Robert W. Passfield
   Public Historian    






bbParks Canada



bbCommittee of Peers

bbProfessional Activities 

bbCD Books


Parks Canada Program Support

Manuscript Reports: Canals

Over the years, a significant contribution was made to the Parks Canada program through the preparation of a number of manuscript reports in support of the rehabilitation and restoration of canal structures on the heritage canals within the Parks Canada national historic sites system, as well as in the recording and interpretation of the canals and their structures. Among the most important, in terms of their impact on the Parks Canada program, were the following:

"Report on the Lachine Canal Bridges", January l975, 47 p., illus. An inventory, dating, photo-recording, and assessment of the integrity and historic value of ten bridges on the historic Lachine Canal. Several preservation options are discussed within the context of development proposals for the canal. Prepared for the Agreements in Recreation and Conservation (ARC) Branch, Parks Canada.

Bridge Reports: Rideau Waterway, St. Peter's Canal, Upper Dorchester, N.B.", Manuscript Report Series, No. 212, Parks Canada, l977, 244 p., illus. Comprises three separate bound reports: an inventory, photo-recording, and assessment of the integrity and historic value of 27 bridges on the historic Rideau Canal, with a discussion of preservation options; and as evaluation of the integrity and historic value of a Warren pony truss swing bridge on the historic St. Peter’s Canal in Nova Scotia; as well as a photo-recording, history, and assessment of the integrity and historic value of a Howe truss covered bridge at Upper Dorchester, New Brunswick. (The Upper Dorchester Covered Bridge was subsequently carried away and destroyed by ice flows.)

"Engineering the Defence of the Canadas: Lt. Col. John By and the Rideau Canal", Manuscript Report Series, No. 425, Parks Canada, l980, 479 p., illus. A history of the Rideau Canal construction project that focuses on the design factors in play, interpreted within the context of the fortifications and canal building program undertaken by the British Army Corps of Engineers after the War of 1812; its strategic objectives; and cost and technological considerations.

“The Ottawa Locks: Excavation Problems and Construction Details”, August 1980, 37 p., illus. An applied history approach project, wherein historical research and analysis were employed in support of a modern-day reconstruction project. Prepared at the request of Canals Engineering Branch, Parks Canada, in support of the reconstruction of four flight locks in the Entrance Valley, Rideau Canal, at Ottawa. Through archival research in microfilmed copies of the British Army, Corps of Royal Engineers, construction progress reports on the building of the Rideau Canal (1826-1832), the ground water and soil instability problems encountered during the original construction of the Ottawa Locks in 1828-1830, were identified, located on a base map, and their severity and impact on the original construction project was described. During the locks reconstruction project severe water seepage and running sand problems recurred, and in the same locations as expected based on the historical analysis.

"Canal Lock Design and Construction: The Rideau Canal Experience, l826-l982", Microfiche Report Series, No. 57, Parks Canada, l983, 482 p., illus. Dates, documents, illustrates and describes the structural features of the Rideau Canal locks and their operating mechanisms; and traces the design evolution within the context of 19th century canal building. Fully illustrated with historic and contemporary photos, and historic engineering drawing details of each distinct lock feature and different type of period mechanism extant on the canal. Established a typology for identifying and dating the variety of period lock gate and sluice valve mechanisms on the historic Rideau Canal; as well as greatly facilitated the development of an interpretation program for the canal. Reproduced in 2010 as a book on CD - see the CD Book section.

"The Sault Ste. Marie Ship Canal, l889-l985: Essays in Canal Building Technology", Microfiche Report Series, No. 297, Environment Canada-Parks, Ottawa, l986, 286p., illus. This report was undertaken at the request of Ontario Region, Parks Canada, for a study of the technological and historical significance of the extant resources at the Sault Ste. Marie Ship Canal National Historic Site – the canal lock and its operating mechanisms (constructed 1889-1895); the powerhouse (1893-1895), and the emergency swing bridge dam (1895-1896). The request was to evaluate their significance within the context of ship canal construction of their era, and the history of Canadian canal construction. (See the write up in the Publications section for Technology in Transition: The ‘Soo” Ship Canal, 1889-1985 (Ottawa: Canadian Parks Service, 1989).

"Historic Bridges on the Rideau Waterways System", Parks Canada Manuscript Report Series No. 212, 1976, 129 pp., illustrated. This report comprises an investigative survey level photo-recording of the historic bridges extant on the Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada undertaken in July 1974.  It locates, dates, and describes the bridge structures, and identifies them according to their general type, configuration, and materials of construction, with the inclusion of a brief history of the bridge site and the bridge structure.  A total of 26 historic bridges, both road and railway, are treated. 

The report is  illustrated with a photo of each structure, and historic engineering drawings of several of the older types of swing bridge structures.  Included are reconstructed timber swing bridges (1865-1866 design), a Scherzer Rolling Lift Bascule Bridge, a Strauss Trunnion Bascule, a number of pony truss swing bridges, a vertical lift bridge, and plate girder swing bridges. Reproduced in 2009 as a book on CD - see the CD Book section.

Policy Memoranda & Planning Reports

A series of policy memoranda were prepared by Passfield that were instrumental in ultimately establishing that the functioning engineering works on Parks Canada’s newly-acquired heritage canals – canal bridges, locks, dams, and waste weirs – were not exempt from the National Historic Sites heritage preservation policy; and he took the lead initially in advocating the setting forth of acceptable treatment options, consistent with the existing National Historic Sites Policy, for historic canal structures in the National Historic Sites system. He also served on a planning concepts team for the Rideau Canal.

"Memorandum: Bridge Replacement Policy", May 1976, 2 p. A memorandum that raised several heritage preservation concerns with respect to a bridge replacement policy that the Canals Engineering Division, Parks Canada, proposed for implementation on Parks Canada’s historic canals. The bridge replacement policy called for the existing canal bridges to be replaced with modern high-level bridges off-site, or modern plate girder swing bridges, with only a single representative examples of each type of historic bridge being preserved on the Rideau Canal waterway. The bridge replacement policy was rescinded subsequently, and replaced with a program commitment to applying the Parks Canada’s heritage preservation policy where all of the historic bridges were concerned.

"Memorandum: The Rideau Waterway Assessment of Structures", November 1976, 3 p. An analysis submitted by Passfield that pointed out the non-heritage preservation nature of the canal modernization, mechanization, and beautification program advocated by a consultant's report, "The Rideau Waterway, Assessment of Structures" (April 1976, 2 vols.). The consultant’s report advocated the installation of hydraulic operating mechanisms on the lock gates and sluices; the erection of modern pseudo-historic lock offices; and a park-like landscaping for the lock stations.

Rideau Canal, National Historic Parks and Sites Branch Policy Position (draft report), November l976, 75 p. One of three Historical Research Branch staff contributors to a draft report, authorized by the Chief, Historical Services Branch, that set forth acceptable treatment options for historic engineering structures on the historic Rideau Canal under the existing National Historic Sites Policy.

Policy and Planning Division, ARC Branch, Parks Canada, Planning Concepts Team, 1977. Served on an Agreements in Recreation and Conservation (ARC) Branch planning concepts team that prepared a planning report for the management and preservation of the cultural resources of the Rideau Canal: viz. "The Historic Rideau: Planning Concepts" (Agreements in Recreation and Conservation Branch, Parks Canada, March l977, 57 p,. illus.). Passfield wrote the section of the planning concepts report entitled, “The Structures of the Rideau Canal, A History”, pp. 49-56.

"Chambly Canal: Swing Bridges 9 & 10" , April 1985, (6 p., illus.). Passfield prepared a brief report that reviewed the bridge classification system in force, and set forth preservation options, consistent with National Historic Sites Policy, for two historic swing bridges on the Chambly Canal.

"Memorandum: White Paper-Rideau Canal", December l986, 8 p. A commentary prepared by Passfield on the classification and treatment options proposed in a departmental White Paper for historic canal structures.

"Point Wolfe Covered Bridge, Fundy National Park", Memorandum, January 1991, 3 p. A memorandum prepared by Passfield that questioned a program decision that a destroyed landmark historic covered bridge at Point Wolfe, Fundy National Park, New Brunswick, be replaced with a hybrid steel truss-wood sheathed bridge to maintain the historic appearance of the lost landmark (Parks Canada Briefing Note, January 3, 1991). In reviewing the Briefing Note, he advocated that a different approach be considered – the construction of a replica timber Howe truss covered bridge. Passfield pointed out that such a replacement-in-kind approach was more in keeping with National Historic Sites Policy than a façade treatment; that a timber Howe truss span would be totally practical on a secondary road in a National Park; and that it would be more economical to construct. This recommendation was ultimately accepted by Parks Canada, and the Department of Public Works, Atlantic Region, and a replica timber Howe truss covered bridge was rebuilt at the Point Wolfe site at a substantial saving in cost.

Rideau Canal Project Team, 1974-1977

Served on a Restoration Services Division, ARC Branch, Parks Canada project team, comprising a historian, restoration architect, civil engineer, and draughtsman, that prepared site study planning reports for lock sites on the historic Rideau Canal: viz. “Preliminary Site Study Series”, 14 vols, November l974-September l977. These reports were an early version of what today would be classed as a cultural landscape study. Each study focusses on a single lock station of the Rideau Canal the landscape of which (dams, embankments, locks, canal buildings, bridges, and landscape features), were researched in archival documents, departmental canal records, and canal engineering records, and were recorded in historic drawings and photos, contemporary photos, sketches, and a series of maps prepared from contemporary maps dating to four periods: the construction period; about 1850, 1930 (when the Department of Transport completed an inventory of lock station structures), and the current 1970s date. Each lock station site study showed the evolution of the built environment and the cultural and natural landscape from the canal’s construction in 1826-1832 to 1970; and the built environment components at that particular lock site were dated, identified and classified as to type with a description of their function. Moreover, each canal structure was placed within a technological and/or military historical context. All subsequent alternations to the landscape and structures were traced, dated, and recorded; missing components were identified and their former location mapped for archaeological purposes; and a development plan was set forth for preserving, restoring, and interpreting each lock station.

Passfield had little input into the development plan for each lock site (which was prepared by the Restoration Architect); but was solely responsible for the historical content, and for the assessment of the historic and engineering significance of the canal structures, in nine volumes of the site studies series. In addition, he made some minor contributions to five additional Rideau Canal lock station site study volumes – after he was assigned to other projects; and another staff historian was assigned to the project team to carry on the Rideau Canal preliminary site study series..

ICOMOS Meeting

Historic Transportation Corridors International Meeting, September 1994. A meeting of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), World Heritage Convention, was hosted by Parks Canada at Chaffeys Lock, Rideau Canal, to develop guidelines for evaluating historic transportation corridors as world heritage sites. Passfield prepared the research base for the meeting; played a major role in its organization; identified the key individuals to be invited; and made an audio-visual presentation at the Meeting on the “Rideau Canal Corridor”.

Subsequently, Passfield received the Parks Canada Merit Award, 1994, “for preparing the research base and the organization of the Historic Transportation Corridors International Meeting”.


Structural History Conference, Prairie Region, Parks Canada, October l983. Made a presentation on “Researching and Reconstructing Historic Engineering Structures", and participated in workshop discussions.

National Workshop on Cultural Communities’ History, 1995. When serving as an Acting/Service Manager in Historical Services Branch, Passfield was responsible, among his other duties, for enhancing the commemoration of persons, places and events associated with two of the themes – Engineering Achievements, and Cultural Communities’ History – that were identified in an earlier National Historic Sites System Plan study as under-represented in the National Historic Sites system. To enhance commemorations related to the Cultural Communities’ History priority theme, Passfield organized a National Workshop on Cultural Communities’ History; and was instrumental in identifying representatives to invite to the workshop from among members of Canada’s cultural communities who were active in the heritage field. He also supervised the preparation, by a staff historian, of the discussion paper for the National Workshop; as well as supervised the preparation, by a staff historian, of the follow-up summary report on the workshop recommendations concerning subjects meriting submission to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for potential commemoration.

Subsequently, during the first year of implementation of the National Workshop recommendations, Passfield supervised the preparation, by staff historians, of a number of Agenda Papers on persons, places, and events, in the history of Canada’s cultural communities, that were submitted to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for potential commemoration..

Industrial Heritage Workshop, Vancouver, British Columbia, April 2001 (sponsored by Parks Canada and B.C. Heritage). Provide some input to the Program Committee, and chaired a session on “Industrial Districts and Landscapes” at the workshop.

Commemorative Integrity Statements

Since the introduction of the new Parks Canada Cultural Resource Management Policy (March 1990), a management plan has been required to establish the long-term strategic direction for each national historic site, and the preparation of a commemorative integrity statement has been undertaken for each national historic site in the Parks Canada system. Passfield was a member of a number of project teams that prepared a Commemorative Integrity Statement for historic canals in the National Historic Sites system; and he reviewed numerous Commemorative Integrity Statements for national historic sites associated with bridges and engineering works generally. (A Commemorative Integrity Statement is a site-specific report on the cultural resources of a designated National Historic Site that enunciates the historic value (Level I, Level II, or non-cultural resource) of the individual resources comprising a national historic site; identifies the messages to be communicated to the public to convey the national historic significance of the site; and establishes indicators and guidelines for cultural resource management to ensure that the historic cultural resources, as well as the natural resources, of the National Historic Site will not be impaired or threatened.)

Underwater Archaeology Service Support

"The Phips’ Canada Expedition of 1690" , typescript report, 1997, 40p. 

In December 1994 a submerged shipwreck was discovered in the St. Lawrence River estuary at Baie Trinité, just downstream from the City of Baie Comeau, Quebec. A subsequent excavation, recording and analysis of the shipwreck artifacts by the Underwater Archaeology Service, Parks Canada, established that the wrecked ship was from the squadron of Sir Williams Phips that had sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, in August 1690 to capture New France (Canada) from the French; and that had lost several ships in stormy weather on the return voyage following an unsuccessful amphibious assault on Quebec in October of that year.

In 1996 Passfield was assigned to prepare a research report on the origins, organization, and conduct of the expedition led by Sir William Phips. The resulting report, based largely on published primary documents, set forth the reasons for the Phips’ expedition; and traced the organization, arming, and logistics of the Phips’ expedition, and the difficulties encountered on the voyage to Quebec. In addition, the report analyzed the tactics employed in the unsuccessful attack on Quebec; described  the disasters that befell the expedition on its return voyage to Boston in October-November 1690, and related the impact of the failed expedition on the Massachusetts Colony.

A decade later Passfield re-cast this report into a two part article, “Fighting Against the Elements: The Phips’ amphibious assault on Canada, 1690"   (Part I - The Undertaking; Part II - the Attack and the Aftermath).

“‘Where Sovereignty Lay’, The Crown and General Court in 17th Century Massachusetts”, typescript report, 1998, 34p.

This report was undertaken to examine, within an historical context, the question of where sovereignty resided at the time of the Phips’ Canada Expedition, and, more particularly, to determine whether the Crown of England had any responsibility for the expedition. As such, it traces how the concept of sovereignty evolved, within the context of the Puritan theology and world view, from the granting of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter by King Charles II in 1629, through to the period of political upheaval that immediately preceded the Phips’ Canada Expedition of 1690 when the Crown and the colony were at odds over ‘where sovereignty lay’.

In the spring of 2011 this manuscript report was extended, and re-cast along with the two-part article mentioned above, and published in a book format: viz. Phips’ Amphibious Assault on Canada – 1690, Origins, Logistics, and Organization, The Attack and Aftermath, & ‘Where Sovereignty Lay’ (Ottawa: By Author/, 2011), 178 p., maps. See Publications/ Books.

Home | Education | Publications | Conferences | Awards | Parks Canada | HSMBC
Management | Committee of Peers | Professional Activities | CD Books | Blogs

© Robert W. Passfield