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.
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!
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 202 km Rideau Waterway was designated in 2000 for its outstanding cultural and recreational heritage values. The waterway consists of a chain of lakes, rivers and canals linking the city of Ottawa, on the Ottawa River, to Kingston, on Lake Ontario.
Improving Access to an Urban Waterway
In May of 2016, Parks Canada, in partnership with the National Capital Commission, established a summer pilot project to install a series of floating docks along the Rideau Waterway to create access points for canoe and kayak paddlers alike. The project is part of an investment in new infrastructure and restoration of canal walls, wharfs, bridges, and locks.
The Rideau Waterway, which was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 2000, extends 202 km from Kingston to Ottawa, flowing through a chain of lakes, rivers and canals. It is a popular recreational destination for canoes, kayaks, and pleasure boaters. The waterway also has a rich history: original mechanisms such as the 47 “crab” winch locks that were installed during the mid-1800s are still used today. The Rideau Canal is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Exploring a City by Water
Before this pilot project, access to the waterway was limited for paddlers, as there were no access points from which to launch a boat in Ottawa’s urban core.
As of June 2016, two new docks have already been installed along the waterway for summer use, increasing the accessibility for recreation along the waterway, and providing opportunities for new water sports such as stand-up paddling to gain popularity. The first dock is located in the Glebe’s Patterson Creek, and the second in Old Ottawa East. These are the first of several potential new access points that will be introduced along the waterway between Kingston to Ottawa.
At the unveiling of the Patterson Creek dock, the Ottawa Centre MP, Catherine McKenna, who is also the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, along with members of local community associations, and residents of neighbourhoods along the Rideau participated in a celebratory flotilla travelling through the downtown core. These paddlers and many others will now be able to use the Rideau with ease.
Another popular downtown destination to participate in paddle sports is beautiful Dow’s Lake, which hosts the annual tulip festival each year and draws thousands of tourists and residents to the Rideau.
Connecting Canadians to Nature
Installing docks along the Rideau Waterway is a great example of increasing access to rivers for people living in an urban setting. Now, as community members paddle this Canadian Heritage River, they will not only experience nature in the heart of the nation’s capital, but will also be able to experience the fascinating history of this 19th century wonder of civil engineering.
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The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
Rideau Waterway Plaque Text
The Rideau Waterway - The Rideau Waterway stretches 202 kilometres through a chain of lakes, rivers and canals, linking Smith Falls, the heart of the Rideau, to the historic city of Kingston on Lake Ontario and to Ottawa, Canada’s capital. To follow the Rideau Waterway is not only a trip through some of the most picturesque countryside in eastern Ontario, but also a voyage through history. The Rideau Canal National Historic Site, the core of the Rideau Waterway was built between 1826 and 1832. It is the oldest continuously operating canal in North America. Originally conceived as a key part of a military defence system for Upper Canada (now Ontario), it soon became a route for local trade and luxury steamers. The Rideau Canal is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. Thirty-one locks raise vessels 83 meters from the Ottawa River to the height of land, south of here at Newboro on Upper Rideau Lake, and 14 locks lower vessels to Lake Ontario at Kingston. The tradition of hand-operating the locks and swing bridges continues at most of the lockstations, but one of the few electronically operated locks on the system can be seen here. Along the Rideau, one finds a unique blend of wildlife, city life and country life, of past and present, nature and culture. Designation of the Rideau Waterway as a Canadian Heritage River not only is testimony to its significance as a national treasure, but will also ensure stewardship and wise management of the waterway, and will safeguard the integrity of its unique resources for all time.