Rideau Canal Waterway: Ontario’s 125-mile marvel

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Ontario’s Rideau Canal Waterway stretches 125 miles through a series of lakes and rivers connected by canals. Boaters can cruise this scenic waterway from the city of Kingston, where the Saint Lawrence River originates at the outflow of Lake Ontario, to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.

The waterway consists of 47 locks and 23 lock stations connecting a series of lakes that include Lower Rideau Lake, Big Rideau Lake, Upper Rideau Lake, Newboro Lake, Clear Lake, Indian Lake, Sand Lake, Opinicon Lake, Benson Lake, and Whitefish Lake.

Boats less than 90 feet in length and drafts less than five feet can navigate the canals.

View of open locks at the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada
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What is the Rideau Canal Waterway?

The Rideau Canal Waterway is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. The canal was built between 1826 and 1832 by British officer Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers.

The British intended to use the canal as a supply route to bypass the Saint Lawrence River, where British boats were in gunshot range of the Americans. However, by the time the canal was completed, hostilities had ended. The waterway became invaluable to increasing trade and encouraging settlement of Upper Canada.

The Rideau Canal Waterway was an engineering marvel during the early 1800s and now boasts several impressive designations: a National Historic Site of Canada, a Canadian Heritage River, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Water pours over the falls on the Rideau River in Ottawa, Ontario
Rideau Falls, Ontario. Roger Smith via canva

Each lock along the Rideau Canal Waterway is unique. Many of the locks operate today much as they did in 1832, with wooden doors and hand cranks operated by lock-keepers. Most locks provide public services such as restrooms, overnight mooring, and picnic facilities.

Lockmasters’ houses were built on high points to defend against potential enemies and to avoid malaria that plagued construction crews in the early 1800s; many of the lockhouses are open for public viewing. One of the most scenic areas along the waterway is Jones Falls, a staircase of four locks that raise or lower boats a total of 57 feet between Sand Lake and Whitefish Lake.

Although the Rideau Canal Waterway is a boater’s paradise, this historic treasure welcomes visitors by car, bicycle, or on foot. The area between Kingston and Ottawa provides many scenic roads through the heart of “Old Ontario” with campgrounds, bed and breakfast inns, lodges and cabins along the way for overnight accommodations.

And when temperatures dip and snow covers the ground, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway is a favorite activity of winter visitors. The Skateway is almost five miles long (7.8 kilometers) and holds the Guinness World Record as the largest naturally frozen ice rink.

Skaters enjoy the frozen Rideau Canal Skateway
Rideau Canal Skateway. Andrew Morgan Evans via canva
Canada Geese lounge in front of the Peterborough Lift Lock in Canada
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