Thomas Burrowes (artist)

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Thomas Burrowes
Lower Bytown, from the Barrack Hill, near the head of the Eighth Lock and Sappers’ Bridge, 1845.jpg
A painting by Burrowes of the Rideau Canal and Lower Bytown in 1845, as viewed from Barrack Hill (later Parliament Hill)
Died1866 (aged 69–70)
NationalityCanadian of English descent
Known forWatercolourist

Thomas Burrowes (1796–1866) was a Captain with the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners who served as both a surveyor and overseer during the construction of the Rideau Canal in Ontario, Canada. Burrowes is known, however, for having documented the construction of the canal and the landscape of the surrounding area in a series of watercolour paintings, thus creating an important eyewitness record of one of the most important engineering projects of 19th century Canada.


Burrowes was born in 1796 in Worcester, England. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners, and he was posted to Fort Henry in Kingston, Upper Canada in 1815. In 1826, he joined a team assembling in Montreal to build a military canal linking Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River. Assigned to Bytown (the settlement that later became Ottawa, the capital of Canada), Burrowes served as Assistant Overseer of Works for the Rideau Canal project, he was one of the first persons to take up land and build a home on Wellington Street, the road upon which Canada's Parliament Buildings would be built decades later.

In 1829, Burrowes was posted to Kingston Mills, upstream from Kingston, where he served as Clerk of the Works of the Cataraqui section of the Rideau Canal until his retirement in 1846. In retirement, Burrowes worked as a farmer, supplementing his income by serving both as a postmaster and Justice of the Peace in Kingston Mills. Burrowes died in 1866, his home, Maplehurst, still stands.


Throughout his career, Burrowes painted watercolours documenting the construction of the canal and the landscape of Upper Canada, his paintings were discovered in 1907 in the attic of one of Burrowes' daughters in Detroit, Michigan, and were donated to the Archives of Ontario in 1948 by Burrowes' grandson. The paintings have been referred to as "some of the most famous images in Ontario history", constituting "one of the most important ever private donations to the Archives of Ontario".[1]


  1. ^ A Private, Precious Gift, Archives of Ontario, Retrieved 21 January 2008.
  • Laberge, Edward P (1987), The artistic legacies of John Burrows and Thomas Burrowes. Bytown pamphlet series., Ottawa, Ontario: The Historical Society of Ottawa

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