Richard Birdsall Rogers

Designer of world's highest hydraulic lift lock

Born: 16 January 1857, Ashburnham, Ontario
Died: 2 October 1927, Peterborough, Ontario

R. B. Rogers graduated from McGill University in 1878 with degrees in Civil and Mechanical Engineering. The following year, he became a provincial land surveyor and, the year after that, a dominion land surveyor. He held the latter position for four years and then entered private practice.

Rogers was appointed Superintending Engineer of the Trent Canal in 1884. He suggested that hydraulic lift locks be used for the canal and, in 1896, was sent to Europe to study existing systems. Upon his return, Rogers received permission to go ahead with the idea. He laid out the general plans for his staff and the Peterborough Lift Lock was opened on 9 July 1904 with much fanfare.

All was not well though. Disputes arose with contractors over what was extra work and what was included in the original contract. The government stepped in and assigned Henry Holgate to investigate. The resulting report blamed Rogers, claiming he had made budgeting mistakes and bad technical decisions. After the release of the Holgate Report, public opinion turned against the engineer. Rogers made many requests for another investigation but all were turned down.

The Ministry asked for his resignation on 14 February 1906 and Rogers complied five days later. He became involved in the pulp and paper mill in Campbellford, eventually purchasing it and moving to the community to manage the company. He also formed a partnership with William Dennon during this time, which lasted until 1916.

Several years after his resignation, after a change in the government, Rogers offered to foot the bill for a new investigation. His offer was accepted and Charles H. Keefer was appointed to look into both sides of the matter. Keefer's report, released in 1914, vindicated Rogers and found that the Holgate Report was heavily influenced by politics. The government held Rogers to his promise to pay the bill for the investigation and sent him an invoice for $1,150.

Richard Birdsall Rogers retired in 1916 and moved to what is now the site of the Peterborough Golf Club. He died in 1927 at age 70 and is buried in Little Lake Cemetery. His gravestone faces the lift lock.

Additional trivia:

At 65', the structure is still the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world. The concrete towers stand 100' high and the approximate weight of the water in each chamber is 1,300 tons. A transfer takes, on average, 10 minutes to complete. On 9 July 2004, a celebration took place to mark its 100th birthday.

More information on:

Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock
Diaries, letters, and other documents belonging to Rogers

Thanks to Garth Cowan for the suggestion.


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Added 30 March 2003.