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.”

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”.

Travel Tips

202 kilometres of adventure awaits. Explore our helpful resources to simplify your trip planning.

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