Ottawa as a Canal Town

Ottawa as a Canal Town

Designed and painted by: Gregory Ackers

The Erie or the Panama may have been bigger or longer, but the Illinois and Michigan Canal joins those ambitious public works projects in shaping the region in which it was built. Designed as a vital link in the interstate transportation system, the I&M became the first and most ambitious of the state’s internal improvements.

The canal meant goods and grain could be shipped efficiently and that lumber and supplies vital to the settlement of Ottawa could be transported here. It attracted settlers and land speculators who became some of the area’s leading citizens.

Also attracted by the promise of life in the west were thousands of laborers, mostly Irish immigrants, who built the canal and chose to stay in the area. Their life was a hard one. Begun in 1836 and completed 12 years later just as the railroads were expanding as passenger routes, the canal never reached its full potential. During 75 years of operation, however, it shaped Ottawa and other towns along its route. Now a popular hiking and biking trail, it continues to be a vital part of the region.


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