English: Rideau Canal
French: Canal Rideau
Locks in summer
|Governing body||Parks Canada|
|Designated||2007 (31st session)|
|Region||Europe and North America|
|Canadian Heritage River||2000|
The Rideau Canal, also known as the Rideau Waterway, connects the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on the Ottawa River to the city of Kingston, Ontario, on Lake Ontario. It is 200km in length. The name Rideau, French for "curtain," is derived from the curtain-like appearance of the Rideau River's twin waterfalls where they join the Ottawa River. The canal system uses sections of major rivers, including the Rideau and the Cataraqui, as well as some lakes. The Rideau Waterway is governed by Parks Canada under the Canadian Heritage Rivers System.
The canal was opened in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States. It remains in use today primarily for pleasure boating, with most of its original structures intact, operated by Parks Canada. The locks on the system open for navigation in mid-May and close in mid-October. It is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, and in 2007 it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The construction of the Rideau Canal was a preventive military measure undertaken after a report that during the War of 1812 the United States had intended to invade the British colony of Upper Canada via the St. Lawrence River, which would have severed the lifeline between Montreal and Kingston. The British built a number of other canals (Grenville, Chute-à-Blondeau and Carillon Canals, all along the Ottawa River) as well as a number of forts (Citadel Hill, La Citadelle, and Fort Henry) to impede and deter any future American invasions of Canadian territory.
The initial purpose of the Rideau Canal was military, as it was intended to provide a secure supply and communications route between Montreal and the British naval base in Kingston. Westward from Montreal, travel would proceed along the Ottawa River to Bytown (now Ottawa), then southwest via the canal to Kingston and out into Lake Ontario. The objective was to bypass the stretch of the St. Lawrence bordering New York; a route which would have left British supply ships vulnerable to an attack or a blockade of the St. Lawrence.
The canal also served a commercial purpose. The Rideau Canal was easier to navigate than the St. Lawrence River because of the series of rapids between Montreal and Kingston. As a result, the Rideau Canal became a busy commercial artery from Montreal to the Great Lakes. However, by 1849, the rapids of the St. Lawrence had been tamed by a series of locks, and commercial shippers were quick to switch to this more direct route.
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 work started in 1826, and it took a total of 6 years to complete by 1832. The final cost of its construction was £822,000. Given the unexpected cost overruns, John By was recalled to London 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 port.
As many as one thousand of the workers died from malaria, other diseases and accidents. Most deaths were from disease, principally complications from malaria (P. vivax), which was endemic in Ontario within the range of the Anopheles mosquito, and other diseases of the day. Accidents were fairly rare for a project of this magnitude; in 1827 there were 7 accidental deaths recorded. Inquests were held for each accidental death. The men, women and children who died were buried in local cemeteries, either burial grounds set up near work sites or existing local cemeteries. Funerals were held for the workers and the graves marked with wooden markers (which have since rotted away—leading to a misconception that workers were buried in unmarked graves).
Some of the dead remain unidentified as they had no known relatives in Upper Canada. Memorials have been erected along the canal route, most recently the Celtic Cross memorials in Ottawa, Kingston and Chaffeys Lock. The first memorial on 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 Mills.
There are three canal era cemeteries that are open to the public today: Chaffey's Cemetery and Memory Wall at Chaffey's Lock—this cemetery was used from 1825 to the late 19th century; the Old Presbyterian Cemetery near Newboro—used from 1828 to the 1940s; and McGuigan Cemetery near Merrickville—used from the early 19th century (c. 1805) to the late 1890s.
On 17 June 1998 Canada Post issued 'Rideau Canal, Summer Boating at Jones Falls'  and 'Rideau Canal, Winter Skating by Parliament'  as part of the Canals, Recreational destinations series. The stamps were designed by Carey George and Dean Martin, based on paintings by Vincent McIndoe. The 45¢ stamps are perforated 12.5 and were printed by Ashton-Potter Canada Limited.
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.
A plaque was erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board at Jones Falls Lockstation commemorating Lieutenant Colonel John By, Royal Engineer, the superintending engineer in charge of the construction of the Rideau Canal. The plaque notes that the 123-mile long Rideau Canal, built as a military route and incorporating 47 locks, 16 lakes, two rivers, and a 360-foot-long (110 m), 60-foot-high (18 m) dam at Jones Falls (Jones Falls Dam), was completed in 1832.
|Rideau Canal map|
The 202 kilometres (126 mi) of the Rideau Canal incorporate sections of the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers, as well as several lakes, including the Lower, Upper and Big Rideau lakes. About 19 km (12 mi) of the route is man-made. Communities along the waterway include Ottawa, Manotick, Kars, Burritts Rapids, Merrickville, Smiths Falls, Rideau Ferry, Portland, Westport, Newboro, Seeleys Bay and Kingston. Communities connected by navigable waterways to the Rideau Canal include Kemptville and Perth.
Today, only pleasure craft make use of the Rideau Canal. Boat tours of the canal are offered in Ottawa, Kingston, Merrickville, and Chaffeys Lock. There is a cruise line that operates the ship Kawartha Voyageur. Recreational boaters can make use of it to travel between Ottawa and Kingston. Most of the locks are still hand-operated. There are a total of 45 locks at 23 stations along the canal, plus two locks (locks 33 and 34) at the entrance to the Tay Canal (leading to Perth). Furthermore, there are four blockhouses and some of the original 16 defensible lockmasters residences along the waterway.
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 27.4 m (90 ft) in length, 7.9 m (26 ft) in width, and 6.7 m (22 ft) in height with a draft of up to 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) (boats drafting over 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) are asked to contact the Rideau Canal Office of Parks Canada prior to their trip). In special circumstances a boat up to 33.5 m (110 ft) in length by 9.1 m (30 ft) in width can be handled.
First locks at Ottawa River, locks 1–8
At Long Island, Manotick, locks 14–16
At Merrickville, lock 21 and 22
Inactive locks at Smiths Falls, locks 28 to 30
At Poonamalie, lock 32 (locks 33 and 34 are on Tay Canal)
At Jones Falls, locks 40–42, 39 not shown
In winter, a section of the Rideau Canal passing through central Ottawa becomes officially the world's largest skating rink. The cleared length is 7.8 kilometres (4.8 mi) and has the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks. It runs from the Hartwell locks at Carleton University to the locks between the Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier, including Dow's Lake 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, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 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 River at The Forks. In response, the Rideau Canal was rebranded as "the world's largest skating rink".
The Skateway is open 24 hours a day. The length of the season depends on the weather, but typically the Rideau Canal Skateway opens in January and closes in March:
- 2011-2012 Season: January 13 to February 21, 2012
- 2010-2011 Season: January 8 to March 5, 2011
- 2009–2010 Season: January 14 to February 26, 2010
- 2008–2009 Season: January 1 to March 5, 2009
- 2007–2008 Season: January 25 to March 5, 2008
- 2006–2007 Season: January 26 to March 12, 2007
- 2005–2006 Season: January 7 to March 10, 2006
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 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 University and Confederation Park. The plan was implemented on January 18, 1971, 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 Glebe, Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South.
- Tay Canal – a branch canal of the Rideau
- Capital Pathway - the recreational pathway along the Rideau Canal
- Trent-Severn Waterway – Central Ontario Canal System
- Welland Canal – Niagara region Canal System
- Saint Lawrence Seaway – Ontario–Quebec waterway system
- Parks Canada Players – Heritage Theatre Series along the Rideau Canal
- "Rideau Canal Waterway - History of the Rideau Canal". Rideau-info.com. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- Rideau Canal, UNESCO World Heritage, UNESCO.org. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- "Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada > Lockstation Safety". Parks Canada. Retrieved 2013-11-16.
- UNESCO names World Heritage sites, BBC News, 28 June 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- Legget, Robert (1955). Rideau Waterway. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 23–25.
- "Parks Canada - Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada Receives World Heritage Site Designation!". Retrieved 2010-05-25.
- History of the Rideau Canal, Rideau-info.com. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- HISTORY of the RIDEAU CANAL, The Canadian Canal Society
- "Grave Revealed". Rideau-info.com. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
- Memorials, Rideau-info.com. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- "History of the Rideau Canal". Rideau-info.com. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
- "Canada Post stamp". Data4.collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1998-06-17. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- "Canada Post stamp". Data4.collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1998-06-17. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- "Home page". Ontario Waterway Cruises. Retrieved 2012-04-09.
- The Rideau Canal Waterway Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved on 2009-06-24.
- Winnipeg lays claim to world's longest skating path. CBC News, January 27, 2008. Retrieved 1 Oct 2010.
- NCC FAQ
- Doucet, Clive (2007). Urban Meltdown: Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. pp. 15–17. ISBN 978-0-86571-584-4. OCLC 86226079.
- Bebee, Ed (2010), Invisible Army: Hard Times, Heartbreak & Heritage, Ed Bebee & Friends of the Rideau., ISBN 978-0-9696052-4-9
- Conroy, Peter (2002), Our canal: the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, General Store Pub. House, ISBN 1-894263-63-4
- Nelles, Mike (2007), Steamboating on the Rideau Canal. Bytown pamphlet series., The Historical Society of Ottawa
- Legget, Robert Ferguson (1986), Rideau Waterway, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-2573-0
- Watson, Ken W. (2010), Tales of the Rideau, Ken W. Watson., ISBN 978-0-9780751-2-5
- Watson, Ken W. (2007), The Rideau Route: Exploring the Pre-Canal Waterway, Ken W. Watson., ISBN 978-0-9780751-1-8
- Watson, Ken W. (2000), A History of the Rideau Lockstations, Friends of the Rideau., ISBN 0-9696052-1-8
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rideau Canal.|
- Official Parks Canada Site: Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada
- Rideau Canal Waterway
- History of the canal - Bytown Museum and the National Research Council Canada
- Friends of the Rideau
- Rideau Heritage Route - Tourism
- Rideau Canal Skateway
- Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal
- Rideau Canal travel guide from Wikivoyage