John By

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
John By
John By.jpg
Lieutenant Colonel John By
Born (1779-08-07)7 August 1779
Lambeth, London, England
Died 1 February 1836(1836-02-01) (aged 56)
Frant, East Sussex
Nationality English
Education Royal Military Academy
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Baines Johnson (1801)
Esther March (1818)
Children Harriet Martha By 1822-1842
Esther By Ashburnham 1820-1848
Parents George By and Mary Bryan
Engineering career
Engineering discipline military engineering
Significant projects Rideau Canal
Quebec City fortifications

Lieutenant-Colonel John By (7 August 1779 – 1 February 1836) was a British military engineer, best remembered for supervising the construction of the Rideau Canal and, in the process, founded Bytown, that would become the city of Ottawa. [1]

Life and career[edit]

Born in Lambeth in London, England in 1779 to George By and Mary Bryan. By studied at the Royal Military Academy. He entered Officer Training in the army when he was 18 years old. He was commissioned in the Royal Artillery on 1 August 1799 but transferred to the Royal Engineers on 20 December the same year.[2] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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 be renamed to Ottawa ultimately becoming the capital of Canada.[4]

The canal was completed in six years, and was acclaimed as an engineering triumph.[5] Colonel By was recalled to London, however, to face accusations that he had made a number of unauthorised expenditures.[3] The charges were spurious and a parliamentary committee exonerated him, but the damage was done and he was never given a formal commendation for his work on the canal.[6][7] He died in 1836 and is buried in the village of Frant in East Sussex in the South East of England.


Sculpture marking location of his residence in Major's Hill Park, Ottawa

By was married twice, first to Elizabeth Baines in 1801, who died in 1814. He remarried in 1818 to Esther March (who survived him until 1838) with whom he had two daughters: Harriet Martha By (1822-1842) and Esther By Ashburnham (1820-1848).[8]

By was survived by 2 brothers:[7]

  • George By - died in 1840 without children
  • Henry By - died in 1852 and predeceased by his son in 1847 (who had no children)


Joseph-Émile Brunet's statue of John By in Major's Hill Park, Ottawa

John By's name lives on in a number of contexts:[7]


Plaque commemorating fountain in memory of John By in Ottawa

A historical plaque located on the grounds of Colonel By Secondary School states, "Colonel John By (1779 - 1836) was born and educated in England and first came to Canada in 1802. As a member of the Royal Engineers, he worked on the first small locks on the St. Lawrence River as well as the fortifications of Quebec. He returned to England in 1811 and fought in the Peninsular War, but came back to Canada in 1826 to spend five summers heading the construction of the Rideau Canal, the 200 km long waterway, which now connects Ottawa and Kingston. This formidable task included the building of about 50 dams and 47 locks, without the aid of modern equipment. But the amazing feat was never recognized in Colonel By's own lifetime, and he died three years after its completion, never imagining that many thousands of Canadians would greatly admire and value his achievement in the centuries to come. Colonel By's attributes of courage, determination, and diligence inspire us to emulate him, in the hopes that we too may somehow serve our country in a way which will benefit future generations." [9]

A plaque was erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board at Jones Falls Lockstation commemorating Lieutenant Colonel John By, Royal Engineers, the superintending engineer in charge of the construction of the Rideau Canal. The plaque notes that the 123-mile long Rideau Canal, built as a military route and incorporating 47 locks, 16 lakes, two rivers, and a 350-foot-long (110 m), 60-foot-high (18 m) dam at Jones Falls, was completed in 1832.


  1. ^ "John By, lt-col, Royal Engineers". (author R.F. Legget). Retrieved 2013-09-04. 
  2. ^ a b Lance Day; Ian McNeil (2013). Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology. Routledge. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-1-134-65020-0. 
  3. ^ a b Marion Van de Wetering (1997). An Ottawa Album: Glimpses of the Way We Were. Dundurn. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-77070-014-7. 
  4. ^ Dave Mullington (2005). Chain of Office: Biographic Sketches of Ottawa's Mayors (1847-1948). GeneralStore PublishingHouse. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-897113-17-2. 
  5. ^ Peter Conroy (2002). Our Canal: The Rideau Canal in Ottawa. GeneralStore PublishingHouse. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-894263-63-4. 
  6. ^ Legget, Robert (1955). Rideau Waterway. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 64. 
  7. ^ a b c "Tales of the Rideau - Bye By - The Story of Lieutenant-Colonel John By, R.E". 1915-05-27. Retrieved 2013-09-04. 
  8. ^ Ian Ellis. "John By - Biography". Retrieved 2013-09-04. 
  9. ^ "John By plaque". Retrieved 2013-09-04. 

External links[edit]