Nestled in Canada’s capital city Ottawa, Rideau Canal connects it to the Lake Ontario and Saint Lawrence River at Kingston. The name Rideau is French, which means “curtain.” This name was designated to the canal due to the twin waterfalls’ curtain-like appearance that empties the Rideau River into the Ottawa River.
Currently, the Rideau Canal is governed by Parks Canada. This canal is much more than just a canal. It has a centuries-old history attached to it, along with few implications on the way. However, the Rideau Canal is intact today, holding its history strong and giving the current generations a perfect recreational spot.
You might be wondering what’s so much history and facts behind a canal? I’m sure you would be amazed at certain facts the Rideau canal has to offer.
1) Originally a Precaution for War
Yes, you’re reading it right. The Rideau Canal was originally built as a precautionary measure during the war of 1812 when there were rumors about the US’s plan to invade Upper Canada by following the St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence River bordering the United States, was a vulnerable spot, and there was a need to send supplies and reinforcements.
After the war times were over, Rideau Canal was planned to be built and have a military significance, and it received funding through the British Ordinance Department. The canal received the expertise of Royal Engineers leads by Lieutenant Colonel John By. The Rideau Canal was set to connect Montreal with Kingston. The construction work started in 1826.
2) The Historical Construction
The construction of the Rideau Canal was a tough challenge. At that time, the route was mostly wild bush, swamps, and rocky terrains. However, Colonel John was an expert, and he divided the Rideau into 23 different work sections. There were thousands of local workers hired by independent contractors who were under the supervision of Royal Engineers.
The contractors and local men mainly did the canal’s construction, but Royal Engineers and Colonel himself administered the engineering. Colonel By started with giving small contracts for forest clearing, stonemasonry, and excavation.
All the work in constructing the Rideau Canal was carried by hand and just human labor. Even the rocks were hand-drilled and blasted with the merchant or black powder. Today, the 202 km of Rideau Canal with 47 locks is the oldest, continuously operated canal system in North America.
Wish to indulge in a detailed history of Rideau Canal? Then, watch this video.
3) The Tragic Deaths
It is believed that lots of workers died during the construction of the Rideau Canal. But the truth is, the deaths were not due to their indulgence in work. Malaria caused most of the deaths that happened at the time.
There is also a myth that the anopheles mosquito that causes malaria was brought in the Rideau workers’ area. However, the truth is, malaria existed in the areas since the 1700s.
Due to this problem, there were cemeteries built near each of the worksites. They used to hold a funeral and mark the grave with wooden markers and fieldstones. Today, the fieldstones remain in the area spreading the myth of mass burial in unmarked graves. Three of the cemeteries are still intact today, McGuigan Cemetery, Old Presbyterian Cemetery, and the Cemetery at Chaffeys Lock.
4) The Story Behind Parliament Hill
During the Rideau Canal construction period, there was a remarkable growth in the settlement on the south side of the Ottawa River. Colonel By surveyed the streets and lots, and eventually, the community was known as the Community of Bytown. Today Bytown is known as Ottawa since 1855.
At the time of construction, the Royal Sappers and Miners needed a proper place to rest in. For them, barracks were built on the Barrack Hill. It was a site for military bases during the 18th and 19th centuries. They’d planned a large fortress on the site but was never built, and after the completion of Rideau Canal, the Barrack Hill lost its significance.
However, in 1858 when Ottawa was selected as the Capital of Canada, Barrack Hill was selected to be the new parliament building site. It was eventually renamed as Parliament Hill and is a National Historic Site of Canada since 1976 and attracts around 3 million visitors each year.
Who knew that the Barracks constructed for military and residence purposes by Rideau Canal Constructors would become a National Significance spot.
5) The Locks of the Canal
Most of the historical construction of the canal is intact even today. Such was the power of architecture and construction in the 19th Century. At the Ottawa Lock Station, the original Commissariat Building and the Royal Engineers Barracks’ foundation stand tall among the modern buildings.
The canal has fashioned 45 locks operated at 23 lock stations along the length of the canal. Among these locks, most of them are still hand-operated. There are two other locks at the entrance of the Tay Canal. There are four blockhouses on the sides of the locks on the way and 16 lockmaster’s residences along the waterway.
The canal’s lock system is fully functioning, and the gates of the locks allow boats in and out. The Commissariat Building on the Ottawa Locks is the oldest stone building still erect in Ottawa. It was built in 1827 as a storehouse for British Military.
6) The Gates of the Locks and a New Lock
The lock gates are said to last 12-15 years, but the original gates of Rideau Waterway lasted quite more than that. Carpenters and blacksmiths made the Original Gates at the site of the lock itself. Today, they’re made in Smith Falls. It takes around two months to build the gates of the canal.
To ensure a tight seal due to water pressure, the Gates of Rideau Canal Locks are made of Douglas Fir only and are miter-shaped. Approximately 1.3 million liters of water is used by the lock lift of the Rideau Canal.
In 1973-74, Smith Falls Combined Lock was built that bypassed locks 28-30. One lock to the north of the original three locks was termed much useful.
7) The Early Commercial Purpose of the Rideau Canal
As originally designed for military purposes with six blockhouses, the canal’s primary use thought was entirely Commercial. It became the most preferred water route to Montreal.
Due to the canal, there were majorly two benefits. The difficulty and shipping cost from Ontario were reducing significantly. It became a part of the regional transportation system.
There are several dams on the canal that are used for generating Hydroelectric Power.
8) The Recreational Usage of the Canal
As there were developments in the shipbuilding industry, more powerful steamships were built to navigate the unimproved section of St. Lawrence River. As a result, the traffic on the Rideau Canal started dropping. By the early 20th Century, the purpose started to shift from commercial to recreational.
Many cottages and lodges were built along the canal, and the lakes became a hotspot for bass fishing. There were talks of shutting the canal, but the growing recreational use stopped this decision. Many summer and winter activities started developing, and locals and tourists would even like to observe the working of hand-driven lock lifts.
9) The Parks and Conservation Areas Along the Way
The Rideau Waterway has become a huge park of sorts. Few provincial parks along the Rideau Canal offer camping opportunities. You can stop by at either Ontario Provincial Parks, Murphys Point, or Rideau River Provincial Park.
The Activities Supported
There are trails of biking at this park. You’d enjoy a good scenery at McParlan House Trail and also Silver Queen Mine Trail.
You can even opt for powerboating on the Rideau Lake. In boating, there are many areas that you can explore. You can go through a few locks and trips to Westport.
There is a canoe loop of 6 km from the main beach of Hogg Bay. This Canoe loop also offers to stop spots for relaxing. There are picnic tables at Park Store patio, McParlan House, and Hike-in beach. There are many paddling distance sites that you can enjoy.
You can go for fishing the popular Lake Trout, Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Northern Pike. Go Hiking for some relaxing time at one of many trails available at the park or just lie down swimming in the sun at the Main Beach on Hogg Bay.
There is 20 km of set trails maintained by the Tay Valley Cross-Country Ski Club for skiing in wintertime. There is an 8-kilometer trail for backcountry skiing and 4 kilometers for skate-skiing. As the park is a mix of forests, wetlands, and open fields, you’re in for a treat if you like bird watching.
Apart from the parks, there are numbers of conservation areas along the Rideau Canal. These areas feature different things like the beach, change houses, toilets, picnic spots, shelters, lakeside picnic areas, small boat launches, access to a few dams, wildlife area, heritage squares, and others.
These conservation areas and parks become a great spot for spending a leisurely day in the laps of nature.
Know more about the various events happening in the capital city of Canada, Ottawa.
10) The Largest Skating Rink
Each winter, the Rideau Canal becomes the Rideau Canal Skateway and, thus, obtains the title of the largest skating rink of the world. Isn’t it interesting? The thought of turning the canal into a skate way was put forward by the then-newly appointed chair of NCC, Doug Fullerton. Around 1971, the NCC team armed with their weapons of brooms and shovels converted his thought to reality.
It was a six-meter-wide skating track, and the area between the bridges was set to mood by the addition of lightings and music. That year thousands of people enjoyed the winter fun, and since then, it has been a key site for Winterlude celebrations. Today’s skate way is winding about 7.8 kilometers, and the season of skating lasts for an average of 50 days. To add to your amazement, the record of skating season lasting is of 95 days!
Check out a clip by National Geographic on the world’s largest rink.
11) A Different Holiday
There are certain Historic Accommodations on the Rideau Canal. You can rent one of these and experience an entirely different holiday. The restored lockmaster’s house or canal man’s cottage is waiting for your gracious presence.
Parks Canada has maintained these vintage homes by keeping the basic historic construction intact and adding some thoughtful renovations. As a result, you can get the feel of Rideau Canal as in the 1800s along with modern amenities. There is the Davis Lockmaster’s House, Newboro Canal Man’s House, and Beveridge’s Lockmaster’s House.
Permission of camping is available on the Rideau Canal. You can camp at lock stations and enjoy life on locks. These scenic campsites stick your leg to the water’s edge as you wave to the passing boats and have an occasional chat with a lockmaster. At the time of sunset, you can roast marshmallows and relish the historic site and its beauty.
12) The UNESCO World Heritage Site
Yes, you’re reading it right. The Rideau Canal was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007. It is also a Canadian Heritage River since 2000 and designated as the National Historic Site of Canada in 1925.
So, it’s not just some regular canal. It has its beauty, history, and fun to offer to you.
Know some fun facts about the Rideau Canal just here.
You will enjoy journeying through Rideau if you’re a nature lover as many species of wildlife are found here. Loons, blue heron, and osprey are common in the region. Many ducks are seen in the river, along with regular residents like frogs and turtles. At night, if you’re lucky, the sky above you will flash of fireflies making the visit all the more memorable.
There is something for everyone at the Rideau Canal. You can go hiking, paddling, enjoy group tours in discovering the historical heritage, indulge with communities, go fishing, or stop by one of the museums. There are facilities for cycling and also golfing available.
If nothing, you can just dine and shop around the region or watch the sunset relaxing at any of the beaches. There are many spots that you can stop by in Kingston and Ottawa. Have fun in skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling at the skating rink in winter.
Rideau Canal is like a bunch of the most beautiful flowers in the world, and you have to pick a few that fit your hand and travel schedule.