History of the Canal
A major triumph of engineering, the Rideau Canal is an incredible system that has been in operation since 1832.
Engineered and vetted by Lieutenant-Colonel John By, the Rideau Canal opened in the summer of 1832 and quickly became the favoured commercial travelway due to its safe water conditions. Still – after the First World War and thanks to safety improvements – military and transportation traffic shifted back to the St. Lawrence River, facilitating a new purpose for the Canal: the growth of a bustling tourism industry.
Leveraging the natural beauty surrounding the Canal, the interest in recreational boating, and the abundant opportunities for fishing and sports, the Rideau Canal offered something for everyone, local residents and tourists alike. Hotels and private cottages started to appear along the Canal by the end of the 19th century, and in 1972 Parks Canada acquired the Canal to sustain its recreational operation.
The Canal Today
Now recognized as a cultural jewel, the Rideau Canal holds multiple accolades.
Known as one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and celebrated as the best-preserved slack water canal system in the country, the Canal was declared a National Historic Site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Additionally, the Canal has been designated as Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and a “work of creative genius” in 2007.
“The Canal has been designated as Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and a “work of creative genius” in 2007.”
Culture & Heritage
On June 27, 2007, the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Christchurch, New Zealand making the waterway Ontario’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2000, the 202 km Rideau Waterway was designated a Canadian Heritage River 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.
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 a 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 Canal is awash in history with several surviving blockhouses, lockmasters’ houses, and community buildings that have been preserved. The history winds along the Rideau Canal in communities along the way. See the Lockmaster’s House Museum at Chaffey’s Lock, the blockhouses at Merrickville, Newboro, Kingston Mills and Narrow’s Lock, and the “whispering” Stone Arch Dam at Jones Falls, a jaw-dropping engineering feat for its time.
The Rideau lives and breathes history. The past is ingrained in the cultural fabric of the region as evident at the lock stations and surrounding small communities. Historical buildings like the Red Brick School in Elgin, a special cemetery in Chaffey’ s Lock honouring historic construction workers on the Rideau Canal, even museums, several surviving blockhouses along the Rideau and lockmasters’ houses, all give way to communities with a historic charm who celebrate their window to the past. Step back in time at The Old Stone Mill in Delta while witnessing a working flour mill, grinding grain with traditional equipment and methods used in the 1800s. The mill is a National Historic Site of Canada and the structure has been painstakingly renovated to give visitors a unique experience of flour-making demonstrations while also featuring many interactive exhibits and milling artifacts. It’s open to the public during the summer, and on special occasions, the working millstones grind heritage, locally-grown grain into flour.
Today the magnificent Rideau Canal attracts thousands of visitors every year. Everything from the beautiful lakes to the intricate locks relates to a significant part of Canadian heritage. A sprawling 202km in length with 24 unique lockstations, the Canal is home to countless attractions and experiences including heritage museums located at the Ottawa, Merrickville, Smiths Falls, Chaffey’s, Westport, Jones Falls, and Kingston lock stations. Be sure not to bypass the Merrickville Blockhouse National Historic Site – the largest and most impressive of four blockhouses built along the Canal for defence. Here you’ll be able to take a step back in time and explore the rich heritage of the “Rideau Corridor”.
When was the Rideau Canal inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List?
On June 27, 2007, the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Christchurch, New Zealand. Learn more.
What year was the Rideau Canal designated a Canadian Heritage River?
In 2000, the 202 km Rideau Waterway was designated for its outstanding cultural and recreational heritage values.
Where are the four remaining defensible blockhouses located along the Rideau Canal?
How high is the Stone Arch Dam at Jones Falls?
The dam is approximately 350 feet (107 m) long (the length of the arch at the top), 60 feet (18 m) high and 27 feet (8 m) thick at the base. Learn more