An Eastern Ontario Getaway: the Rideau Canal Waterway

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Exploring Ontario has long been on our boomer active travel list. Canada is such a diverse and beautiful country and one that seems to offer breath-taking landscape at every turn. In today’s guest article, Suzanne Fluhr, publisher of Boomeresque, tells us about a fascinating Ontario landmark, The Rideau Canal Waterway, which is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America.

When I’m feeling oppressed by the summer heat and humidity that descend upon my home town of Philadelphia, my thoughts turn to finding a way to get out on the water. For most of us, that means finding an ocean, sea, bay, lake or river. However, on a recent trip to eastern Ontario, Canada, I learned about another option—the Rideau Canal Waterway, a 126 mile (202 km)  inland waterway connecting Canada’s old capital (1841-1844), Kingston on Lake Ontario, with Canada’s present capital city, Ottawa.

 The Rideau Canal Waterway
Ottawa End of the Canal

Although Canada and the United States are said to have the longest undefended border in the world, that was not always the case. Even after the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States ended, the British in Canada feared the United States would make use of Lake Ontario to try to take over the Saint Lawrence River, which in those days was vital for supplying inland British garrisons in Canada. The antsy British government decided that in addition to the garrison at Fort Henry in Kingston, they needed a transportation alternative to the Saint Lawrence River.

The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. With construction starting in 1826, it was built by pick, shovel and brute strength through an often swampy, malarial wilderness with significant loss of life due to disease and accidents. One Rideau Canal enthusiast described this engineering marvel as “Canada’s pyramids”. It is a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Only about 12 miles (19 km) of the Rideau Canal Waterway is man-made. Those sections connect a series of natural rivers and lakes and contain 45 locks, permitting watercraft to travel 166.2 feet uphill and 275 feet downhill with Upper Rideau Lake as the divide.

The Rideau Canal, Ontario Canada
Map Courtesy of Friends of the Rideau

From mid-May to mid-October, the Rideau Canal Waterway is open to recreational boaters in both powered and unpowered craft such as kayaks and canoes. Ken Watson, a dedicated friend of the Rideau who runs the non-profit website: Rideau Canal, World Heritage Site, explains that along the Rideau, one will encounter “a wonderful blend of urban, rural and natural landscapes. You can see million dollar homes, quaint cottages, and loons swimming in a sheltered, undisturbed bay, all in the same day”.

The Rideau Canal’s locks employ essentially the same hand-winched machinery today as they did in 1832. During the official boating season, the locks are staffed to assist boaters. There are many places to access the Waterway and to spend the night, including campsites, rental moorings and private docks. In a powered boat, one can traverse the entire length of the Waterway in 4 to 6 days, but many choose portions of the system for shorter trips, including renting a kayak or canoe for only a few hours. One popular option is to choose a bed and breakfast establishment on the waterway and use their canoes or kayaks for day outings. Mr. Watson’s website provides an extensive list of options for renting every type of watercraft, from houseboats to kayaks and for guided excursions for sightseeing and fishing, including a five day cruise on a riverboat accommodating 45 passengers.

The Rideau Canal, Ontario Canada
Kingston End of the Canal

The Rideau Canal Waterway was one of the first in the world constructed for steam powered watercraft.  Hence, there are no towpaths. However, country roads and trails provide ample opportunities for exploring by car, bike or foot along and near the Waterway. Active travelers can enjoy all three during a visit to the Rideau region.

In addition to the many activities available for those wanting to enjoy the outdoors along the Rideau Canal Waterway, one can visit charming small towns along the Waterway and the cities of Kingston at the southern terminus and Ottawa, at the north end, each a worthy tourist destination in their own right.

Disclosure:  Tourism Kingston provided this experience but the opinions are my own.
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