Few other rivers within the CHRS system have been so drastically altered by humans. The current Rideau Waterway is a series of narrow lakes and marshes connecting Ottawa to Lake Ontario; many of its previous bends, rapids and shores were swallowed by the system of locks put in place in the 19th century. The waterway is, however, still a habitat for an abundance of wildlife. Muskellunge, largemouth bass, pike and snapping turtles, otters, deer, beavers, muskrats, mink, foxes, loons, ducks, Canada geese, great blue herons, osprey, marsh hawks, and black rat snakes are just some of the species that call the Rideau home.
The Rideau passes through the imposing geology of the Canadian Shield and past rolling agricultural fields; steep cliffs, rocky outcroppings and gentle shores.
The Rideau canal system, the oldest continually functioning in North America, is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of Lieutenant-Colonel John By and others involved in its construction. Built between 1827 to 1832 to provide a safe bypass from Montreal to the south in case of war with America, this trade and commerce route never fell under attack. The 47 locks and many of the original buildings survive to this day. A national historic site and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cultural heritage of this waterway can be explored through the numerous museums located in communities along its shores.
The Rideau is a top destination in North America for pleasure boating. To this day, the locks are opened and closed using the original “crab” winches. Boaters must pay fees to pass through the locks and require a mooring permit if they wish to tie up overnight. Camping and toilet facilities can be found at most lockstations. There are also private campgrounds and provincial parks along the route; plenty of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts are also available for canal travellers.
Every winter, a 7.8 km section of the Rideau Canal is transformed into the world’s largest skating rink. Running from Dows Lake to downtown Ottawa, steps away from the Parliament Buildings, the skateway is a must-see tourist destination for the national capital in the winter months.
Who Manages the River?
Parks Canada is responsible for this Canadian Heritage River, which it manages as a national historic site. The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority is also a partner in managing this waterway.
The longest section of the river without a lock is The Long Reach, which stretches 39 kilometers between Manotick and Burrett’s Rapids. The series of eight locks connecting the Ottawa River to the Rideau Canal, lifts and lowers boats 24 metres!