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History and Geography of the Rideau River


The Rideau Canal: More than 170 Years of History

The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operating canal in North America. Most of the 47 lock stations are still operated by hand, using the same mechanisms that were used in 1832! [26, 27]

The Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa.
In winter this section of the Rideau Canal (in downtown Ottawa) becomes the longest skating rink in the world.

The Rideau Canal was designed after the War of 1812, in which the invading Americans were defeated. Authorities feared attack by Americans along the St. Lawrence River, which was the only way for boats to travel between Kingston and Montréal. The new Canal provided a secure route between the two cities.

Construction on the Rideau Canal began in 1826, under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel John By of Britain's Royal Engineers. The crew struggled for six years with rough terrain, swamps infested with malarial mosquitoes and inadequate financing. Once it was completed in 1832, the Rideau Canal represented one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century!

A Recreational Delight
A man casting a fishing line into the Rideau River.
The Rideau Canal was never actually used for military purposes. Rather, it served first for the transport of goods and then passengers, until the emergence of other modes of transportation after the middle of the 19th century.

Around the beginning of the 20th century the Canal found a new, recreational status that is now firmly established after a century. The charm and the tranquillity of its landscapes are now discovered primarily through fishing, recreation and tourism.

Today, the Rideau Canal and the municipalities along its banks constitute one of the most popular tourist and recreation areas in Ontario. Every year, some 90,000 boats pass through its locks, and millions of people visit its parks, beaches, historic sites and conservation areas.

The Rideau Canal is a well-known attraction in the nation's capital; each winter, the portion of the Canal that passes through downtown Ottawa is transformed into the world's longest skating rink.


 History and Geography
A Project of the Canadian Museum of Nature
 Images: Ruben Boles, Lynn Gillespie, Andy Ormsby