Following the War of 1812-1814, England realized that it needed a protected route between Montreal in Lower Canada and York (Toronto) in Upper Canada. The 206 kilometre long Rideau Canal connected Kingston and Ottawa, using the Cataraqui River from Kingston, and the Rideau River from Ottawa. The canal used 47 locks and 24 dams to climb 49 metres (160 feet) above Lake Ontario, and then fall 84 metres (275 ft) back down to the Ottawa River.
Today, the waterway is used primarily by recreational boaters, and passes through many quaint towns and villages, with plenty of shopping, dining and accommodation along the way. Each Winter, the last 8 kilometres of the canal becomes the “world’s longest skating rink”, and home to the Winterlude winter carnival.
The most interesting locks are Locks 1 – 8 that climb 24 metres (79 feet) from the Ottawa River, up a channel nestled between Parliament Hill to the north and the Chateau Laurier Hotel to the south. It can take boats about 3-1/2 hours to climb or drop through these locks. There is the historic Bytown Museum on the north side of the locks, which can be accessed by staircase from Wellington Street. There are a few more locks just past the southwest end of Dow’s Lake, beside the campus of Carleton University, and a few more just before Mooney’s Bay, which together bypass the Hog’s Back Rapids in the Rideau River.
Just south of Ottawa is the quaint community of Manotick, only about 20 minutes drive south of Baseline Road. The town has a set of locks, a historical mill, saw and mill-pond, and lots of quaint shops.
You can learn about the canal’s history at museums in Ottawa and Smiths Falls, and at several historic lock houses along its length: Kingston Mills (4 locks), Jones Falls (4 locks), and Merrickville (3 locks).
In the middle of the system is the extensive Rideau Lakes system, and the scenic town of Perth that lies on the Trans-Canada’s southern route, Highway #7. Highway #7 connects Ottawa to Peterborough, and from there you can take a route past Lake Simcoe and the Trent-Severn Canal (between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron) and connect to the Highway 400 heading north to Sudbury.
The canal is open from Victoria Day (late May) to Thanksgiving (mid October). Boats are charged lockage and mooring fees per foot of vessel., ranging from one lock for one day, or a season pass.
Maps and Brochures