New Edinburgh Introduction
Written by Bytown Museum
New Edinburgh was founded by Scotsman and stonemason Thomas MacKay, who arrived in Canada in 1817 to help build the Lachine Canal in Montréal. In 1826, he became one of the five main contractors on the Rideau Canal. He built the Ottawa Locks and the Commissariat Building (now the Bytown Museum).
MacKay did well by the Canal's construction and, in 1829, after recognizing the potential power of the Rideau Falls, he began purchasing land in the area. He proceeded to build mills, factories and stores. One of MacKay's larger mills was a five-storey flour mill which produced in excess of 350 barrels of flour per day.
MacKay also laid out the community of New Edinburgh near the falls and encouraged his many workers to settle there. Typical occupations for the workers included mill hand, cooper, blacksmith and weaver. Merchants and farmers also settled in the area.
In 1833, the community of New Edinburgh was formally recognized. Its main streets were named for members of MacKay's family, including himself, his wife (Ann Crichton), and their four sons (John, Charles, Thomas and Alexander).
In 1838, MacKay built Rideau Hall as his family home. When Ottawa was chosen as capital of Canada in 1857, the government leased Rideau Hall from MacKay's widow (MacKay had died in 1855). The government purchased the residence outright a few years later. Rideau Hall's vice-regal status attracted prominent families to the area and, in the late 1800s, substantial brick houses for the gentry were built along MacKay Street.
In 1887, New Edinburgh was annexed by the City of Ottawa and became known as New Edinburgh Ward. In the first half of the 20th century, New Edinburgh's industrial sector declined and it became largely a residential community. From the end of World War II onward, it stabilized into the community we know today – home to the prime minister, governor general, international diplomats and, of course, many local residents.
As you explore the New Edinburgh map, you will discover many sites and buildings with ties to community founder Thomas MacKay and his family, including Rideau Falls, Earnscliffe and the Bytown Prescott Railway, along with the site of Ottawa's first shintie game.
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