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Thomas Mackay

The Laird of Rideau Hall and the Founding of Ottawa

by Alastair Sweeny

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list price: $29.99
also available: Paperback Hardcover
published: 2021
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The Laird of Rideau Hall explores the life and times of Thomas Mackay, the chief founder of Bytown/Ottawa.
Born and raised in Perth, Scotland, Mackay and his family emigrated to Montreal in 1817. Partnering with fellow mason John Redpath, he built the locks of the first Lachine Canal, did military construction work at Fort Lennox and St.?Helen’s Island, and supplied stone for Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica. Engaged by Colonel By of the Royal Engineers to build the Ottawa and Hartwell Locks of the Rideau Canal, Mackay used his profits to found the village of New Edinburgh and build a mill complex at Rideau Falls, as well as the residence his daughter named Rideau Hall. With his hefty canal profits—paid in Spanish silver pieces of eight—Mackay was a major financier of the Ottawa and Prescott Railway, and chief promoter of Ottawa as the capital of Canada. He served as Colonel of the Russell and Carleton militias, was MLA for Russell for seven years, and a member of the Legislative Council of Canada for fifteen. 
After Mackay’s death in 1855, his son-in-law and estate manager Thomas Keefer sold Rideau Hall to the government to serve as a residence for Canada’s Governor General. Keefer also developed a tract of land owned by the estate into the village of Rockcliffe Park, today home to over 70 diplomatic residences. 
Published in English.

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“The final cost of the Rideau Canal, tallied up in January 1834, was £822,804. In 2007, Parks Canada estimated the cost in current Canadian dollars at over $1 billion. Mackay received about £32,000 or 1/25th of the total – in today’s dollars over $40 million. Redpath received a lesser amount as he had to bow out of the project due to bouts of malaria. They were handsome profits indeed, added to the £10,000 apiece they each earned building the Lachine Canal. But Lord Dalhousie and Colonel By needed high-quality work, by trusted contractors, and they got it.”


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Contributor notes

Alastair Sweeny est l’auteur de plusieurs livres sur l’histoire canadienne et la technologie, dont George-Étienne Cartier : Une biographie, BlackBerry Planet et Fire Along the Frontier : Great Battles of the War of 1822. Il est le fondateur et premier directeur de canadachennel.ca, une série de portails éducatifs canadiens créés par des auteurs de renom dans les domaines de l’éducation et de l’histoire canadienne.

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About the Author

Alastair Sweeny

Alastair Sweeny is author of a biography of George-Etienne Cartier, as well as two recent business books, BlackBerry Planet, on RIM's smartphone, and Black Bonanza, on Canada's oilsands. He lives in Ottawa.

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