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Save Our Rideau

It's 2022 - still no heritage on the Rideau
In 2012, Parks Canada removed the few resources the Rideau Canal had to do any meaningful education and interpretive programs, these resources have not been returned. This change has now been formalized in a new, incredibly poorly done, draft management plan. You can view the plan and my response here:
 Watson - Response to Draft Management Plan
 Rideau Canal Draft Management Plan

Also see a Critique of the Parks Canada Management Planning System by Manuel Stevens, retired Parks Canada planner for the Rideau Canal.

You can also see some other submissions as well as several letters (UNESCO, Prime Minister, etc.) on the Management Plan Page

The Rideau Canal, the oldest continuously operated canal in North America, a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is under threat from both the Government of Canada and Parks Canada, the agency charged with the care and control of this significant part of our Canadian heritage. This website details some of the many issues, particularly those related to heritage which is a key component of Parks Canada's legislation. Parks Canada's legislated mandate, in a nutshell, is to "Protect and Present the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Rideau Canal"

Parks Canada's administration of the canal took a wrong turn in 2008 with a change in focus away from heritage. The government of the day made revenue generation the primary (unlegislated) mandate for Parks Canada. In 2012, they re-organized the management of the Rideau and other heritage canals, removing all heritage components, replacing them with unlegislated priorities that fit with government philosophy. Those unlegislated priorties, being done at the expense of heritage, continue to this day. In 2017 the government directed Parks Canada to return to their legislated responsibilities, including heritage presentation. Those changes have yet to happen on the Rideau Canal, Parks Canada appears to be completely ignoring its own legislation and mandate and Ministerial directives.

The report card below looks at some of the heritage components of Parks Canada's administration of the canal and rates them. Each section links to a more detailed page on the topic.


 View or download a PDF of the Report Card

Item Grade Notes
Heritage Site Management D In 2012, the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway were merged under a single management unit. It was an experiment done under the false premise of cost saving that hasn't worked. Both the Rideau and Trent-Severn are very large multi-layered canal systems, with different needs, particularly when it comes to heritage. The Rideau continues to suffer from a lack of dedicated management and improper staffing. Read more ...
Operating Canal B Upgraded from a C in 2014 with the addition of extra hours. But still short of 2011 (pre-cuts) hours, particularly during the summer season. Lockstation staff service continues to be excellent (Rideau lockstation staff get an A). Boats going through locks are a key component of heritage presentation of the Rideau Canal. Read more ...
Heritage Interpretation D Interpretation on the Rideau including physical (heritage landscapes, signage, brochures), personal (interpreters), and electronic (apps, web), is poor. The signage, brochures and limited personal interpretation that are available are generally good, elevating the rank from F to D. Read more ...
Site Appearance C Many of the lockstations look rundown. Peeling paint, excessive vegetation growth, spalling concrete and other issues serve to detract from the visitor experience at many lockstation. At the other end of the spectrum, some of recent restoration work has been done with a very modern appearance, degrading the heritage landscapes at those lockstation (and contravening Parks Canada's own Commemorative Integrity policies). Read more ...
Maintaining Heritage Structures B Upgraded from a D in May 2016 with the announcement of $57 million (over 4 years) in additional infrastructure funding (on top of the $46 million announced in 2015). Upgraded again to B+ in August 2016 with clarification by Parks Canada about all the projects being done (which weren't initially listed in public releases). Downgraded to B in February 2017 after frustrating discussions with Parks Canada about Cultural Resource management issues regarding this work. No "A" because:
a) Not all Deferred Work is being done (i.e. Davis Lock, monoliths at Jones Falls),
b) Parks Canada's Commemorative Integrity policies for heritage landscapes are not always being followed and
c) The Rideau Canal still does not have sustainable capital funding as part of its base budget.
Read more ...
Heritage Landscape Protection D+ There are two components to this, the heritage landscapes of the lockstations (a Parks Canada Commemorative Integrity requirement) and the visual character of the entire Rideau Canal (a UNESCO World Heritage Site recommendation). The rank of D+ is a combination of a C for heritage landscapes but an D- when it comes to the identification and protection of the visual values of the canal. Read more ...
Public Engagement F Parks Canada does not consult with the heritage public on anything it does on the canal. This was a change from the 1990s and early 2000s when it did a very good job at public consultation (including a formal mechanism, the Rideau Canal Advisory Committee - which Parks Canada disbanded in 2011). This rating was upgraded briefly in 2016/17 with the arrival of a new Associate Director who did make an effort at some consultation. However, he left the Rideau in February 2018 and there has been no consultation since that time. Read more ....
Public Education F Public Education is a key policy component of Parks Canada's Commemorative Integrity of the site and also a significant requirement Parks Canada's management of the site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, essentially no educational or heritage awareness programs about the Rideau Canal are being done. Read more ...
Research & Archaeology F Parks Canada does not do any heritage research or archaeology (as opposed to the 70s and 80s when much was done). In 2012 they surpluses (fired/let go) much of their heritage and archaeological staff (for the entire organization). They also shut down (removed) two local Parks Canada Rideau Canal libraries that aided local researchers. There remains a lot to do on the Rideau Canal, sites such as Jones Falls have had no significant archaeological work ever done on them. Read more ...
OVERALL - Parks Canada scores a solid D- (2.3 out of 5) when it comes to the heritage management of the Rideau Canal. It's part of their core mandate that they've been completely ignoring since 2012 (and partially ignoring since 1995). Their draft management plan, released to the public in December 2020, formalizes the loss of cultural heritage and ecology on the Rideau Canal, with a sole focus on tourism and revenue generation (to Parks Canada)

Why This Save Our Rideau Website

I am doing this as a personal initiative. I've been promoting the Rideau Canal with my website since 1996, with my books about the Rideau Canal, and with public presentations - all done on a volunteer basis. I've been worrying for the last few years about the future of the Rideau Canal as I've watched Parks Canada move away from both heritage and public engagement. Up to now most of my efforts have been internal, figuring, as a good Canadian, that rational arguments will win in the end and that I should give government the opportunity to "do the right thing". But those rational arguments have fallen on deaf ears and things are now getting much worse.

I'd much rather be telling the fascinating story of the Rideau to the public, though my website, books, newsletters, and presentations, than lobbying the Government of Canada and Parks Canada to support Canadian heritage. However the inattention to heritage by Parks Canada, their lack of response to my concerns, and the lack of interest in Canadian heritage by now two different governments of Canada, have forced me to spend time on this <sigh>.

- Ken Watson

Wall in disrepair at Chaffeys Lock, 2012

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© 2012- Ken W. Watson