and owner of three railways, the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (the O.A. & P.S.), the Montreal & City of Ottawa Junction Railway, and the Coteau & Province Line Railway & Bridge Company (subsequently merged to form the Canadian Atlantic Railway–CAR), received permission from the Dominion government to bring trains into the heart of Ottawa. Hitherto, his railways provided service to the Bridge Street Station in LeBreton Flats and to the Elgin Street Station, both a fair distance from the city’s centre. In early March 1896, Booth, through his O.A. & P.S. Railway, acquired from the government a twenty-one year lease for the
east bank of the Rideau Canal from Sapper’s Bridge (roughly the location of today’s Plaza Bridge) to the beginning of the Deep Cut for $1,100 per year “for the purpose of a canal station and approaches thereto.” Lease-holders of properties between Theodore Street (today’s Laurier Avenue East) and the canal basin were told to vacate. After building a temporary Central Depot at the Maria Street Bridge on the Theodore Street side, Booth subsequently extended the line across the canal basin to a new temporary Central Station at the Military Stores building at Sappers’ Bridge.

Initially, the railway crossed the basin on trestles, leaving the basin underneath intact while Booth dredged the western side of the canal basin and built replacement docks—the quid pro quo with the government for removing the eastern basin’s docks. It seems that the government was reluctant to allow Booth to fill in the eastern portion of the basin until the western portion had been deepened, fearing that any unexpected rush of water might be larger than the locks could handle leading to flooding. By mid-March 1896, 75 men and 25-35 horses were hard at work excavating the site. The Central Depot at Sappers’ Bridge was completed in 1896, and was promptly the subject of dispute between Booth and his railway competitors who also wished to use a downtown station. There was rumours that if the Canadian Pacific Railway could not come to terms with Booth, it would build a railroad on the western side of the Canal with a terminus on the other side of Sappers’ Bridge across from the Central Station. Fortunately, with government prodding an accommodation was made. Initially covered over with planks, the western portion of the Canal Basin was subsequently filled in. A new Central Station, later renamed Union Station, opened in 1912.

If the eastern Canal Basin was sacrificed to the railway, the western Canal Basin was the victim of the automobile. This time, the Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, was responsible. Consistent with its plan to beautify the nation’s capital, the FDC in cooperation with the municipal authorities decided to extend the Driveway from the Drill Hall to Connaught Plaza (now Confederation Plaza) at a cost of $150,000. These funds also covered the construction of two connections with Slater Street, a subway at Laurier Avenue, new light standards, landscaping, and a new retaining wall for the Rideau Canal. Again, firms with warehouses at the Canal Basin, including the wholesale grocers L.N. Bate & Sons and the wholesale hardware merchant Thomas Birkett & Son, were forced to relocate. By the end of April 1927, workmen using steam shovels and teams of horses were hard at work filling in the western Canal Basin. Huge piles of earth were piled up near the Laurier Street Bridge ready to be shifted into the basin. On 14 November 1927, the last renovations to the Rideau Canal commenced with the construction of the new retaining wall from Connaught Plaza to the Laurier Street Bridge. With that, the old Canal Basin, which had served Ottawa for almost 100 years, vanished into history.


Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages, 2017. The Railways of Ottawa.

Daily Citizen (The), 1895. “Central Station Site,” 1 August.

Evening Citizen (The), 1898. “The New Line.” 11 June.

Evening Journal (The), 1888.” The City Sewerage,” 19 April.

—————————, 1888, “The By-Law,” 27 April.

—————————, 1888. “Canal Nuisances,” 28 May.

—————————, 1895. “Notice to Quit,” 3 October.

—————————, 1895. “Now For The New Basin,” 9 November.

—————————, 1896. “Now For The Depot,” 4 February.

—————————, 1896. “Basin Widening Begun,” 4 March.

—————————, 1896. “Pushing It Ahead,” 11 November.

—————————, 1896. “For The New Station,” 23 May.

—————————, 1897, “Picked From Reporter’s Notes,” 20 October.

————————–, 1897, “Special C.P.R. Depot All Talk,’ 30 October.

————————–, 1898, “The Central Station,” 7 November.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1925. “History of Early Ottawa,” 10 October.

————————–, 1927, “Start Filling Basin Of Rideau Canal,” 26 April.

————————–, 1927. “Artist’s Conception of Park Scheme Proposed by The Prime Minister,” 11 June.

————————–, 1927, “The Railways And he Central Station,” 1 November.

————————–, 1934. “Understanding Shown In Letters Between King Ministry and Ottawa Concerning Beautification of City,” 6 January.

————————–, 1935. “Ottawa’s Beauty Developed On Broad Lines,” 10 December.

————————-, 1949. “Ottawa’s Vanished Water Traffic,” 15 September.

Ottawa, Past & Present, 2014. “Aerial View of the Rideau Canal 1927 and 2014,”.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

And One More November Entry from James Powell's Blog:

“The Catch”


28 November 1976


The afternoon of 28 November, 1976 was chilly and overcast in Toronto, with the temperature hovering about the freezing point. A stiff northwesterly breeze made it seem even colder. But the weather did not deter the more than 53,000 exuberant Canadian football fans that crowded into Exhibition Stadium that afternoon for the 64th Grey Cup Championship between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Ottawa Rough Riders. It was a record crowd and a record gate of $1,009,000. Both teams had finished the regular season in first position in their respective divisions. To reach the Grey Cup, Ottawa had bested the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the eastern divisional final held the previous weekend in a close 17-15 contest, while Saskatchewan had topped the Edmonton Eskimos 23-13 in the west. The western Riders were five-point favourites owing to the strong arm of their veteran, all-star quarterback, Ron Lancaster, and the best defence in the Canadian Football League. Saskatchewan had also beaten Ottawa 29-16 in their only meeting of the regular season. Despite the youthful Ottawa team’s lacklustre play during the second half of the season, it was no pushover. Its coach, George Brancato, had been named the CFL’s coach of the year in 1975, and had put together back-to-back first place finishes for the eastern Riders.

Televised coast-to-coast by both CBC and CTV, this Grey Cup game promised to live up to its pre-game hoopla. But fans could not have known that they were about to be treated to one of the greatest, if not the greatest, championship game in CFL history. It featured the heroics of unlikely players, broke Grey Cup records, and, with the outcome in doubt into the last minute, ended in one of the most thrilling plays seen in Canadian football. Sports fans will always remember it as “The Catch.”

Ottawa was the first to draw blood. With slightly more than five minutes left to play in the opening quarter, Gerry Organ scored a field goal from Saskatchewan’s 30-yard line. With the western Riders retaking control of the ball, Ottawa’s defence held tough, forcing Saskatchewan to punt, setting the stage for Bill Hatanaka, the 22-year rookie kick returner out of York University. Catching the ball booted by Saskatchewan kicker Bob Macoritti, Hatanaka scampered 79 yards for a touchdown, the first punt return touchdown in Grey Cup history. It was also the longest Grey Cup punt return to that time, and only subsequently surpassed twice. It was 10-0 Ottawa at the end of the first quarter.

Late in the second quarter, Ottawa’s fortunes soured when Macoritti finally put the western Riders on the board with a 32-yard field goal. With the Ottawa offence under the direction of sophomore quarterback Tom Clements (“Captain Cool”) unable to sustain a scoring drive, this was quickly followed by a Saskatchewan major when Ron Lancaster found wide receiver Steve Mazurak who ran 15 yards for the touchdown. With Macoritti’s convert, the game was tied at 10. Seconds later, Ted Provost intercepted an errant pass from Tom Clements, intended for Ottawa’s star receiver, Tony Gabriel. This set the stage for another Lancaster touchdown throw, this time to tight end, Bob Richardson. Again Macoritti converted. The score was 17-10 in Saskatchewan’s favour at half time. Despite the score, everything had not gone in Saskatchewan’s way. Running back, Molly McGee, suffered a rib injury late in the quarter after a bruising tackle, crimping Lancaster’s running game.

In the third quarter, the two teams traded field goals. With a stiff wind favouring Saskatchewan, the Ottawa defensive team did great work in holding the western champions to only three points. Late in the quarter, Ottawa fans were brought to their feet by Jerry Organ, who faked a punt and ran 52 yards to bring his team deep into Saskatchewan territory. Organ’s gamble, caught Coach Brancato by surprise. After the game, Organ revealed that the play originated in a half-time dressing-room discussion with linebacker Mark Kosmos about Saskatchewan not rushing punts. Organ said that he “ran like a scared rabbit,” and had planned to kick the ball had he got into difficulty. Unfortunately, his heroics were snuffed out when Saskatchewan linebacker Cleveland Vann intercepted another one of Tom Clements’s passes. Seven points continued to separate the two teams as they entered the final quarter.

With only 7.33 minutes left of the final frame, Gerry Organ kicked a 32-yard field goal to bring Ottawa to within four points of their rivals. On the next series of plays, the Ottawa defensive squad stopped Saskatchewan midfield. With third down and less than a yard to go, the Saskatchewan’s coach, John Payne, decided to punt the ball instead of trying for the first down. It was an uncharacteristic conservative play. It was also a fateful decision with huge consequences.

Macoritti’s punt gave the Ottawa Rough Riders the ball on their 26-yard line with five minutes to go. Tom Clements then went to work, methodically working the sticks down field to bring Ottawa just outside the Saskatchewan 10-yard line. After a short pass to Art Green, Clements attempted to run the ball in himself but was tackled short of the first down, and tantalizingly close to the goal line. It was third down and less than a yard to go. With 1:32 remaining on the clock, and Ottawa needing at least four points, Coach Brancato decided to gamble. But the Saskatchewan’s defensive wall stopped the eastern Riders inches short of the first down. With the western Riders taking possession of the ball, it looked like Saskatchewan had the Grey Cup in the bag.

But they hadn’t counted on the Ottawa defence. Promising Coach Brancato one last chance, the defensive team gave up only six yards, forcing Saskatchewan to punt into the wind from their own 7-yard line. Ottawa’s Hatanaka, returned the ball to the western Riders’ 35-yard line. In two plays, Clements moved the ball down to the 24-yard line, with a pass to Tony Gabriel picking up the first down. With only 31 seconds remaining on the clock, everybody knew that Clements would try to find Gabriel again, his go-to-man the entire season…everybody, that is, except the Saskatchewan Roughriders who failed to double cover the scoring threat. Waving off a play from Coach Brancato, quarterback Tom Clements sought out Tony Gabriel who, first faking a post pattern, had turned instead to the outside. Clements found him in the clear, five yards behind Saskatchewan’s Ted Provost in the end zone. The Ottawa quarterback launched the ball. Gabriel reached above his head and pulled it in. Touchdown! Fans poured onto the field and mobbed Gabriel in the end zone. With Gerry Organ’s convert, the Ottawa Roughriders went ahead 23-20.

Although Saskatchewan had one more opportunity to score, with only 20 seconds left in the game, there was simply not enough time. Ottawa became the 1976 Grey Cup Champions. The perfectly executed 24-yard touchdown pass from Clements to Gabriel went down in CFL lore as simply “The Catch.” Clements was named the game’s most valuable offensive player, while Gabriel was named the most valuable Canadian. Saskatchewan’s Cleveland Vann was the game’s most valuable defensive player. Members of the winning team each received $6,000 bonus, with the losing team members each receiving $3,000. Tom Clements, as the top offensive player of the game, was also given a new car, a timely prize as is old one was the “team’s joke.”

Back home in Ottawa, the place went wild as fans poured onto the streets. Bank Street turned into a parking lot as fans celebrated their Rough Riders’ victory, honking horns and consuming vast quantities of beer as police turned a blind eye to minor infractions. At noon the next day, the team returned home, greeted at the airport by hundreds of fans and a brass band. A civic celebratory dinner was held for the team that night. The event totally eclipsed a black tie dinner hosted by Prime Minister Trudeau on Parliament Hill for Team Canada, winner of the 1976 Canada Cup Hockey Tournament the previous September.

The 1976 Grey Cup was the Ottawa Rough Riders’ ninth and last CFL Championship. Although the team again made it to the finals in 1981, they went down to defeat 26-23 to the Edmonton Eskimos. The Ottawa Rough Riders team collapsed in 1996 owing to falling attendance, poor management, and growing debts. Founded in 1876, the oldest professional sports team in North America was no more. In 2002, a new team, the Ottawa Renegades, briefly played out of Landsdowne Park, but it too folded after only four years. In 2014, another Ottawa team, the Redblacks, wearing the familiar colours of their storied predecessors, took the field.

UPDATE (27 November 2016): Ottawa Redblacks win the Grey Cup! In an exciting contest in Toronto, the underdog Ottawa Redblacks held off a fourth-quarter surge by the Calgary Stampeders to take the Cup 39-33.


CBC, 1976. 64th Grey Cup Game.

CFL, 2014. 64th Grey Cup, November 28, 1976.

The Globe and Mail, 2012. “Punt return in ’76 Grey Cup was one for the record books,” 23 November.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1976. “Grey Cup Returns to Ottawa,” 29 November.

———————–, “Football Fervor spoils hockey heroes’ dinner,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Battle was saved in the third quarter,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Organ weighs future,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Clements, Gabriel dynamite,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Inventive gambling pays,” 29 November.

Ottawa, 2006. “Our last Grey Cup ever?,” 26 November.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.