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Patrick Bureau

Rideau Canal- Ontario   
A national historic site since 1925, in June 2007 the Rideau Canal became the 14th site in Canada to be included on the World Heritage List.

Spanning 202 km, the Rideau Canal consists of channeled sections of the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers that connect the city of Ottawa, Canada's capital, with the City of Kingston on Lake Ontario.

The Rideau Canal was built at the beginning of the 19th century for primarily military and strategic purposes at a time when Great Britain and the United States were fighting for control of the region and where Upper Canada had to count on a means of reliable transport to supply the colony.



 Photo: Johns Falls great stone arch dam

A masterpiece of naval engineering

The decision made by the World Heritage Committee to include the Rideau Canal on the World Heritage List is based on the fact that it is the “best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America, demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale”.

This highly innovative technology that involves flooding rapids with high retaining dams rather than digging new canals was not new, but could only be used where land use permitted doing so.

In 1826, the construction of the canal was entrusted to Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineer Corps. Before him, military engineers had contemplated digging forty kilometers of new canals to bypass the rapids and swamps along the rivers. Colonel By's approach, to use a slackwater system to minimize labor costs and construction time, was easily manageable given the low rate of land use along the way.

Lieutenant Colonel By also insisted that the canal accommodate the steamboats that were making an appearance, resulting in dams that were higher and wider than any others built in North America.

It must be said that a similar technology was used for the construction of the Erie Canal in the United States, but that canal has undergone several modifications since its original construction. The Rideau Canal therefore remains the best-preserved channel in North America, still operational along its original route, and most of its original structures are still in good condition.

The World Heritage Committee recognized that the Rideau Canal is the best-preserved navigable corridor of all those built during the great North American canal-building era. It therefore is a unique example of a canal used for a military purposes, illustrating an important historical period: that of the struggle between Great Britain and the United States for the control of the North American continent.

Tremendous feat of engineering 

Construction of the canal began in 1826 and ended in 1832. Six defensive blockhouses were built to defend positions that seemed the most vulnerable along the canal. The Merrickville, Kingston Mills, Upper Narrows and Davis Lock blockhouses have been restored to their original appearance thanks to Parks Canada's meticulous restoration work. The one in Merrickville has been transformed into a museum, while the one in Kingston Mills houses an exhibition on its military past.

Following insurrections in the colony, houses for lockmasters were added to several lock stations. The original houses were small, easily defendable single storey structures. When times were less troubled, many of them were enlarged and additional stories were added; 33 buildings dating back to the construction of the canal still exist today.

Spectacular locks

Today, the Rideau Canal has a total of 47 locks and 24 lockstations, many of which are still manually operated, much to the delight of vacationers who can attend the opening or closing of the locks.

Of all the components of the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa Locks, located at the foot of Parliament Hill, are the most spectacular. These 24-meter locks offer a better understanding of the innovative design of the Rideau Canal and the ground breaking techniques developed to solve problems related to the site's topography.

The Jones Falls lockstation is one of the most beautiful on the Rideau Canal. Its magnificent arch-stone arch, built to control the series of rapids and falls that lead several kilometers to Sand Lake, is worth a visit. When it was built in 1830, it was a veritable feat of engineering; this lockstation remains for the most part exactly as it was originally.

A popular attraction 

Fort Henry, located east of Kingston Harbor, was built in 1830 on the site of a former Vauban-style fortress to protect canal access to the Great Lakes. Between 1846 and 1848, four Martello towers were added to complete the defensive system. Fort Henry has remained similar to what it was at the time and is now open to visitors. A popular tourist attraction in Eastern Ontario, Fort Henry offers excellent interpretation programs.

A new tourist vocation

After the fear of war faded away, the Rideau Canal became one of the most important commercial arteries of the region. But the canalization of the St. Lawrence River, along with the advent of the railway and steam navigation, caused it to lose its importance as a transportation route.

In 1972, Parks Canada purchased the canal to operate it as a recreational waterway. The surroundings of the Rideau Canal have changed over the years. Nowadays, it crosses towns and villages whose architectural heritage can testify to the fabulous history of this waterway.

During the summer season, it fills with pleasure boats that come to enjoy the beauty of the landscape. The canal can also be explored by kayaking, canoeing, cycling along its banks and walking.

The portion of the Rideau Canal that runs through the City of Ottawa plunges the visitor into a totally different setting, that of the national capital of over one million people. Each winter, a 7.8-km section of the Ottawa Central Canal is transformed into the largest ice rink in the world, which hosts a daily average of 19,000 visitors in winter.

Christiane Lefebvre

Source and other websites for more information:






Lowers Brewers lockstation

Steel bridge over the canal  

Rural setting along the canal 

 Pedestrian path along the canal in Ottawa

Ottawa locks

Summer on the canal

The world largest skating rink