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Mark McGowan Rideau Canal Celtic Cross

Exterior shot. Bearded man with greying hair, wearing a dark blue jacket and glasses is, viewed from the knees up, speaking to camera. To his left is a grey Celtic Cross on a plinth that is about his height. Trees with no leaves and an earth embankment with a large, grey brick wall visible in background.

Mark McGowan, with the Department of History at the University of Toronto, and I am here where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River in front of a Celtic Cross

Camera pans in on Mark McGowan and close up of top of Celtic Cross.

which commemorates the thousand or so Irish workers and their families who assisted in building this canal work in the late 1820s until 1832 – and many of whom died along the canal route that stretches from here in Ottawa through much of eastern Ontario until where it empties out close to Kingston and the Cataraqui River.

What’s not known generally in Canada is that more Irish migrants actually came before the Great Irish Famine from 1845 to 1851 than actually came during the Famine. Much of the settlement grid of the Irish was already established during this period.

One of the reasons why is that Irish emigrants came here, first of all to farm, to denude the area of its forests for the British Navy and other purposes, and to build these public works, like canals.

Mark McGowan starts gesturing towards the Celtic Cross with his right hand.

The iconography on this particular monument is interesting, because not only does it create symbols of the actual canal work itself – the explosions that are needed to blast through the rock, the pick and shovel and wheelbarrows that would have been used by these Irish workers,

Camera pans in for close up of symbols on top of Celtic Cross, such as a pick and shovel on top, an explosion on the right transversal, a wheel barrow below, and a mosquito on the left transversal.

But what is interesting and not noticed by many is the mosquito on the transversal of the cross.

Many of the workers here were killed less by being buried alive or by being blown up than they were by the diseases that were borne by these mosquitoes, including malaria.

So all along this canal we really have the gravesides of hundreds of Irish workers, many of whom

Camera pans back to show Mark McGowan standing beside Celtic Cross speaking to it.

who perished by means of disease, as opposed to any aftershock of the labour they were participating in.

Ironically, it would be this canal that would help, in part, to provide further Irish emigration actually during the Famine, as migrants came up through eastern Ontario from Kingston, and others

Mark McGowan gestures with his right arm.

here at the Ottawa River.

And so you have pre-Famine Irish creating now an environment for Famine Irish to come and try to carve out new lives for themselves in Canada.

Final image of water with onscreen Ireland Park Foundation logo. Celtic style music playing.