MCDONALDS CORNERS, ON, Aug. 20 /CNW/ - Today, the Ontario Heritage Trust
and the McDonalds Corners-Elphin Recreation & Arts (MERA) unveiled a
provincial plaque commemorating the Rivers and Streams Act of 1884.
During the 19th century, the lumber industry dominated the economy along
the Ottawa River in Lanark County. Both Boyd Caldwell and Peter McLaren,
Scottish settlers who arrived in the area with their families following the
War of 1812, possessed timber rights on the upper Mississippi River in the
1870s. McLaren made improvements to the river to facilitate the movement of
logs, including the clearing of channels, dams to raise water levels, slides
and booms. He then indicated that he would not allow others to use these
features without his permission. The struggle that would ensue between the
rival businessmen over the use of the river served to establish lasting
principles in federal-provincial relations.
"The Rivers and Streams Act of 1884 was an important step in shaping the
legislation pertaining to use of waterways in Ontario," said The Honourable
Lincoln M. Alexander, Chairman of the Ontario Heritage Trust. "This provincial
plaque will serve as a reminder of one of the most significant and influential
legal and political disputes in the province's history."
McLaren refused to grant Caldwell access to his improvements on the river
and sought an injunction from the Court of Chancery, which was granted.
Caldwell appealed to the provincial government of Premier Oliver Mowat, which
passed the Rivers and Streams Act in 1881. The act stated that it was legal to
transport logs down modified rivers, subject to a levy paid to the owner of
any improvements. This led to an ongoing battle with Prime Minister John A.
Macdonald over legislative control in matters deemed to be of provincial
jurisdiction. McLaren appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the federal
government disallowed the Ontario act, to protect the rights of property
"The dispute over the Rivers and Streams Act of 1884 played a crucial
role in establishing fundamental principles in federal-provincial relations,"
said Culture Minister Aileen Carroll. "It is important to commemorate an act
that has had such a profound impact in Ontario's history."
Following the federal government's decision, Caldwell appealed to the
highest court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain, which
ultimately upheld the provincial act. Macdonald's government decided not to
disallow the Rivers and Streams Act when Ontario passed it again in 1884. This
decision established the principle that waterways are open to all, regardless
of private interests. It also made it increasingly difficult for the federal
government to disallow legislation that clearly fell under provincial
"The legal feud between two local loggers, Boyd Caldwell and Peter
McLaren, led directly to the legislation that eventually gave the public
access to Canada's waterways," said Tom Shoebridge, Chairman of the MERA Board
of Directors. "This plaque will remind our children of the importance of
historical events in our lives today and that the contributions of our
forebears should be recognized. The unveiling event will coincide with the
Mississippi River Heritage Festival - a lively celebration of Lanark's logging
heritage and the Mississippi River."
In 1887, Peter McLaren sold his interests in the area. Boyd Caldwell's
death followed in 1888, marking the end of one of the most influential
disagreements in Canadian legal history.
The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Government of Ontario,
dedicated to identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting Ontario's
- The Ontario Heritage Trust's Provincial Plaque Program commemorates
significant people, places and events in Ontario's history.
- Since 1953, over 1,200 provincial plaques have been unveiled.
- 22 provincial plaques are located in the County of Lanark.
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For further information:
For further information: Liane Nowosielski, Assistant Marketing and
Communications Coordinator, Ontario Heritage Trust, Telephone: (416) 325-5032,