One Hundred and Eighty-Five Seasons and Counting…

Canal season is once again upon us! As we once again see boats traversing Lt.-Col. By’s grand project, let us pause and reflect upon some of the people who have kept North America’s oldest continually operating canal system in working order all those years.

This carpenter’s tool chest was owned and likely built by James Summers (1859-1939); a carpenter and foreman who worked on the Rideau Canal for more than 50 years. While the Canal was completed in 1832, the waterway and its locks required frequent maintenance by dedicated repair crews manned by craftsmen like Summers.

Carpenter’s Chest of John Summers, I.S.O., Rideau Canal Construction Foreman, 1870-1939, metal and wood, Bytown Museum, I303.


The tools that Summers would have used are still familiar to modern eyes; his tool chest includes: pliers, saws, screwdrivers, and a roll of sandpaper among other things.  APC_1298

Summers lived on Third Avenue just steps from the Canal in Ottawa, but he and his repair gang also completed work at lock stations like Kilmarnock and Merrickville. Upon his retirement in 1937 at the age of 78, Summers was awarded the Imperial Service Medal for his many years of dedication. Recipients of this medal become members of the Imperial Service Order and were entitled to put ‘I.S.O.’ after their name. After his death in 1939, his chest of tools was donated to the Bytown Museum by his daughter.

Thanks to our friends and partners at Parks Canada for their continuing hard work in maintaining the beautiful Rideau Canal – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007 – for all to share.