The Rideau Canal

Linking Ottawa to Kingston with
a historic waterway like no other

kingston mills The Rideau Canal is a historic 202 kilomtere (126 mile) long partially man-made waterway connecting the City of Kingston on Lake Ontario with the nation's capital: Ottawa, on the Ottawa River.

It was originally constructed as a means of providing a safer transportation route between Upper and Lower Canada than the St. Lawrence River. Conceived just after the War of 1812 between the United States and the British colony of Canada the St. Lawrence supply route was deemed to vulnerable to American attack and an alternative route was envisioned.

Canal construction was supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers and started in 1826. It was completed in 1832 and in addition to securing a military route to the Royal Navy Dockyards in Kingston Ontario it led to the establishment of Bytown on the canals starting point on the Ottawa River. Bytown was later to be re-named Ottawa and eventually became the nations capital.

Its military importance notwithstanding the opening of the canal also spurred economic development of Upper Canada, later to be known as the Province of Ontario. Kingston, at the end of the canal on Lake Ontario, developed into the largest and most important community in Ontario as the Rideau Canal became an important commercial route between the City of Montreal and the upper Great Lakes. Many other smaller communities developed along its route especially at the various locks located throughout the system.

Eventually the threat from an American attack diminished and canal usage became more commercially dominated. The Rideau Canal even allowed Montreal to compete with New York City and the Erie Canal for dominance of Great Lakes shipping. Eventually these systems were also surpassed when the rapids of the St. Lawrence River were bypassed by a series of locks and shipping switched over to this more direct route as the St. Lawrence system also allowed for much larger vessels than the smaller Rideau and Erie Canal systems.

Kingston Ontario was for a brief time made the capital of Canada but as the importance of the Rideau Canal diminished so did that of the city. While the canal does remain the oldest continuously operated canal system on the continent and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1925 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, today it is utilized as a recreational waterway full of pleasure craft and vacationers.


Location of the Rideau Canal

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Getting to the Rideau Canal in Kingston:
For the most part the Rideau Canal can easily be located once you reach Kingston Ontario. Therefore follow the directions by the various transport modes below and then once in the city directions to the Rideau Canal will be clearly marked.

By Car:

Kingston lies on Highway 401, the main east-west traffic corridor across the province linking Toronto to Montreal and Ottawa. Driving times from major cities are:
  • Toronto approx. 2.5 hours
  • Montreal approx. 3 hours
  • Ottawa approx. 1.5 hours
From Eastern Ontario:

Navigate to Highway 401 and travel west until reaching the city.

From Western Ontario:

Navigate to Highway 401 and travel east until reaching the city.

From Northern Ontario:

Navigate south on any of Ontario's secondary highways until you reach Highway 401 then head either east or west depending upon your intersecting point.

By Public Transport:

By Bus:

Kingston Ontario is easily reached by bus as it is a major stopping point on the main east-west transportation corrido linking Toronto to Montral and Ottawar. You can find information about reaching Kingston by bus on the following:

By rail:

As Kingston does lie on the main east-west transportation corridor across Southern Ontario it is well serviced by passenger rail and there is frequent and regular daily service. Visit for more information.

By Plane:

Norman Rogers Municipal Airport located in the western part of the city unfortunately does not cater to any international flights but has regular domestic flights to a number of communities.

If you wish to fly to Kingston you will have to take a connecting flight from one of the main international destinations such as Ottawa or Toronto. This is however quite an expensive option and since the city is so well serviced by other modes of public transport and travel times are comparative to flying I would recommend that visitors simply choose one of these options instead.

By Ferry:

Kingston is also connected to Wolfe Island lying just offshore by a year round free of charge ferry. The Kingston Terminal for the Wolfe Islander III is locatedright downtown at the intersection of Barrack and Ontario Street's. Another Ferry connects Wolfe Island to the United States so it is possible to travel from Kingston Ontario to New York State by car via Wolfe Island and during the busy summer months many visitors do make use of this route.

The 61metre (200 feet) long Wolfe Islander III can carry up to 330 passengers and 55 vehicles and the trip from Kingston to Wolfe Island takes about 20 minutes. For more information visit:

By Boat:

This is usually not an option I list when creating information on how to arrive at a destination but Kingston Ontario's location at the intersection at some of the country's greatest waterways make listing this information a necessity.

Whether arriving from the Rideau Canal, St. Lawrence Seaway or from other points along the Great Lakes, Kingston's strategic position at the eastern end of Lake Ontario has long made it an important stopping point for craft of all sizes.

Today most cargo traffic passes by the city as its harbour is too small for the St. Lawrence Seaway's huge container ships but the city is still at the epicenter of dense pleasure craft traffic especially from the Rideau Canal. Many visitors arrive by their personal watercraft especially down the Rideau Canal after starting in Ottawa and the city has numerous marinas to accommodate them including:
  • Rideau Marina
  • Kingston Marina
  • Collins Bay Marina
  • Confederation Basin
  • Blue Woods Marina
  • Music Marina
  • Portsmouth Olympic Harbour
  • Treasure Island Marina
  • Kingston Yacht Club


rideau canal kingston Open for navigation from mid-May to mid-October most of the original canal structures are still in use and are operated as they were the day the canal opened in 1832. In total there are 45 locks of which 24 are hand-operated.

Only about 19 kilometres (12 miles) of the Rideau Canal system is man-made as the majority incorporates natural waterways including:
  • Rideau River
  • Cataraqui River
  • Big Rideau Lake
  • Upper Rideau Lake
  • Lower Rideau Lake
In Ottawa the Rideau Canal begins right under the gaze of the Parliament Buildings on Parliament Hill while in Kingston it ends right in the Kingston Harbour outlet of Lake Ontario at Kingston Mills under the watchful gaze of Fort Henry, which was constructed specifically to guard this important passageway.

Now an angler's paradise with fish species such as:
  • Pike
  • Muskellunge (muskie)
  • Panfish
  • Small & largemouth Bass
  • Black Crappie
  • Lake Trout

to be found in the various waterways of the system.

During the navigation season, Kingston harbour teems with pleasure craft entering and departing from the canal entrance at Kingston Mills and the city still receives a great economic boost from this historic waterway. Many Canadians will often partake in a Rideau Canal cruise vacation aboard a rented houseboat at least once in their lifetimes as this makes for a great way to spend a leisurely week with the family.

During the summer, the Rideau Canal at Kingston makes for a nice pit stop to sit at one of the waterfront cafes and enjoy a meal and beverage. If you are in the Kingston Ontario area during this time, I would highly recommend you plan on spending at least half a day enjoying the sights the Rideau canal has to offer.

For more information on this National Historic Site of Canada, visit my other Rideau Canal pages at:


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