Your Mississippi River Fact of the Day
On the shore of Lake Dalhousie, at the side of Lavant Mill Road
2 km north of Road 12 (McDonalds Corners Road)
about 22 km west of Lanark
1875 – A ten year losing battle was begun by Peter McLaren (1831-1919), owner of the largest lumber mill at Carleton Place, for monopoly controls over the navigation of logs on the Mississippi River. It was fought between the government of Ontario and the Dominion, by physical force between opposing gangs of men on the river, and in the courts of Canada and England.
In the opening rounds of 1875, men of the Stewart and Buck firm brought their drive down the river to the Ottawa after cutting a passage through a McLaren boom at the Ragged Chute in Palmerston, and a twenty foot gap through a closed McLaren dam at High Falls in North Sherbrooke. Boyd Caldwell & Son, which later carried this famous struggle for public navigation rights to a successful conclusion, was then employing seventy-five men on a ten hour day at its Carleton Place mill managed by William Caldwell.
In the 1870s, Boyd Caldwell and Peter McLaren both owned timber rights on the upper Mississippi River. McLaren built a dam and timber slide at High Falls and refused to let Caldwell use the slide. Caldwell appealed to the Liberal provincial government of Oliver Mowat, which passed the Rivers and Streams Act in 1881. This made it legal to use private improvements on a watercourse if compensation was paid to the owner. McLaren appealed to the courts and to the Conservative federal government of John A. Macdonald. Macdonald disallowed the act three times, to protect the rights of property holders. Mowat and Macdonald disagreed over provincial authority to legislate in matters of property rights, as granted at Confederation. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ultimately sided with Caldwell, and Mowat’s government passed the Rivers and Streams Act again in 1884. This legal decision recognized that use of Canadian waterways could not be blocked by private interests and helped establish a fundamental principle in federal-provincial relations.