John By

From Academic Kids

Lieutenant-Colonel John By (probably 7 August 17791 February 1836) was a British military engineer, best remembered for supervising the construction of the Rideau Canal and, in the process, founding what would become the city of Ottawa.

Born in Lambeth in London, England in 1779, By studied at the Royal Military Academy. He joined the Royal Artillery but soon transferred to the Royal Engineers. In 1802 he was posted to Canada for the first time, where he worked on the fortification of Quebec City and on improving the navigability of the Saint Lawrence River. During the Napoleonic wars he returned to Europe, where he served in Spain under the Duke of Wellington from 1811 until 1815.

With the end of the war By retired from the military but in 1826, in view of his engineering experience in Canada, he was recalled and returned to Canada to supervise the construction of the Rideau Canal. Since the canal was to begin in the wild and sparsely populated Ottawa River valley, his first task was the construction of a town to house the men who were to work on the canal, and associated services. The resulting settlement, called Bytown in his honour, would later become famous under the new name of Ottawa.

The canal was completed in six years, and was acclaimed as an engineering triumph. Upon his return to London, however, By faced accusations about the finances of the project. Officials of the British Treasury Board suggested that he had made a number of unauthorised expenditures, and By spent the remaining years of his life attempting to clear his name. He died in 1836.

John By's name lives on in the Byward Market area of Ottawa's Lower Town and his statue, executed by Joseph-Emile Brunet and unveiled in 1971, stands in nearby Major's Hill Park. Also in Ottawa are Colonel By Secondary School and the scenic parkway of Colonel By Drive, which follows the first stretch of the canal through the city from Lower Town to the falls at Hogs Back. In honour of his achievements as an engineer, the engineering building of the University of Ottawa is named after Colonel By. In 1979, to commemorate the bicentenary of his birth, Canada Post issued a stamp bearing his image.

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