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There is just so much of interest along the Rideau that it is
hard to know where to start, in Canada's shining jewel, its national
capital, Ottawa or in the beautiful
limestone city, a wonderful blend of old and new, Kingston.
Then of course there is the canal itself, which offers attractions
such as fishing, wildlife,
parks, hiking, cycling, canoeing, group tours, shopping,
interesting communities, marinas,
golfing, skating, skiing, snowmobiling and more. But to be fair
to the Rideau, we should start with the main attraction, its history and heritage.
Everything you see on the Rideau Canal, whether it be the beautiful lakes or interesting locks, relates to a significant part of our Canadian heritage. The Rideau Canal was built for a military purpose, as a secure supply route in the event of a war with the U.S.A. It used a slackwater system to tame the rapids and the locks and dams were all built by hand using local sourced materials. It was a monumental feat of both human genius and human effort.
Today, it is living history, the locks operating much as they did in 1832 with most of the original structures are still intact. Take advantage of this to take yourself back in time, to understand why and how it was built. Explore the many stories of the Rideau Canal.
The locks on the Rideau operate today much as they did when first opened in 1832. The large wooden lock doors are opened and closed using hand cranks.
Hand cranks are also used to let water in and out of the
locks. Most of the stone blocks that you see are the ones originally
emplaced in the 19th century. The locks cater to tourists and
even the novice boater will have no trouble locking through. Parks
Canada staff are always there to assist.
All the locks offer nice grassy lawns with picnic tables. Lock
watching is an interesting pastime, a great way to spend a lazy
afternoon, watching boats of all descriptions go up and down in
the lock. Many transient boaters moor at the locks which offer
good dockage, washroom facilities and an interesting area to explore.
Several of the locks have defensible
lockmaster houses and blockhouses, some of which are open for public viewing. Many of the locks offer hiking
trails. Several of the locks such as those at Ottawa, Merrickville,
Smiths Falls, Chaffey's, Jones Falls, and Kingston have heritage
museums located close by.
For those interested in exactly why there are locks and how they
work, be sure to visit my What is a Lock
The whole of the Rideau Waterway is a park of sorts, but along
the way you can stop in at two Ontario Provincial Parks, Murphys
Point and Rideau River Provincial Park. These parks offer camping
opportunities for the boater, trails, and interpretive displays.
You can visit the Web sites for these parks by going to either
Murphys Point Provincial Park
or Rideau River Provincial Park.
In addition to the Provincial Parks, there are several conservation areas that offer lots of family fun. Some are free, and some charge a $5 day use fee (a $40 annual pass is available). For more information contact the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority at 613-692-3571 or toll free at 1-800-267-3504. Conservation areas (listed geographically, south to north) are:
- Foley Mountain Conservation Area: located near Westport, off County Road 10, it offers swimming, group camping, hiking, educational programs. It also has a 6km walking trail, an Interpretive Centre, toilets, beach, change house, picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Call: 613-273-3255.
- Portland Bay Conservation Area: located in Portland, on Highway 15, it offers a lovely lakeside picnic area. Call: 613-273-3255.
- Mill Pond Conservation Area: located on Briton-Houghton Bay Road, off Highway 15 between Portland and Lombardy. Offers natural habitat and a seasonal sugarbush program. It also has 15km walking trail, a seasonal Interpretive Centre, toilets, small boat launch, picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Call: 613-273-3255.
- Rideau Ferry Yacht Club Conservation Area: located off County Road 1 in Rideau Ferry. It features a sandy beach, picnic area and boat launch. It also has toilets, a change house, picnic tables, a picnic shelter and claims to have the best beach on the Rideau. Call: 613-273-3255.
- Perth Wildlife Reserve: Off County Road 1 between Perth and Rideau Ferry. It features a wildlife area, including an overlook of the Tay Marsh. It provides for goose habitat with a goose landing zone and features a 4km walking trail. It also has toilets. Call: 613-273-3255.
- Baxter Conservation Area: Located on Regional Road 13 (Dilworth Drive) off Highway 16, south of Kars. It features swimming, hiking and year round programs. It has a 5km walking trail, an Interpretive Centre, marsh boardwalk, toilets, a beach, change house, small boat launch, picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Call: 613-692-3571.
- W.A. Taylor Conservation Area: Located on Regional Road 19 near Osgoode. It features a concrete boat launch and a picnic area. Call: 613-692-3571.
- Dickinson Square Conservation Area: Located on Mill Street in Manotick. Features the historic Watson's Mill (operating), access to the dam, a heritage square and picnic tables. Call: 613-692-3571.
- Chapman Mills Conservation Area: Located on Prince of Wales Drive in Ottawa. Features walkways and boardwalks along natural shoreline and wetlands. Call: 613-692-3571.
Nature lovers will enjoy their journey through the Rideau, which
provides a haven for many species of wildlife. Loons are common
on all the lakes, and at night, their haunting cries echo across
the water (those interested in loons may wish to visit the The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey website). The Rideau is also home to the blue heron and osprey.
Many species of duck stop off at the Rideau for several weeks
in the spring and fall. Of course frogs
and turtles are permanent
residents, and it is not uncommon to see half a dozen
turtles sunning themselves on a floating log in amongst the lily pads.
During the day, hummingbirds flit back and forth, searching out
nectar and small flies, and at night flashes of fireflies can
been seen in the trees. Beaver abound in the region and the alert traveller
may even spot an otter. In addition, Rideau boaters may find the
occasional muskrat locking through with them.
Those interested in nature and wildlife should have a look at the Ecology of the Rideau section of this website.
Outside of boating, there is no better way to see the wildlife of the Rideau and just enjoy nature in general than taking a nice hike through the woods. There are many trails that the hiker can take advantage of. The most extensive trail system in the region, The Rideau Trail, forms a traverse from Kingston to Ottawa. An interesting portion of the Rideau trail for the boater, is the section between Westport and Murphys Point Provincial Park, where the trail runs close to the shores of Upper Rideau and Big Rideau Lakes.
More sedate hikers will enjoy the Cataraqui Trail, part of the Trans-Canada trail system, which follows an old railway bed (no more than a 2% grade).
For more about hiking, see the Hiking the Rideau section of this website.
Canoeing or kayaking is a lovely way to see the Rideau. The whole of the Rideau is accessible by canoe/kayak, and every year many intrepid paddlers do the full length of the canal. For information about paddling the Rideau have a look at the Paddling the Rideau Waterway section of this website.
Another option if you don't own a canoe is to rent one. Information on canoe and kayak rentals can be found on the Boat Rentals Page
Local canoe clubs include the: Cataraqui Canoe Club.
One way a group can discover the historic heritage of the Rideau is by taking a guided lockstation tour.
Explore a variety of learning and recreational opportunities for
groups of 25-88 people combining a blend of historic
and natural environments. Contact the Parks Canada Tour Booking Officer for information about hours, locations and facilities. Call 613-283-5170 or 1-888-773-8888
Several communities are located on the shores of the Rideau Waterway,
and all offer services to the boater. Smiths Falls the largest
community between Ottawa and Kingston, is close to the
halfway point of the Rideau Waterway. The Rideau Waterway passes
through the heart of town, and it is well worth while to tie up
at the dock and spend a day exploring. Smiths Falls is also home
to the Rideau Canal headquarters, the Rideau Canal Visitor Information Centre, and
train buffs will enjoy a visit to the Railway Museum.
There are also several smaller communities that work hard to cater
to the traveller. Westport, a short jaunt off the main channel,
offers many interesting shops. Merrickville, the Jewel of the Rideau,
prides itself in its artistic community, boasting over thirty local
artist and artisans. You can also make a nice side trip up the
Tay Canal to visit historic Perth.
communities have their own websites. You will find these listed on
the Links Page.
To see maps, histories and walking tours of Rideau area communities have a look at the Rideau Community Histories section of this website.
The lakes and rivers of the Rideau Waterway offer great fishing
opportunities. Species caught along the length of the Rideau Waterway
include Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Lake
Trout, Yellow Perch, Black Crappie and Walleye (Yellow Pickerel).
Information about fishing is detailed on my Rideau Fishing Page.
The whole of the Rideau is well serviced with marinas. Most offer
fuel, repair services, supplies, and transient dockage. Marina
staff are always friendly and always willing to help the traveller,
offering advice to make your journey more pleasurable. For a
full listing of marinas along the Rideau, be sure and have a look
at my Marinas Page.
For those of you who like to take a stroll through history, there
are several museums along the Rideau Waterway that will be of
interest to you:
- Rideau Canal Visitor Information Centre - Offering 5 floors of a unique
blend of historic displays, artifacts and modern technology. This is the former Rideau Canal Museum which Parks Canada took over in 2012. Address: 34 Beckwith
St. S., Smiths Falls, ON, K7A 2A8. Tel: 613-283-5170.
- Heritage House Museum - This elegant classically styled
house is restored to ca. 1867 and features: 7 Victorian rooms,
a two-storey privy, an indoor bake oven, "mirror image"
Facades, exhibition gallery, heritage gardens, picnic area, and
gift shop. Address: Old Slys Rd., Smiths Falls, ON, K7A 4T6 (adjacent
to Old Slys Lockstation, Rideau Canal). Tel: (613) 283-8560.
- Smiths Falls Railway Museum
- Located in the former
Canadian Northern Railway Station built in 1914. A large elegant
brick and stone structure with high ceilings and impressive plaster
and wood trim. The station, heritage artifacts and rolling stock
are still undergoing restoration. A national historic site, the
museum features railway artifacts, archival materials, memorabilia,
a library, and rolling stock equipment. Address: 90 William St.
W., Box 962, Smiths Falls, ON, K7A 5A5. Tel: 613-283-5696.
- Merrickville Blockhouse Museum - Originally planned
as part of its defense system, this is the largest blockhouse
on the Rideau Canal. Now a museum containing artifacts of the
blockhouse and social environment of a rural community in the
19th and early 20th centuries. Located on the waterfront beside the upper lock. Admission is free. Tel: (613) 269-3614.
Matheson House - Perth Museum - The Matheson House is a nationally
designated stone house ca. 1840. Four Victorian period rooms and
enclosed garden give an intimate glimpse of the lifestyle of a
well to do family. Changing exhibitions in two galleries plus
permanent exhibitions, for example: Last Duel - Pistols and sample
Mammoth Cheese. Located in downtown Perth. Air conditioned. Address:
11 Gore St. E., Perth, ON, K7H 1H4. Tel: (613) 267-1947.
- Rideau District Museum - Former blacksmith forge and
carriage shop. Features artifacts of the regions history. Located in downtown Westport.
- Lockmaster's House Museum - An original lockmaster's
house, exhibits are changed each season. It is open from June
22 to September 1. Located at beautiful Chaffey's Lock.
- Old Stone Mill, Delta- A bit off the path for boaters,
but well within the reach of those driving the Rideau, the mill is
located on highway 42 between Athens and Forfar. It is a National historic
site showcasing milling technology and industrial heritage in a spectacular heritage building. The
museum is open daily, 10 am to 5 pm from Victoria Day weekend
until Labour Day and then on weekends until Thanksgiving (October).
Admission is free. Contact: Box 172, Delta, Ontario, K0G 1G0. Tel: 1-613-928-2658.
- Maple Sugar House and Museum - located on the Gibbons Family Farm, 3 km east of Frankville (between Smiths Falls and Brockville), the museum is open year around. It is a fully working sugar house and during syrup season (March-April) you can watch (and taste) maple syrup in the making. Address: 41 Leacock Road, RR 1, Frankville, ON K0E 1H0. Tel: (613) 275-2893. email: email@example.com
- Bytown Museum - located beside the scenic Ottawa locks, this is the former Commissariat of Col. By and the Royal Engineers when the canal was being built. It is the oldest stone building in Ottawa, beautifully maintained and well worth a visit.
- Ottawa and Kingston - You'll also find a good selection
of quality museums in Ottawa and Kingston. See the sections on
these cities below.
Naturally, the large communities of Kingston and Ottawa offer
the traveler ample opportunities for fine dining. But you will
also find culinary delights as you travel the Rideau. Most of
the lodges and Inns along the route have dining rooms offering
the traveler a delicious selection of meals. In addition, the
communities along the route offer various restaurants to satiate
almost any type of food craving.
Of course no trip is complete without engaging in a shopping expedition,
or two, or three. The communities along the Rideau all offer shopping
opportunities for the tourist. Discover a hidden treasure in one
of the many antique stores along the route, check out the products
of the many local artisans in the quaint craft shops you will
discover in many of the towns. Shopping doesn't have to be restricted
to dry goods. Many of the stores offer locally made food products
including maple syrup, honey, and cheese. During late July and
early August be sure to pick up some cobs of corn from a local
vendor and sink your teeth into the delicious sweet tender kernels.
Bicycle enthusiasts can fully enjoy the Rideau region.
Although there are no bicycle trails directly along the
Rideau (except for bicycle paths in Ottawa), there are many trails and secondary roads close by that the bicyclist can enjoy.
You can either come here just to cycle or strap a bike or two
onto your boat (trails cross the Rideau Waterway in several places).
In addition, several shops and some bed & breakfasts offer
bicycle rentals. For more information on cycling in the region, have a look at the Bicycling the Rideau section of this website.
Hey, just because you're on a boating vacation doesn't mean you
have to give up golf. Bring your clubs along or rent a set at
one of the several local golf course that you will pass by. You
will find golf courses located close to the Rideau at communities
such as Smiths Falls, Westport, and Perth. Of course the larger
communities, Kingston and Ottawa, also offer the golfer several
golf courses to choose from. Contact numbers for local courses
can be found in the tourist literature.
Whether Kingston is the beginning of your Rideau adventure or
the end, it is well worth spending a couple of days to take in
the town. Founded in 1673, it is known as the "Limestone City" and offers
many examples of beautiful early Canadian stone architecture.
For the boater, Kingston offer two municipal and several privately
owned marinas, all catering to the transient boater. The Flora
MacDonald Confederation Basin marina for example can accommodate
300 transient boats and is located in the downtown core.
For more on what to do and see in Kingston, you can follow the
links that I have included.
Kingston offers an excellent choice of restaurants, interesting
museums, art galleries, and shopping. Main attractions include:
Ottawa, Canada's capital city, caters to the tourist. You could
easily spend a week here and there would still be more things
to see. It offers world class restaurants, great shopping opportunities
and a very long list of interesting sights to see, of which I
will only list a few. There are several marinas catering to the
transient boater and Rideau Canal itself features 24 hour a day
docking privileges. Many of the sites are within easy walking
distance of the canal. A few of the attractions are as follows:
For more on what to do and see in Ottawa, you can follow the links
that I have included.
When the cold winds of winter descend upon the region, the Rideau does not shut down. The residents of Ottawa strap on their skates and enjoy crisp winter days by skating
on the frozen canal. The Rideau Canal Skateway holds the Guinness World Record as the world's largest naturally frozen ice rink. The 7.8 km long skateway is 165,621 m2, equivalent in size to 90 Olympic sized rinks. Skating on the canal has become a favourite pastime of winter visitors, especially during Ottawa's winter festival, Winterlude (first three weekends of February). It's a great way to see some of the sights, and you can enjoy a delicious Beaver Tail from one of the kiosks on the canal in the centre of downtown.
The National Capital Commission maintains the skating section of the canal in winter. Visit their skating conditions website for current information. The local city number, which gives a pre-recorded message 24 hrs. a day and is updated daily is 613-239-5234. You can also call their toll free number to obtain information about the skateway (and anything else to do with Ottawa tourism)- 1-800-465-1867. You may initially reach a short recorded message, but the line is staffed by live persons during the workweek normal workday hours. A red flag flying over the canal means it is closed to skating; a yellow flag means the conditions are fair to good and a green flag means very good to excellent.
The Canal usually opens for skating in early to mid January, depending on the temperature. In the period 1970 to 2011, the earliest the skateway has opened has been December 18 (in 1972 and 1981), with the latest being January 26 (2007). The earliest it has closed has been February 13 (1984) with the latest March 25 (1972). The longest season was 90 days in 1971/72 with the shortest being 35 days in 2001/02. The average season length in the last 10 years has been about 45 days.
When the deep fluffy snows of winter cover the ground, Canadians slap lumber on their feet and take to the frozen lakes and trails.
Cross country skiing has become a favourite pastime, it's inexpensive and anyone can do it. When the lakes freeze over, they become an ideal place for a leisurely ski, places accessible only by boat in the summer, can now be visited by skiers in the winter. A word of caution however, there is often open water around the locks throughout the winter. Before venturing out onto the lakes, check with a local source regarding safe access points and ice conditions.
Several of the local parks and conservation areas offer skiing opportunities such as Murphys Point Provincial Park (25 km of groomed trails), Foley Mountain Conservation area (4 km of groomed trails) and Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (13 km of groomed trails). See the Parks section for links. And of course there is the Cataraqui Trail, offering 200 km of groomed trail.
The really adventuresome, who wish to re-live the experience of early Canadian explorers, can strap on a pair of snowshoes and head off into the woods. If you're the type of person who likes to get off the beaten track, then snowshoeing might be for you.
For those of you who like to fill the silence of the winter wilderness with the roar of engines, then snowmobiling in the Rideau region will be a fun sport for you. Snowmobiling should only be done on existing trails with full respect for the private property. The local snowmobile association can show you how to responsibly enjoy your snowmobile adventure in the Rideau region.
Visit the Rideau Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club webpage for more information.
Comments: send me email: Ken Watson
©1996- Ken W. Watson