In 1613 a Portuguese missionary, Father Manoel Barradas, describes how "Near Columbo the Fathers embarked on a canal by which they entered into the River Calane [Kelani Ganga], and going down the river they proceeded into another canal as narrow as shady, so that the oars, although they were very short, could scarcely fulfil their office". "By this they went as far as Negumbo, which is six Chingala leagues." In the 17th century the Portuguese constructed a canal from Hendala to Pamunugama.
The Dutch established the centre of their colony at Colombo. They then attempted to grow paddy rice in the surrounding marshes in Muthurajawela, but found that—as the previous Sinhalese kings had before them—the coastal tides inundated the fields with sea water. Around the 18th century, the Dutch commenced the construction of a series of structures, dams and canals using and enhancing the original system of waterways in an attempt to drain the salt water from the rice fields and to transport cinnamon in barges through to the seaport at Negombo. This system, known as the 'Dutch Canal', formed a "continuous line of waterways between ports and the remote sections of territory under the Dutch".