I’ve lived here for over 30 years, along the beautiful banks of the Rideau River. My children grew up here fishing, canoeing, chasing damselflies,and catching turtles and frogs, which I’m sure you’ve already read about in some of my other blog posts.
We’ve made many ice rinks in the winter out on the river too. I thought I’d tell you abit about this magnificent river.
The Rideau river is part of the heritage Rideau Canal system which meanders along various elevations through Eastern Ontario from Ottawa, at the Ottawa River, to Kingston, at Lake Ontario. The Rideau Canal is 202 kms (127 miles) long and includes lakes, rivers, 292 islands, and 45 locks along 1091 kilometers (675 miles) of shoreland, one itty-bitty section that is mine. Actually, a person could go ANYWHERE in the world via boat right from my own backyard!
Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the British Royal Engineers supervised the construction of the Rideau Canal between 1826-1832, constructed along an old Native Canadian canoe route. The Rideau Canal was built as a result of the War of 1812 when the United States tried unsuccessfully to invade Canada, before we were officially a country (1867). The leaders of the day thought it was prudent to have a safe water route between Montreal and Kingston (capital at the time) to bypass the vulnerable narrow St. Lawrence River in that area. There were few roads in those days and most travel was via ship. So this new Rideau Canal had to accommodate boats up to 40.8 meters (134 feet) long and 10.1 meters (33 feet) wide, which was pretty standard for the day. Hundreds of English, French, Irish, and Scottish men battled the Canadian wilderness and malaria, working with early 19th century hand tools, to build this Canal in just 6 years! To this day, all but 2 locks are still operated manually.
It’s awesome to go to the Lock Stations and watch boats go through – there are 45 locks located at 24 lock stations, which were constructed to bypass the 24 kms of non-navigable waterway. When my cousin Graham and his wife Valerie came from England to visit me a few years ago, I took them on a tour to the local lock stations. We walked right across the closed massive lock gates (it’s okay, there are railings) to the other side. We stood over the sluice grates watching the water churning as it enters the lock. The Lockmaster mentioned that a boat was about 15 minutes away and asked it we wanted to wait and watch it go through the lock. We agreed and started talking about my relatives………so while we waited, the Lockmaster made us tea and served it to us on a tray outside of the lock station! Isn’t THAT Canadian hospitality at its finest!
It’s amazing to watch a lock fill with water – 1.3 MILLION litres (280,000 gallons) for EACH lock! It comes rushing in under the water via the sluice while the boats bob gently while rising or lowering inside the lock. It’s fascinating! I never tire of watching that….. You have to remember that these locks were designed and built almost 200 YEARS ago! And they still function today as they were meant to function then. It’s the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America! Talk about sustainable! The Douglas Fir gates, however, must be replaced every 15 years, made in a shop in the small town of Smiths Falls, along the canal.
In 1926, the 100 year old Rideau Canal was designated as a National Historic Site and in 2000 it was designated as a Canadian Heritage River . The Rideau Canal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, joining the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and the Taj Mahal in India, to name a few. Whew, I am humbled to be keeping such noble company!