21st Century City; 18th Century Canals

When Joe Willcocks left Ireland for Upper Canada in 1799, he said goodbye to the "Second City of the British Empire" to seek his fortune in "Muddy York."

Both Dublin and Toronto are thriving in the 21st century. In Dublin, far more than Toronto, it's still possible to get a feel for the city as it once was. Last week, we had the privilege and pleasure of a barge ride through the transportation system that helped make Dublin such a wealthy city in Willcocks's day.

The barge had the unromantic name of 4E. In 1980, she was purchased by a young man named Joe Treacy. He paid 1,800 pounds for her, and he and 4E have been aging elegantly together ever since.

Her original name was Horse Boat Number 54 -- back in the days when a barge was pulled by a horse treading the towpaths alongside the canals.  

She carried turf into Dublin and wheat back to the Odlums’ Mills, which was a well known institution in the Irish food industry, located at Sallins about 40 kilometers from Dublin in County Kildare, 

When she was fitted with an engine in 1913, her name was changed to 23M. Over the next decades, she went through several more name changes -- all involving combinations of letters and numbers. In the 1950s she was breached and abandoned; she became the home of a former canal employee who made some repairs. Joe Treacy bought her and had her hauled by tractor and truck and refloated in the Grand Canal. 

That's not where we found her and Joe. Instead, they were docked near the Five Lamps on the Royal Canal, within sight of the football stadium at Croke Park. 

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Work on the Royal Canal  began in 1790, and it took 27 years build the link across Ireland to the Shannon River. We travelled through locks that operated on the same hand-cranked technology of Joe Willcocks's day. Here the lockmaster and her crew crank open the sluices.

This allows the water to drain to the lower lock.

The boat lowers with the water level, and we look back at the gates we've passed through.

Once the water level is even on each side of the lock, the gates can be swung open.

And we pass through, under the bridge, along the next stretch of the Royal Canal.

Within a few decades, canal technology was overtaken by the transformative revolution of railways. Here is a spot where the railway track must be lifted so the barge can pass underneath.

The railway workers are happy to oblige.

In fact, when E4 runs aground on a turn...

And we have trouble poling her back into mid-channel...

The railway men help haul back on course.

We make our way down the Royal Canal. Here's a houseboat in the style used on the canals in Great Britain.

As we reach the end of the canal, the 21st century begins to show itself.

We reach the end of the Royal Canal, where the last locks bring the watercraft down to the River Liffey.

The technology is modern too.  No hand-wound cranks to operate these locks!

We enter the River Liffey.

As a young man, Paula's grandfather used to swim this river.  Now swimming is prohibited.  In fact, Paula's brother is among the firefighter crew that rescues people who have jumped into the Liffey.

We enter the river at the Samuel Beckett Bridge with its distinctive "pirhanna" design.

And we turn to port and head downriver toward the Irish Sea.

All along our voyage, we've been accompanied by a second barge, owned by Joe Treacy's 20-year-old son Ben.

Ben salvaged his barge from Tullamore, where it had sunk many years before. He regards refurbishing it as a long-term project while he finishes engineering school.

As we steer toward Dublin harbour and the mouth of the Liffey, we come to Ringsend - the neighbourhood where the high tech sector is building offices and accommodations for information technology workers.

Turn to starboard and head up the Royal Canal's southside sister, the Grand Canal.

The tide is low, but rising.

While we wait for the tide to rise, we're visit by a traditional Irish currach -- lads out for a row during their lunch break.

Finally the tide has risen enough for us to take our places in the lock.

It's a tight fit.

The water enters the lock and the boats rise.

Up to the next level.

We enter the Grand Canal Basin.

This is the heart of hip, trendy, 21st century Dublin.

But Captain Treacy decides to make his presence known.

Up in the Grand Canal Basin, the water levels are high. It's a tight squeeze.  "Low bridge. Everybody down. Low bridge. We're coming to a town..."

Through the other side we find a place where the centuries meet.

And we've reached our docking place.

Home at last.

Thanks for the ride, Joe.

General Brock survives the charge!

General Brock survives the charge!

We divided our army into three:  one force to assault the "guns" head on; two more to swing around the flanks in either direction.  The assault force in the centre were to march forward bravely; the other two were told to use whatever stealth and cover they could find -- not easy to do when one side of the battlefield is cordoned off by a fence.  

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John Norton -- recognition at last!

John Norton -- recognition at last!

From his mother's side, he wrote very well and his diaries and memoirs stand out as important records of the world of North America in his day. From his father's side, he had the capacity for memory that comes from a culture that does not write things down -- and therefore you must remember.  Every conversation. Every river bend. Every transaction.  Norton never forgot a thing.  Here was a man whose brain was adept with the skills of both pre-Gutenberg and post-Gutenberg communications.  Marshall McLuhan would have loved it!

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The Battle of Glengarry

The Battle of Glengarry

On a sunny autumn weekend, September 24-25, two armies clashed on the grass that stretched between fields of ripening corn and a scattering of pre-Confederations buildings. The armies of soldiers, sailors, soldiers' wives, camp followers and Mohawk warriors were actually outnumbered by the army of visitors who had come to witness the event.

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Dunvegan welcomes the school kids

Dunvegan welcomes the school kids

Drive an hour east of Ottawa and get off Highway 417 and you'll find yourself on the old stagecoach road to Montreal and the village of Dunvegan. In the mid-1800s it was a prosperous little village. A store was built in 1840 by a man named McIntosh, and 20 years later it had changed owners and welcomed travellers as the White Star Inn,.

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Revisiting Upper Canada Village -- and Crysler's Farm

Revisiting Upper Canada Village -- and Crysler's Farm

A very special thank you to Linda Brown, who operates the printer's shop in the village. She gave me much information that went into the part in Brothers at War where Jacob apprentices to Joe Willcocks. I imagined Linda's shop when I pictured the scene where Jacob and Eli are clowning about and tip over the letter cases.

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The Dubliners who came to save Canada -- and decided to stay

The Dubliners who came to save Canada -- and decided to stay

In the Ottawa Valley, the 100th Regiment of Foot is best known for the founding of the town of Richmond, Ontario. After the war, rather than return to Ireland, many officers and men chose instead to take land grants offered by a grateful British government -- grateful for their service in the war, and grateful that hundreds of unemployed soldiers would not be returning to the Old Country.

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Neuf Thermidor -- and politics

Neuf Thermidor -- and politics

In understanding the War of 1812 and the role of Joe Willcocks and the Canadian Volunteers, it is useful to keep 9 Thermidor and the Terror in mind. The date may be remote and obscure for us, but for people in Upper Canada, the French Revolution continued to resonate.

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The victors write the history.

The victors write the history.

In Canada, we had our own republic movement in 1813-14. The men who fought, risked their property and liberty for the idea of a republic, and died in battle and on the scaffold are virtually forgotten today. No one knows where Joe Willcocks is buried, but some think it might be beneath what is now a parking lot in downtown Fort Erie. I know of at least one historian who, if he could identify Willcocks' final resting place, would make a point of going there and pissing on it.

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Imagining Ball's Farm

Imagining Ball's Farm

n American officer who arrived on the scene after the fighting would later report that nothing could have prepared him for "a scene of wanton and revolting barbarity.  [The warriors] had left on the ground nearly half of the detachment, most of them dead, but some of them still breathing, though scarcely sensible.  Every body was utterly stripped, and scalped, and mangled and maimed in a way that looked as if there had been a sort of sportive butchery among the dying and the dead. [One man had] more than a dozen of these gashes and lacerations. [His head was] denuded from the eye-brows to the back of the neck [but he] was still breathing and sensible when our party reached him." 

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What did soldiers eat? Not enough!

What did soldiers eat? Not enough!

So when they could not buy  food, the soldiers on both sides resorted to stealing, looting and plundering. Both sides prohibited looting, but soldiers in the American and Crown armies did rob local farms in the Niagara peninsula. Thomas Ridout, a junior officer in the Crown forces wrote to his father in September 1813, "Tonight our dragoon is to make a grand attack on the onions.The nests are kept very nice and clean from eggs. [ie. he was stealing from the hen houses]. We feed a turkey at our door which is doomed for our Sunday dinner." Elsewhere, Ridout refers to "an extensive robbing of peas, apples, onions, corn, carrots." [Sheppard p. 100]

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Report from the home front

Report from the home front

When the Canadian Volunteers met for their Regimental Dinner at Fort George this past weekend, they were allowed to use the kitchen to prepare the meal, and the officer's mess to enjoy it. It's one thing for the soldier re-enactors to train according to Napoleonic drill manuals, and fire replicas of 1812 muskets. It's quite another to be able to prepare a banquet feast using the technologies and techniques of 200 years ago.

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The unluckiest general

The unluckiest general

Readers of Blood Oath will know that both General Stallion and General Bull had excruciatingly bad luck a couple of weeks later when they co-led the pursuit of the British forces as they retreated back through the Niagara peninsula. Part of their bad luck was of their own making. They set up camp in an exposed position at Stoney Creek and failed to post sufficient pickets to guard against a surprise nighttime attack.

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An evening spent with old friends

An evening spent with old friends

Í'm getting close to filling the web pages of this site. Last night was a trip down memory lane as I listed the books that have helped me write the Jake and Eli stories.  It felt like a quiet evening hanging out with old friends -- some of whom I haven't seen in a long time.

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