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The Rideau Canal (French: Canal Rideau), also known as the Rideau Waterway, connects the city of Ottawamarker, Ontariomarker, Canadamarker on the Ottawa River to the city of Kingston, Ontariomarker on Lake Ontariomarker. The canal was opened in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States and is still in use today, with most of its original structures intact. The canal system uses sections of major rivers, including the Rideau and the Cataraquimarker, as well as some lakes. It is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, and in 2007, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is operated today by Parks Canada as a recreational waterway. The locks on the system open for navigation in mid-May and close in mid-October.


The construction of the Rideau Canal was proposed shortly after the War of 1812, when there remained a persistent threat of attack by the United Statesmarker on the Britishmarker colony of Upper Canada. In this period, the British built a number of other canals (Grenville, Chute-à-Blondeau and Carillon Canalsmarker, all along the Ottawa River), as well as a number of forts (Citadel Hill, La Citadellemarker, and Fort Henrymarker) to impede and deter any future American invasions of Canadian territory.
An engraving of the Rideau Canal locks at Bytown
The initial purpose of the Rideau Canal was military, as it was intended to provide a secure supply and communications route between Montrealmarker and the British naval base in Kingston, Ontariomarker. Westward from Montreal, travel would proceed along the Ottawa River to Bytown (now Ottawamarker), then southwest via the canal to Kingston and out into Lake Ontariomarker. The objective was to bypass the stretch of the St. Lawrence Rivermarker bordering New York Statemarker, a route which would have left British supply ships vulnerable to attack or a blockade of the St. Lawrence.

The construction of the canal was supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Private contractors such as future sugar refining entrepreneur John Redpath, Thomas McKay, Robert Drummond, Thomas Phillips, Andrew White and others were responsible for much of the construction, and the majority of the actual work was done by thousands of Irish and French-Canadian labourers.

The canal was completed in 1832. The final cost of its construction was £822,000. Given the unexpected cost overruns, By was recalled to Londonmarker and questioned by a parliamentary committee before being cleared of any wrongdoing.
Once the canal was constructed, no further military engagements took place between Canada and the United States. Although the Rideau Canal never had to be used as a military supply route, it played a pivotal role in the early development of Canada. Prior to the locks being completed on the St. Lawrence in the late 1840s, the Rideau served as the main travel route for immigrants heading westward into Upper Canada, and for heavy goods (timber, minerals, grain) from Canada's hinterland heading east to Montreal. Tens of thousands of British immigrants travelled the Rideau in this period. Hundreds of barge loads of goods were shipped each year along the Rideau, allowing Montreal to compete commercially, in the 1830s and 40s, with New York (which had the Erie Canal), as a major North American export port.

Construction deaths

As many as a thousand of the workers died from malaria, other diseases and accidents during blasting. Some of the dead remain unidentified as they had no known relatives in Upper Canada. Memorials to the fallen labourers have been erected along the canal route, most recently the Celtic Cross memorial in Ottawa and in Kingston. The first memorial anywhere along the length of the Rideau Canal acknowledging deaths among the labour force was erected in 1993 by the Kingston and District Labour Council and the Ontario Heritage Foundation at Kingston Millsmarker.


In 1925 the Rideau Canal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada (plaqued in 1926 and again in 1962).

In 2000 the Rideau Waterway was designated a Canadian Heritage River in recognition of its outstanding historical and recreational values.

In 2007 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognizing it as a work of human creative genius. The Rideau Canal was recognized as the best preserved example of a slack water canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact. It was also recognized as an extensive, well preserved and significant example of a canal which was used for military purposes linked to a significant stage in human history - that of the fight to control the north of the American continent.

The waterway

The first locks of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa
The 202 kilometres (125 miles) of the Rideau Canal incorporate sections of the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers, as well as several lakes, including the Lower, Upper and Big Rideaumarker lakes. About 19 kilometres (12 miles) of the route is man-made. Communities along the waterway include Ottawamarker, Manotick, Kars, Burritts Rapidsmarker, Merrickvillemarker, Smiths Fallsmarker, Rideau Ferry, Portland, Westportmarker, Newboromarker, Seeleys Bay and Kingstonmarker. Communities connected by navigable waterways to the Rideau Canal include Kemptvillemarker and Perthmarker.

Today, only pleasure craft make use of the Rideau Canal. Boat tours of the canal are offered in the city of Ottawa, Merrickville, and at Chaffeys Lock. Recreational boaters can make use of it to travel between Ottawa and Kingston with ease. Most of the locks are still hand-operated. There are a total of 45 locks at 23 stations along the Canal, plus two locks at the entrance to the Tay Canal (leading to Perth). The lock stations are:

  • Ottawamarker Locks (1-8)
  • Hartwells Locks (9-10)
  • Hogs Backmarker Locks (11-12)
  • Black Rapids Lock (13)
  • Long Island Locks (14-16)
  • Burritts Rapids Lock (17)
  • Lower Nicholsons Lock (18)
  • Upper Nicholsons Lock (19)
  • Clowes Lock (20)
  • Narrows Lock (35)
  • Newboro Lock (36)
  • Chaffey's Lock (37)
  • Davis Lock (38)
  • Jones Falls Locks (39-42)
  • Upper Brewers Locks (43-44)
  • Lower Brewers Lock (45)
  • Kingston Millsmarker Locks (46-49)

(1) In 1973-74 a new Smiths Falls Combined Lock, 29a, was built a few dozen metres to the north of the original flight of 3 locks (locks 28-30). The original locks were bypassed but left in place.

In normal operations the canal can handle boats up to 27.4m (90ft) in length, 7.9m (26ft) in width, and 6.7m (22ft) in height with a draft of up to 1.5m (5 ft) (boats drafting over 1.2 m (4 feet) are asked to contact the Rideau Canal Office of Parks Canada prior to their trip). In special circumstances a boat up to 33.5m (110ft) in length by 9.1m (30ft) in width can be handled.

The Skateway

A hockey game on the canal on Christmas Day, 1901
A portion of the World's Largest Skating Rink
In winter, a section of the Rideau Canal passing through central Ottawa becomes officially the world's largest skating rink. (Winnipeg lays claim to world's longest skating path). The cleared length is 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) and has the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic hockey rinks. It runs from the Hartwell locks at Carleton Universitymarker to the locks between the Parliament Buildingsmarker and the Château Lauriermarker, including Dow's Lakemarker in between. It serves as a popular tourist attraction and recreational area and is also the focus of the Winterlude festival in Ottawa. Beaver Tails, a fried dough pastry, are sold along with other snacks and beverages, in kiosks on the skateway. In January 2008, Winnipegmarker, Manitobamarker achieved the record of the world's longest skating rink at a length of 8.54 kilometres, but with a width of only 2 to 3 metres wide, on its Assiniboine River and Red Rivermarker at The Forksmarker. In response, the Rideau Canal was rebranded as "the world's largest skating rink".

Although some residents of Ottawa had been using the canal as an impromptu skating surface for years, the official use of the canal as a skateway and tourist attraction is a more recent innovation. In fact, as recently as the 1970s, the city government of Ottawa considered paving over the canal in order to make an automobile expressway. The federal government's ownership of the canal, however, prevented the city from pursuing this proposal.

When Doug Fullerton was appointed chair of the National Capital Commission, he proposed a recreational corridor around the canal, including the winter skateway between Carleton Universitymarker and Confederation Parkmarker. The plan was implemented despite opposition by city council, and 50,000 people skated on the canal on the first weekend. City councillor and author Clive Doucet credits this transformation of the canal with reinvigorating the communities of the Glebemarker, Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South.

It has been reported that the National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators are exploring the possibility of playing a regular season game outdoors on the Rideau Canal, using temporary bleachers for the spectators.

Parks Canada Aquamarine H7-400 Low Rider Weed Harvester

See also


  1. Rideau Canal, UNESCO World Heritage, Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  2. UNESCO names World Heritage sites, BBC News, 28 June 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  3. History of the Rideau Canal, Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  4. Irish Deaths, Retrieved 2008-05-28.
  5. Memorials, Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  6. History of the Rideau Canal
  7. History of the Rideau Canal
  8. History of the Rideau Canal
  9. The Rideau Canal Waterway Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved on 2009-06-24.
  10. Rideau Canal Lockstations. Retrieved on 2009-06-24.
  11. Hockey Blog. Globe and Mail. December 31, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-01.

External links

Bytown Museum

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