Rideau Canal

A summer and winter playground
in a spectacular picturesque setting...


rideau canal

The Rideau Canal is a 126 mile (202 kilomtere) long waterway connecting the City of Ottawa on the Ottawa River and the City of Kingston on Lake Ontario.

The canal begins right in the heart of the Ottawa under the shadow of the Parliament Buildings on Parliament Hill.

It is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1925 and in 2007 was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Originally a military structure, today the Rideau Canal is operated by Parks Canada as a recreational waterway for pleasure craft and vacationers who enjoy fishing, cruising, and relaxing in unparalleled surroundings. The locks on the system are open for navigation from mid-May to in mid-October.



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rideau canal map




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History of the Rideau Canal

The initial purpose of the Rideau Canal was military, as it was intended to provide a safe and secure supply and communications route between Montreal and the naval base in Kingston, Ontario. The supply route at the time was down the St. Lawrence River bordering New York State, a route that would have left supply ships vulnerable to an attack or blockade. After the war of 1812 between the British and the Americans this was a real threat that had to be prevented as a blockade of the St. Lawrence River would have severed the lifeline between the British Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada.

Construction of the canal began in 1826, and after 6 years it was completed in 1832 at a final cost of £822,000. Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers supervised construction of the canal and it is after him that Bytown, later Ottawa, is named.

The canal did however also serve a commercial purpose. It was easier to navigate the Rideau Canal than the St. Lawrence River, due to the rapids that exist between Montreal and Kingston. As a result, the Rideau Canal became a busy commercial artery from Montreal to the Great Lakes.

Most of the original structures of the canal remain intact and in use today with most of the 45 locks at the 24 lock stations still hand-operated, much as they were when the canal first opened in 1832. The canal system as a whole incorporates sections of major rivers, including the Rideau and the Cataraqui, as well as some lakes including the Lower, Upper and Big Rideau lakes. Only about 19 kilometres (12 miles) of the route is man-made.

As no further military engagements ever occurred between the British and the Americans after the War of 1812 the canal never had to be used for the military purposes for which it was designed but it did however play a pivotal role in the early development of Canada as it allowed Montreal to compete with New York City and the Erie Canal as a major commercial North American shipping port. It served as the main travel and commercial shipping route between Upper and Lower Canada prior to the taming of the St Lawrence rapids by the completion of a series of locks in the late 1840s after which shippers were quick to switch to this more direct route.



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The Rideau Canal today...


rideau canal skate
Many communities have sprung up along the waterway and boat tours of the canal are offered in the city of Ottawa, Merrickville, and at Chaffeys Lock. Houseboat rentals are also a popular activity for visitors and locals alike and can be arranged in a variety of places.

The canal is also an angler’s paradise as the various waterways and lakes within the system teem with panfish, pumpkinseed, black crappie, small and largemouth bass, lake trout, pike and muskellunge (muskee).

In Ottawa proper during the warm weather you can rent bicycles and ride alongside the canal or take a short cruise along its shores to enjoy its wonderful sites. The winter however is where the Rideau Canal has become world famous. When the canal freezes over it becomes the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest skating rink, allowing you to skate through the heart of downtown Ottawa.

The Skateway is 7.8 kilometres long, and begins just steps from Canada’s Parliament Buildings and the Chateau Laurier. It includes numerous rest areas where you can warm up in front of toasty fires and enjoy a hot drink or snack. There is also an outdoor art gallery on the ice at Dow’s Lake. The Skateway is typically open in January and remains open for skaters as long as conditions remain safe, usually 40 – 50 days. In February it serves as the focal point for Ottawa’s Winterlude festival.


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Visitors to Ottawa must put a trip down to the locks at the beginning of the waterway on their itinerary. It is such a picturesque area that the memories will linger for a lifetime. If you are fortunate enough to visit in winter, (or brave enough to handle the cold), head down to the canal, rent a pair of skates and glide down the frozen waterway and marvel at the sights. It’s an experience you will never forget!


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