Rogers left McGill College in 1878, and graduated with a degree
in Civil and Mechanical Engineering (B.A. Sc). In January 9, 1879
he became a Provincial Land Surveyor and in 1880 he became Dominion
Land Surveyor, a position he practiced until 1884 when he joined
private practice. During that time he also did some local land
surveying at Millbrook and Manitoba, southwest of Winnipeg.
His growing acquaintance with the Calcutts did bring
about love with the younger Calcutt daughter Mina, also of Ashburnham.
Story has it that Rogers sold his sports trophies to buy the engagement
ring for Mina. They finally married on February 24th,
1881 shortly after Richard's 24th birthday.
Richard and Mina's children
were: George Charles (b. 1883, d. in infancy), Harry George (b.
1884), George Norman (b. 1886), Edna Isabella (b. 1888), Lillian
Kate (b. 1890), Leah Muriel (b. 1892) and Heber Symonds (b. 1895)
and there is mention of another child having died in infancy early
in their family life.
Heber Rogers 5
Harry Rogers (left) 6
In 1884 he was appointed Superintending Engineer of the Trent
Canal, a position which he held until his retirement in 1906.
While serving as Superintendent of the Trent Canal, Rogers suggested
the use of hydraulic lift locks to the Minister of Railways and
Canals, Hon. John Haggart. The Department became interested in
the new hydraulic system of locks and commissioned Rogers to travel
to Europe to study existing locks there. He left for Europe in
February of 1896, planning to visit sites in France, Belgium and
England. His tour consisted primarily of the lock at La Fontinette
in Southern France, the lock at the La Louvinière, in Belgium,
and the lock at [Norwich], England with a few stops at smaller
sites as mentioned in his 1896 Diary.
Rogers obtained several letters of introduction
to meet the Engineers in charge of the works in Europe. Although
some of the engineers were too busy to see him, he did speak to
others and tried his best to visit the sites and look over their
plans. Some of the engineers allowed him access to much of the
necessary information and Rogers, armed with this new-found knowledge,
returned to Canada. Once home, he was able to convince the Department
of Railways and Canals to allow him to proceed with the plans
for construction. Rogers laid out the general plans and from there
his staff, mainly Walter J. Francis, his Chief Draughtsman and
Thomas A.S. Hay, completed the superstructure and substructure
plans under Rogers who Superintended the project.
Rogers' Land Surveyor Card 7
During the construction of the Hydraulic Lift Lock, Rogers worked
within a complex matrix of bureaucratic structures. He wrote reports
and attended endless meetings to get permissions. Once the project
was approved he found himself constantly summoned to Ottawa and
Montreal to meet with authorities who demanded updates on the
project. At the beginning of the work, Rogers found that he had
some important and valuable supporters in the government specifically
in Mr. Collingwood Schreiber, Chief Engineer of the Department
of Railways and Canals, who corresponded with him on all matters
relating to hiring of personnel and labourers, and on technical
specifications. Mr. Schreiber was also the contact person in Ottawa
for Rogers' reports. He advised Rogers on many matters and was
consulted in the many changes that were ordered by the government.
Rogers also had to contend with the many people who had input
into the construction of this important and costly work. During
this period in his life, Rogers related how occupied he was travelling
back and forth between the numerous constructions sites, while
simultaneously driving between Peterborough, Ottawa and Montreal,
to name just a few places, to get decisions approved, to explain
his methods of construction and just to reassure the authorities
that the project was indeed progressing at a satisfactory pace.
One of two main contractors on the Works was Corry and Laverdure.
The company excavated the site and built the concrete towers and
lock.The other contractor was Dominion Bridge of Montreal which
was hired to do the metal work including the rams, presses and
large caissons of the lock.
During the construction of the locks it is no wonder that Rogers
made little or no references to family and friends in his personal
papers or journals. He poured, instead, over details of the investigations
and inspections of the sites which slowly took over his life.
Christmas at Rogers'
Home, 1913 8
Rogers Family Portrait 9
The Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock officially opened in 1904
to great ceremony and fanfare with the Minister of Railways and
Canals Hon. Henry Emmerson presiding and with the Postmaster General
William Mulock in attendance. The Kirkfield Lock opened in 1906.
Shortly thereafter, the bright light of Richard Birdsall Rogers
started to dim. A disagreement over budgets with Corry and Laverdure
ensued after they started to work on the Hydraulic Lift Lock.
After that, Rogers continued to deal with claims from Corry and
Laverdure relating to the many changes that the works required.
Many of the claims concerned the "dry pour" method of
concrete mixing that Rogers planned for the Works. The method
which was innovative at the time, was also costly and required
a great deal more time to complete than other methods of the day.
The fact that the team was also pioneering the system, and that
they had little or no experience with dry-pour, also caused the
contractors and engineers to experiment much of the time and this
in turn gave rise to the many claims about what was defined as
extra work and what constituted part of original contracts. The
contractors contended that they should be paid extra for all the
additional work and Rogers insisted that all the necessary work
was included in the contract already and he refused to pay them
any more money.
At the height of the disputes, the government assigned a Commissioner
to investigate the claims. Mr. Henry Holgate was assigned the
job of inspecting the Works in 1906. Prior to the Holgate Report
the popular opinion of the Works seemed very different from that
after the Report was released. Because of this much publicized
report, as well as changes in government, Rogers saw himself less
and less in the favour of the government. Unfortunately, the government
decided to support the contractors and awarded their claims. Rogers
soon found himself blamed for going over-budget on the project.
It was thought at the time that the scandal involved not only
budget costs between Rogers and the contractors, but also other
political issues. Rogers was originally appointed Superintending
Engineer by the conservative government of Sir John A. Macdonald
and there is little doubt that his position as a public servant
involved in public works became compromised even as early as governments
The Holgate Report charged that Rogers made erroneous technical
decisions and mistakes in budgeting his work. In response to the
investigators, Rogers insisted that his work had been performed
appropriately. It was to no avail, despite his repeated requests
for another investigation. The media of the day used this
situation to great advantage and soon a great man was disgraced.
After the release of this Report, the Minister of Railways and
Canals asked for Rogers' resignation
in a letter dated February 14, 1906. Rogers tendered his letter
of resignation in a handwritten note on February 19th. Walter
J. Francis replaced Rogers as Superintending Engineer. Francis
later resigned himself to move to British Columbia.
Years later, in conjuction with changes that occurred in government,
Rogers managed to ignite new interest in his situation and finally
was given an opportunity to be heard. After promising to foot
the bills for a new investigation, the new minister, Hon. Frank
Cochrane, appointed another commissioner, Mr. Charles H. Keefer,
M.A.S.C.E., who was also the President of the Canadian Society
of Civil Engineers. Mr. Keefer was commissioned to investigate
both the Holgate Report and Rogers' side of the story. Keefer
reviewed all the allegations in the construction of the Hydraulic
Lift Locks at Peterborough and Kirkfield and his investigation,
when it was concluded, completely vindicated Richard Birdsall
Rogers as Chief Engineer. Furthermore, Mr. Keefer's Report found
that Holgate's investigation and report had been conducted and
heavily influenced by political preferences instead of basic engineering
practices. The Report was released in 1914 to Rogers’ great relief
and letters of congratulations soon started pouring in from all
his friends in the community. Ironically, the government took
Rogers at his word and insisted that he pay the bill for the investigation.
Correspondence is found in our collection in which Rogers protested
having to pay Mr. Keefer’s bills in light of the findings in his
favour. Political pressure soon overwhelmed Rogers and despite
his own money worries at the time and all his protestations to
avoid the payment, on April 3, 1915, Rogers gave in. He sent the
cheque for $1150.00 and paid
the bill for his vindication. Undoubtedly, these repeated attempts
at defending himself took their toll on Rogers' health and ego
but he did enjoy vindication during his lifetime, however late
and long in coming that it was.
Lift Lock Investigation Vol. 1 10
Lift Lock Investigation Vol. 2 11
Lift Lock Investigation Vol. 3 12
After his retirement from government service, Rogers was associated
with Smith, Kerry and Chase and was involved with the firm's projects
on the Trent River. At the time, he was in charge of the Campbellford
plant of the Northumberland Pulp and Paper Company. He purchased
the Campbellford Mill with some friends and attained a controlling
interest of the company. The products the Mill supplied were strawboard,
mill board and house sheeting. A news clipping also mentioned
that located on the property of the Mill was "one of the
greatest water powers in Ontario" which was not fully developed
at the time Rogers acquired it. Rogers then decided to move to
Campbellford in 1906 to manage the company.
Shortly after, on the 21st of February that year Mr.William Dennon
accepted to form a partnership with Rogers and the firm of Dennon
and Rogers completed several contracts along the Canal. The partnership
lasted only 10 years and was dissolved in 1916.
During the First World War, Rogers not only had two sons fighting
for their country but he himself chaired a recruiting committee
of 5 citizens to do his part for the war effort. He sent letters
to the editor of the local paper to try and help the cause.
He stayed in Peterborough until 1916 and then retired. He moved
to Beechwood Farm in the Township of Douro, which is now site
of the Peterborough Golf Club. During his later years, Rogers
kept active in social and community affairs and continued to be
active until his death on Oct. 2nd, 1927 . His wife,
Mina died a few months earlier in May after battling a long illness.
During his life, Rogers belonged to the Engineering Institute
of Canada and to the Institute of Civil Engineers of London.
He is buried in Little Lake Cemetery with his headstone facing
Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock.
Rogers' Grave Marker,
Little Lake Cemetery
Close-up of Rogers'
Grave Marker 13
Some idea of the life and times of Richard Birdsall Rogers may
be extrapolated from newspaper headlines.
We have included here examples of these which were found in the
collection. We have also included a variety of miscellany
which provide context. Recordings of interviews with persons that
worked on the Lift Lock Construction and who knew Rogers are also
available at Trent University Archives. The recordings are found
in the George Cobb Tapes Collection (82-006).