Canada's New Edinburgh up in arms over sewer pipe plan

Residents of a Canadian town created by a Scottish stonemason in the 19th century have clashed with the local council over the construction of a sewage pipeline which they say could damage the community.
Construction work is underway in the Canadian town. Photograph: Louise Imbeault/New Edinburgh NewsConstruction work is underway in the Canadian town. Photograph: Louise Imbeault/New Edinburgh News
Construction work is underway in the Canadian town. Photograph: Louise Imbeault/New Edinburgh News

Thomas McKay was born in Perth but emigrated to Canada in 1817, where he became an acclaimed stonemason and eventually created a mill town near Ottawa inspired by New Lanark which he called New Edinburgh and populated with Scots immigrants.

Now city leaders have begun construction work on a pipeline as part of the Ottawa River Action Plan – a £126 million government-funded project – which residents say could damage homes in the centre of the town and rip apart the tight-knit community created by McKay.

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Joan Mason, a former president of the New Edinburgh Community Alliance and a member of the town’s heritage and development committee, said McKay’s legacy was a reminder to care about community.

Residents claim that they were not consulted on the project when it was first mooted in 2010 and instead first found out about it when contractors appeared at the door of their Victorian-era homes last autumn, wanting to photograph the inside in case of damage during the works.

“They didn’t consult with us,” Mason said. “They tick the boxes because they did have a consultation but it was held miles away and wasn’t advertised in our local papers or brought up by our local councillors. You would have had to have insider knowledge to know what was going on.”

A six-mile long tunnel is to be created through the town as part of the works, which will be dug out into a park surrounding the historic former mill buildings of McKay’s business.

“There will be diesel trucks picking up the earth and driving through tiny historic streets with heritage buildings on both sides and this will go on daily for three years,” Mason said. “There will be constant hammers which they say can go up to 130 decibels. We don’t know whether this will have an impact on our buildings.”

She said she was being forced to leave her home and spend the next year in a holiday cottage she owns.

“There are a lot of other people who are doing the same and moving away, or having to move into the city. There are only 2,000 residents in the town, if a lot of people leave for a considerable period of time, it will change things in the community.”

She added: “It’s a community that I think Thomas McKay would have been very proud of. We fight to maintain our heritage and we are very proud of our historic area.”

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McKay, who was inspired by mill owner Robert Owen, made his fortune after working on the Rideau Canal and buying up lands with the proceeds, built a home for himself and his Scottish wife in New Edinburgh, near Ottawa.

The mansion, which he named Rideau Hall, is now the official residence of the Governor General of Canada.

Ziad Ghadban, manager of the Combined Sewage Storage Tunnel (CSST) project for the City of Ottawa, said: “The CSST will greatly reduce the frequency of sewage overflows entering the Ottawa River during storms while also reducing the risk of basement flooding for several low-lying neighbourhoods.

“Strict contractual constraints, pre-construction video inspections of homes and a comprehensive vibration monitoring programme will ensure the safety of heritage structures within the New Edinburgh community.”

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