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RIDEAU CANAL BECOMES CANADAíS NEWEST WORLD HERITAGE SITE

BACKGROUNDER

Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada


The Rideau Canal has been inscribed to the World Heritage List under two criteria. These are:

1) Criterion i: The Rideau Canal remains the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact.

2) Criterion iv: The Rideau Canal is an extensive, well preserved and significant example of a canal which was used for military purposes linked to a significant stage in human history - that of the fight to control the north of the American continent.

The Rideau Canal was built between 1826 and 1832 under Colonel John By, following designs prepared by Great Britainís Corps of Royal Engineers. These contractors hired French-Canadian workers as well as thousands of immigrant Irish labourers, an unknown number of whom died of disease and accident. The logistical and engineering challenges they faced were severe: the proposed canal was a 202 kilometre-long waterway composed of a series of rivers and lakes, some of which needed to be dredged, linked by 47 large stone locks, with adjacent dams to control the water levels. For defensive purposes, a series of blockhouses and defensible lockmastersí houses was erected along the route. All of this work was done in the largely unsettled, often swampy wilderness between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario. When the canal was completed in the summer of 1832, steam vessels could travel from the port of Montrťal up the Ottawa River to Ottawa, then through the Rideau to Lake Ontario at Kingston. Here, Fort Henry (built 1832-36) protected the canalís vulnerable southern end. A series of further canals then opened up the western interior of the continent to ship traffic.

The purpose of the canal was clear: it was designed to fill one key gap in Britainís colonial military defences by providing a safe, defensible inland route for the transportation of troops and military supplies between Montrťal and the Great Lakes in times of conflict. Because the St. Lawrence River was exposed to American attack, the Rideau Canal offered a viable means of defending Britainís hold on its colonies north of the United States against possible military attack, while encouraging settlement and commercial trade opportunities in the region.

The Rideau Canal was never used for its intended military purpose in wartime. It soon took on a more commercial role as a significant trade route between the Great Lakes and Montrťal. The construction of canals in the 1840s along the St. Lawrence meant that, by the 1860s, the Rideauís role had changed from a central transportation artery to an important local communications and trade route for Eastern Ontario. The rise of tourism, pleasure boating, and the cottage phenomenon in the late 19th century gave the canal a recreational function which now constitutes its primary use.

The Rideau Canal was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1924 because it constitutes a unique historical environment within the Canadian canal system. An early and important example of the construction of that system, it is distinguished by the survival of a large number of original canal structures, including locks, blockhouses, dams, weirs and original lockmastersí houses, and is notable for the high degree of integrity of most of its lockstations.

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