Kingston Mills Locks 46-49

col by lake kinston mills block house may 09

 Kingston Mills Blockhouse, 2012.  Photo credit: Henk Wevers


The Setting

kingston-mills layout

The layout of Kingston Mills, shown as in 1832. The lockmasters’ house is now located just south of the where it is on this map.

Note the Kingston-Montreal road which is now the Kingston Mills Road. Kingston Mills was in the early days of settlement the easiest place to cross the Cataraqui River to Battersea Road and then to Kingston.

Photo credit Parks Canada.


At Kingston Mills, the Cataraqui River fell about 17 to 20 feet (5.2 to 6.1 m) over a series of rocky falls (Cataraqui Falls), for a distance of about 600 feet (183 m). High rocky cliffs bounded the Cataraqui as it descended to the level of Lake Ontario. Below Kingston Mills, the Cataraqui wound its way through swamps and marshes until it emptied into Lake Ontario at Kingston Bay.

In 1784, the British Government built a saw mill and a grist mill at this location, the first fall of water up the Cataraqui River, in order to help the new settlers in the fledgling Loyalist settlement of Kingston. By 1826, the grist mill (the second in this location) had gone out of use but a saw mill (the third in this location) was still operating.

The Plan

The plan submitted by Samuel Clowes to the Macauley Committee in 1824 was to bypass Kingston Mills with an artificial canal cut to the west of the Cataraqui River. It was to exit the Cataraqui just above Kingston Mills and then descend through four locks to the level of the Cataraqui below Kingston Mills, rejoining the original course of the river about a mile and half (2.4 km) downstream of the mills.

By 1828, plans had changed. In June 1828, the Kempt Committee approved locks 134 feet long by 33 feet wide (41 m x 10 m) to allow for steamboat navigation, an increase in size from the original proposal of locks 108 feet by 20 feet (33 m x 6 m). Colonel By was faced with two significant problems. The larger locks would entail much more rock work than originally anticipated at Kingston Mills. In addition, since the Rideau was now to be used for steamboat navigation, vessels larger and less manoeuvrable than originally intended, a straighter channel was required between Kingston Mills and Lower Brewers. By was not looking forward to having to excavate any more than he had to through these malaria infested swamplands.

So, By, as he had done at other lockstations, decided to adopt a bold new plan. He proposed to raise the dam at Kingston Mills by 20 feet (6.1 m), to 30 feet in height (9.1 m), and add a fourth lock so that the total lift here would be 46 feet, 8 inches (14.8 m). This would not only improve navigation through the swamps, it would also do away with the need to place locks at Jack’s Rifts and Billidore’s Rifts located between Kingston Mills and Lower Brewers Mills. Because of the topography at Kingston Mills, the fourth lock had to be detached, and a turning basin was to be placed in between the upper lock and the lower flight of three locks. To quote By; ” … my proposal to do away with the Locks at Billidores & Jacks Rifts by placing a fourth Lock at Kingston Mills, raising the Dam at that place, and forming certain embankments to retain the water, so as to convert Catraque Creek into a fine sheet of water, extending to the high land on each side and thereby drowning that pernicious swamp, by forming it into a small Lake …”

The dam would be placed at the head of the main channel of the Cataraqui, with the locks to be built in a side channel to the west of the main channel. On either side of the dam, long earthen embankments with a clay core would be built to retain the water raised by the dam. A waste weir would be placed in the dam to control water levels.

Comment: This is the layout you now see at Kingston Mills. The dam is to your right when you cross the small bridge just before the blockhouse coming from the east, going west. The weir is somewhat hidden but you can see it from your car when you cross the bridge. In spring excess water come surging through the weir and flows over the original waterfall into the Catarqui River to Kingston. It runs parallel with the locks. The dyke, that were rebuild and heightened around  2005 stretch east and west from here and are used by people to fish, while the dyke from Kingston Mills to Edenwood is used for hiking.(H.Wevers)



This early water colour sketch shows the original weir in the foreground and the blockhouse with bridge in the back. Thomas Burrowes, watercolour, Archives of Ontario.

The bridge is now smaller and the outlet under the bridge in now hidden by a spill way at the bridge on the north side when you come from the east going west just before the blockhouse.  

The weir in the  foreground is now part of the dam and the underwater intake to the  penstocks that can be seen by getting our of the car just after the bridge;  two large pipes run to the electric generation station at the foot of the falls. You can walk down an easy path from the west side of the blockhouse and see the generating station and the original falls from below.

The upper lock can be seen just  over the dam to the right in the background.


Building the Locks

The initial clearing of the site in early 1827 was done by a Mr. McDermott. The contract for the construction of the locks and dam was awarded to Robert Drummond.

Malaria was a significant problem at Kingston Mills. It hit hard in the summer of 1828. In September 1828, Captain Savage wrote, “… At Kingston Mills, Lieut. Briscoe Roy Engr, the asst. Overseer, the Contractor, his Clerk, Foreman, and nearly the whole of his men (about 100) have been attacked, the Clerk and 12 men have died, Lieut. Briscoe still continues extremely ill, with the lake fever. …”

Kingston Mills’ locks, situated in a side channel, could be constructed “in the dry.” A coffer dam had been built in front of the lower lock, to keep the Cataraqui River at bay. Drummond positioned his new steamship, The Pumper, beside the coffer dam and used its 12 horsepower steam engine operated pumps to keep the lower lock free of water.

The dam was about 400 feet (122 m) long, with a masonry weir placed in the east side to control the level of the water above the dam. Extending east (from the weir) was an earthen embankment, about 1000 yards (915 m) long, extending all the way to banks that were high enough to contain the raised water. On the west side, the dam arched to meet bedrock lying beside the upper wing wall of the upper lock. On the other side of the lock another earthen embankment, also about 1,000 yards (915 m) long, was built to contain the water to be raised by the dam.

The basin between the detached lock and the lower flight of three locks was constructed with a dry dock built into it for steamship repair. The upper side of this basin was the embankment that extended out from the west side of the lock. The basin side of this embankment was faced with stone. The lay-by (dry dock) was about 130 feet (40 m) long. Piers were placed at its entrance so that gates could be hung to allow the lay-by to be pumped out if necessary. In the winter, the basin would be drained, leaving this lay-by dry (hence “dry dock”).

The lower three locks were constructed so as to be “in flight” (contiguous). They were designed so that eight feet (2.4 m) of water would be over the lower sill of the lower lock, to allow for seasonal fluctuations in the water level of Lake Ontario. The bottom lock was built with a wooden floor, the other three locks had bare bedrock floors.

A roadway ran along the west embankment leading to a drawbridge that was placed over the upper lock. The road continued onto a timber bridge across the Cataraqui River below the arch stone dam. This was to connect to the Montreal to Kingston road, the main land route at the time.

Comment: The dam houses also the intake for the Kingston Mills Generating Station that was later added. It is a three-unit hydroelectric station located on the Cataraqui River. The station has been in service since 1915. It has an installed capacity of 1.9 MW at a head of water of 14.5 metres.The station is run-of-river without storage capability. The concrete intake is equipped with steel trashracks and uses manually operated gates to control water. Two steel penstocks or large pipes convey water to the two concrete powerhouses. Water is discharged into the Cataraqui River.This hydroelectric generating station generates approximately 6,389 MWh of renewable energy per year. (Adapted from Ontario Power Authority at: http://www.powerauthority.on.ca/hydroelectric/kingston-mills-19-mw-kingston-cataraqui-river.HW)

In 1832 the construction of a blockhouse was started, one of only four built along the Rideau. It was completed in about 1834. It was built to the same dimensions as those at Narrows and Newboro, 24 feet (7.3 m) on a side, designed to accommodate 20 men. It was built with a masonry base, about 3 feet (0.9 m) in thickness, with an upper storey, 28 feet (8.5 m) on a side, built of large squared timbers. Access was by a stairway to the second floor.

A wood framed house was built in about 1828 by Robert Drummond for his use during the construction period. It was located several hundred yards from the works on the west bank of the Cataraqui above the upper lock. After construction it was used as the lockmaster’s house.

Through the Years

The locks underwent mostly normal maintenance for the first 50 years. In 1872 the area around the lower sill of the bottom lock collapsed and had to be repaired. It had been built on clay, with a foundation of timber and planking. Water had eroded below the sill, causing the collapse.

In 1902 the masonry waste weir in the stone dam was entirely reconstructed. In 1909, the 220 foot (67 m) wooden bridge across the river below the dam was replaced by a 100 foot (30.5 m) steel bridge. An earth embankment was put in to make up the difference in length.

The lockmaster originally stayed in a wooden frame house built for Robert Drummond during the construction of the canal. By 1860, this building had badly deteriorated and a new building was constructed. However the new building was of very shoddy construction and in 1904 it was replaced by the large wooden house now situated on the west side of the locks.

In 1853 the Grand Trunk Railroad built a wooden truss bridge over the lower locks. It was replaced at least once (c.1890) and the current steel bridge (CNR) was built in 1929.

In 1913, major changes were made to the locksite when a hydroelectric powerhouse was built below the waste weir. At this time, the grist mill was removed, and a new dam and waste weir constructed a short way downstream of the existing dam and weir, with a sluiceway leading to the generating station.


 For more information go to: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/locks/h46-49-kingstonmills.html


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