Rivers and Streams Act of 1884 - Ontario Heritage Trust

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Rivers and Streams Act of 1884

In the 1870s, Boyd Caldwell and Peter McLaren both owned timber rights on the upper Mississippi River. McLaren built a dam and timber slide at High Falls and refused to let Caldwell use the slide. Caldwell appealed to the Liberal provincial government of Oliver Mowat, which passed the Rivers and Streams Act in 1881. This made it legal to use private improvements on a watercourse if compensation was paid to the owner. McLaren appealed to the courts and to the Conservative federal government of John A. Macdonald. Macdonald disallowed the act three times, to protect the rights of property holders. Mowat and Macdonald disagreed over provincial authority to legislate in matters of property rights, as granted at Confederation. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ultimately sided with Caldwell, and Mowat’s government passed the Rivers and Streams Act again in 1884. This legal decision recognized that use of Canadian waterways could not be blocked by private interests and helped establish a fundamental principle in federal-provincial relations.

Location

At Centennial Beach, Dalhousie Lake, off of Lavant Mill Road, McDonald's Corners.

Region: Eastern Ontario

County/District: County of Lanark

Municipality: Township of Lanark Highlands

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