Naming new pedestrian bridge after Irish immigrants would honour labourers who worked and died to build the Rideau Canal
Ottawa (18 March 2007) - Members of the Irish Society of the National Capital Region staged a St. Patrick's Day show of support for a campaign to name a new pedestrian crossing over the Rideau Canal the Corktown Bridge in honour of Irish workers.
About fifteen people - their numbers reduced by a late winter snowstorm - marched across the bridge in a bid to draw attention from the City Council and its new mayor, Larry O'Brien, who happens to be a son of Irish immigrants.
Council is scheduled to make a decision on the naming of the $5-million structure later this year.
More than 500 died
Daniel Stringer, a society spokesman, said the workers (know as navigators, or 'navvies'), provided most of the hard manual labour required to build the 200-kilometnre canal system during an intense construction period between 1826 and 1832. French Canadian labourers also played a significant role.
Kevin Dooley, an Irish-Canadian, said some citizens have expressed reluctance to revive a name once associated with a slum, but he disagrees. "You're not remembering a slum," he said. "You're remembering a sacrifice that helped build this country."
More than 500 workers are estimated to have died during the canal's construction, many victims of swamp fever borne by mosquitoes. A memorial in their honour stands about one-kilometre north of the new bridge.
The Corktown Bridge campaign was launched last year by the Ottawa and District Labour Council. In 2003, the council and other local groups unveiled a memorial in honour of the workers who died at the time. It stands by the locks that connect the canal with the Ottawa River between Parliament Hill and the Chateau Laurier Hotel.
The 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is supporting the campaign.
"The Rideau Canal is one of the Canada's great landmarks," says NUPGE president James Clancy. "This would be a wonderful way to honour the contribution to our nation made by these workers and their families. They played a vital role. It would be a fitting tribute." NUPGE