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History and Geography of the Rideau River


Cross-Country to the Capital

View of the Rideau River.
The Rideau River near Billings Bridge, Ottawa.

From 1998 to 2000, some 30 scientists representing every discipline, assisted by numerous partners and volunteers, focused intensely on the Rideau River and its rich biodiversity.

The Rideau River flows for 100 km through Ontario, Canada. From its beginning at Upper Rideau Lake, near Smiths Falls, the River flows generally northward. Before hurtling into the Ottawa River at Ottawa, Canada's capital, it passes through varied landscapes, which are at first forested and agricultural but become increasingly developed.

The Rideau River has undergone several important transformations since settlement along its banks began around 1790. Construction between 1826 and 1832 of the Rideau Canal, of which the Rideau River is a major component, modified the landscape considerably.

A River, A Canal
With a length of 202 km, the Rideau Canal connects Lake Ontario at Kingston to the Ottawa River at Ottawa. It comprises a chain of lakes, rivers and artificial channels.

Upper Rideau Lake, near Smiths Falls, is the highest point along the Canal. From there, the water flows both northeast toward Ottawa in the Rideau River and southwest toward Kingston in the Cataraqui River.

A lock on the Rideau River, near Manotick.
A lock on the Rideau River, near Manotick.

The Rideau River is one and the same as the Canal for most of the River's length. The River diverges from the Canal in Ottawa. Only the Canal provides access for boats to the Ottawa River.

A system of 47 locks overcomes the 83-m decrease in elevation between the Upper Rideau Lake and the Ottawa River, and the 50-m decrease between this lake and Lake Ontario. The locks also allow the water level to be maintained at not less than 1.5 m deep for the passage of boats. [25]

The historical value of the Rideau Canal, as well as the ecological value of the lakes and rivers that comprise it, were recognized in 2000 with the designation of the Rideau Canal Waterway as a Canadian Heritage River.


 History and Geography

Map of the Rideau River.
View a detailed map of the Rideau River.

Map of the Rideau Canal, from Kingston to Ottawa.
View a detailed map of the Rideau Canal Waterway, from Kingston to Ottawa.of the Rideau River.

A species of arrowhead.
A species of arrowhead.

Young bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeiana.
Young bullfrog,
Lithobates catesbeiana.

A Project of the Canadian Museum of Nature
 Images: Canadian Museum of Nature, Thomas Cook, Ed Hendrycks, Jean Lauriault, Diane Pathy