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Save Our Rideau

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.

Write the New Minister
Anyone concerned with the heritage of the Rideau Canal is encouraged to write to the new minister in charge of Parks Canada. For more info, including the letter I've written, see the Communications Page.

May 13, 2016 Update - it took 185 days, but I finally received a reply to my letter, very disappointing, essentially a blow-off letter, written by the "old" Parks Canada on behalf of the Minister - it doesn't reflect the stated goals of the new government. Either the Minister didn't actually read the reply Parks Canada prepared or she doesn't understand the issues <sigh>.

The De-Evolution of Parks Canada
A report all about how Parks Canada has abandoned their legislated heritage mandate for the Rideau Canal, a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a detailed look at how Parks Canada has gone from a shining example as the steward of our natural and cultural heritage sites to a tourism agency that has abandoned its legislated heritage mandate.

See "The De-Evolution of Parks Canada" (PDF)


Item Grade Notes
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. Staff service continues to be generally excellent. Boats going through locks are a key component of heritage presentation of the Rideau Canal. Boating numbers have been in steady decline since 2009 (poor site presentation, budget cuts & changes in hours, poor marketing).
Heritage Interpretation D Interpretation at the sites, both physical (heritage landscapes, signage, brochures) and personal (interpreters) is poor. The signage that is available is generally good, elevating the rank from F to D.
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 each lockstation. See the Jones Falls Photo Essay Page for examples.
Maintaining Heritage Structures B+ Upgraded from an 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). No A because:
a) Not all Deferred Work is being done (i.e. Davis Lock) and
b) The Rideau Canal still does not have sustainable capital funding as part of its base budget.
See the Built Heritage Section.
Landscape Protection D There is still no protection for the visual character of the Rideau Canal as recommended by UNESCO in 2006. The rank of D (as opposed to F) is because Parks does intervene on an ad hoc basis for large projects (i.e. bridge crossings). See the Rideau Corridor Landscape Strategy Page.
Public Consultation C Upgraded in 2016 from an F since efforts (by 1 individual) are now being made to consult (in a true sense) with the public at large. Since 2010, Parks Canada has not consulted 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. However, there are still no formal mechanisms for meaningful public consultation. See the Public Engagement Page.
Education F Although a component of the Rideau's World Heritage Site management plan, no educational programs about the Rideau Canal are being done. See the World Heritage Site Management Plan Page.
Public Awareness F The general public awareness of the heritage value of the Rideau Canal and its status as a World Heritage Site is very low. Parks Canada has done very little (no brochures, limited signage, no public outreach, no education) telling the public why the Rideau is a World Heritage Site and why we should care about that. See the World Heritage Site Management Plan Page.
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.
OVERALL - Parks Canada scores a solid D+ 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). Parks Canada's stated focus is now (2015) on revenue generation ("we are focusing on increasing revenue" - Jewel Cunningham, Director, Ontario Waterways, April 2015) part of the government's philosophy of retailing Canada's heritage.

It is now time to write to UNESCO about the risk to World Heritage Status being created by the Government of Canada's heritage cuts to the Rideau Canal and by Parks Canada's inattention to heritage. See the World Heritage Page for details about the many problems and how to contact UNESCO

View the Latest News Page for the latest additions to this website and Canadian heritage canals' news from around the web


Since the mid-1990s, Parks Canada has been cutting its heritage support for the Rideau Canal (which also includes the Tay Canal) - today it does essentially no heritage presentation or interpretation even though it remains a key part of Parks Canada's mandate. Ironically the decline in heritage support for the Rideau Canal was occurring at the same time as they worked to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status for the Rideau Canal. Although World Heritage status was achieved in 2007, there is still no one in the direct management of the Rideau Canal in charge of heritage. In addition, Parks Canada refuses to talk to the Rideau heritage community despite repeated requests.

In 2012 another major blow was delivered by the Government of Canada in the form of a 5% cut to the operating budget of Parks Canada. Parks Canada, which administers both heritage sites (National Historic Sites such as the Rideau Canal) and environmental sites (National Parks), chose to make the cuts much deeper for its heritage sites. The cut made to the Rideau Canal's operating budget was in excess of 20%. This made a bad situation (the Rideau Canal was already under funded) much worse. And to top it all, this was all done with essentially no public consultation even though it has impacts on the thousands of residents along the Rideau Canal and impacts the heritage of all Canadians.

What You Can Do

Get Educated • Get Upset • Communicate

  • Get Educated: learn about some of the issues by reading information on this website.
  • Get Upset: Get upset about the long term implications to our Canadian heritage
  • Communicate: talk to your neighbour, share the link to this website, write/email to your local MP, write/email to the Prime Minister. Click here for ideas

Specific Issues

Heritage Management

When Parks Canada took over management of the Rideau Canal (from the Department of Transport) in 1972, it had a small core of heritage people working in their Ottawa headquarters. This was quickly beefed up (more staff, more support) given the heritage needs of the Rideau Canal and much work was done through the 1970s and 1980s. Since HQ was looking after heritage, no heritage position was created within the direct management structure of the Rideau Canal. By the 1990s, heritage support for the Rideau from HQ was waning and by the 2000s, almost non-existent ... Read More ...

Public Engagement

The Rideau Canal is near and dear to the heart of many Canadians, particularly those that live on or near this historic waterway. In the 1980s Parks Canada did a very good job of working with the public, examples would include the 150th anniversary of the canal and the first management plan. Both involved good public communication and partnerships with the interested public. This continued into the early 2000s and then Parks Canada started to move away from public engagement. Today it does no public consultation despite the huge changes it has made (and continues to make) to the Rideau Canal which impacts many people, businesses and communities. Read more ...

Heritage Awareness

The Rideau Canal is not simply a waterway catering to boaters - it is a significant part of our Canadian heritage. But that story has to be told and it is Parks Canada's responsibility to do that. It is the public awareness of places such as the Rideau Canal and their impact of the formation of Canada that keeps these sites relevant today. As the Auditor General of Canada stated in 2003 "These places recall the lives and history of the men and women who built this country, and they foster awareness of how Canadian society evolved. They help us to better understand the present and prepare for the future. They contribute in important ways to Canadians' sense of belonging to their community." Parks Canada has stopped telling that story and continues to remove resources that help to tell this story. Read More...

More and More - The LIST

After the excitement of World Heritage Status in 2007 came the realization that Parks Canada was actually cutting heritage support, not adding to it. In discussion with individuals at Parks I referred to a "laundry list of heritage items" and in 2010 I put pen to paper and wrote out that list. In December 2010, I presented that list, 11 pages long, to the Superintendent of the Rideau Canal. While some lip service was initially paid to it, there has been no movement on most of the issues presented. Read more ...

World Heritage At Risk

The Rideau Canal's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is under threat due to lack of funding by the Government of Canada and by lack of attention to heritage by Parks Canada. This existing problem is being magnified by the current cuts (both in funding and heritage expertise within Parks Canada) and by the management changes being proposed by Parks Canada that will further reduce their ability to properly manage the World Heritage Site. Read more ...

Jones Falls - Heritage In Trouble

There are many examples where the lack of attention to heritage by Parks Canada has impacted the Rideau Canal - but the poster child for this is the Jones Falls Lockstation. It is one of the most significant heritage sites on the canal. Since a photo is worth a 1,000 words, I've put together a little collage illustrating the many issues. Read more ...

Cuts to the Operating Season

Parks Canada proposed to reduce the operating season to save costs. A strong public lobby countered this with info regarding the greater impact this would have on the economy of Eastern Ontario (those cuts would save Parks Canada money but cost the Canadian Government and regional economy). Minister Peter Kent overrode Parks Canada in an October 18, 2012 release that said the 2013 operating season would be maintained, but that hours would be reduced. Read more ...

Parks Canada

I present Parks Canada on this website in a less than positive light. I base this on what I'm seeing happening to the Rideau Canal. But they are not a homogenous bunch, I have nothing but respect for the front line staff who do care deeply about the Rideau Canal. My issues are with management and the present day Parks Canada culture that does not support heritage. Read more ...


Parks Canada has restructured the management of the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Canal into one unit called the Ontario Waterway Unit. It replaced the two Superintendent positions with a single Director, a job far too large for one person (as the last years have clearly shown, many issues are falling trough the cracks due to inattention). The change was done with absolutely no public consultation (and apparently very little planning) and has had a major negative impact on both canals. Read more ...


The solution simply isn't more money. While that is certainly a factor, particularly with the physical structures in need of repair, solutions also involve a required change in the culture of Parks Canada and flexibility in how they operate the Rideau Canal. I've compiled a few ideas - I'm sure you can come up with many more. See the Solutions Page.

What Others Are Saying

This is a page with some documents and links to what others are saying about some of these issues. See the What Others Are Saying Page.

Dumbing Down of Parks Canada

The proper heritage support for the Rideau Canal, particularly now that it is a World Heritage Site, requires skilled personnel. The current re-organization of Parks Canada is removing those skills. See the Dumbing Down of Parks Canada.

Why This Save Our Rideau Website

I am doing this as a personal initiative. I've been promoting the Rideau Canal with this website since 1996, with my books, 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. 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 seem to 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, the lack of response to my concerns, and the funding cuts by the Government 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