Written by BEN RAYNER
Photography by JEFF BASSETT
Ottawa Sun
 NEWBORO -- It's all downhill -- or rather, downstream -- from here.
 A languid trek through a narrow, granite-bordered channel surrounded by low-lying scrub signals the end of the 33-lock ascent on the Rideau Canal and the beginning of a quick descent to Kingston. This artificially constructed pathway between the Upper Rideau and Newboro lakes also marks the canal's transition from the Rideau River system to the Cataraqui River system.
 It's here, too, at the Isthmus -- the highest point on the canal, 85 metres above the Ottawa River -- where you'll find a poignant reminder of the price in human suffering paid for Col. John By's engineering marvel. A short walk from the bridge where a local highway crosses the canal cut, Newboro's Old Presbyterian Cemetery houses a time-battered monument to the men of the Royal Sappers and Miners who died on the site between 1826 and 1832.
Don Warren, "the Defender of the Rideau" has worked tirelessly for 30 years to preserve the canal's rural and historical character.

 "These men labored under appalling conditions and succumbed to malaria," reads the plaque. "Their graves remain unmarked to this day."
 By all reports, construction at the Isthmus was a nightmare of similar proportions to the malaria-plagued undertaking at Dow's Great Swamp. Blasting through the granite was such a frustrating task that original contractor William Hartwell called it quits and surrendered his contract by October of 1828, and malaria was running so rampant the following summer that laborers on the site refused to work.
 Today, though, the area around Newboro -- population: 310 -- betrays little evidence of its harsh past. The parking lot at the tiny community's municipal waterfront is jammed with the cars of visiting fishermen -- as many, if not more, from Pen nsylvania and New York as from Ontario -- and most of the shoreline is taken up with ramshackle bait shops, boathouses and a chain of fishing lodges dating from the late 1920s.
 "Thank God the Loyalists got this land and kept it pristine," pronounces Sayre, Penn., native Tony Gelbutis, hooking sunfish off the blue line at Newboro Lock. "Because if the Rebels had got a hold of it they would have exploited the hell out of it and there'd be garbage and syringes and condoms floating by. It was all part of God's plan, I think."
 The recently retired Gelbutis has been a regular visitor to the lakes clustered at the heart of the Rideau system for 25 years. He comes up alone every summer in his "poor man's Winnebago" -- a minivan with a mattress thrown in the back -- and c ruises around looking for pan fish common to the shorelines, fishing according to phases of the moon.
 Newboro is the spot where the red and green channel markers that guide boaters up and down the Rideau Canal reverse their meanings -- port becomes starboard, and vice versa. It's also the spot where the buoys become an absolute necessity, as you wind your way through the myriad wilderness-shrouded islands and tight, rocky channels that clutter the canal's passage through the Frontenac Axis of the Canadian Shield.
The spectacular view from Jones Falls is a prime attraction in this four-lock landmark. It is the second-busiest station in the canal system - after Ottawa.

 CHAFFEY'S LOCKS -- Out of the lush greenery lining one such channel emerges the tiny village of Chaffey's Locks, a semi-community of canal-centric restaurants and fishing resorts clustered around the local lock station.
 Located on the high-traffic route between Kingston and the Rideau lakes, Chaffey's is a fairly bustling spot, but also a relatively secluded area where ways of life that have all but disappeared from other areas along the canal still persist.
 And Don Warren, for one, would be quite happy if it stayed that way forever. As his wife, Mary, confides: "He loves his Rideau, and he hates it when anybody tries to fiddle around with it."
 Warren's numerous efforts to protect the canal's historical and natural integrity earned him the nickname "Defender of the Rideau" in Larry Turner's 1995 book Rideau. He was one of the noisiest opponents of the Department of Transport's plans in the late 1960s to equip lock stations with electric-powered gates, for instance. In recent years, he's become a member of the Rideau Canal Advisory Board -- which suggests canal-management policy to Parks Canada -- and an honorary member of the Friends o f the Rideau. Now, as a co-founder of the Rideau Waterway Land Trust, Warren, 76, has taken up one of his favorite causes: Protecting the rural character of the canal so "other generations won't have wall-to-wall cottages from Kingston to Ottawa."
 The Rideau Land Trust's mandate is simple, but difficult to fulfill: Buy up lands along the canal to preserve them from the kind of voracious development that's turned areas like Manotick into what Warren calls neo-suburban "sinkholes." So far, the fledgling organization (it's only been up and running seriously for a year) has acquired only 62 acres of "first-class wetland" in the Kemptville area, but it's a start.
 "It's difficult," admits Warren, seated in his kitchen overlooking a drowned bay on the edge of Opinicon Lake, just beneath the lock at Chaffey's. "It's not going to be easy. But it's not a short-term thing. It's to preserve it for the long term ."
 Lenny Pine has a similar attachment to the area around Chaffey's Locks. One of the few remaining fishing guides you'll still find hanging around the docks at the Opinicon resort in the evenings, he's never strayed far from a youth spent tagging along with his lockmaster father at the isolated Davis Lock and Jones Falls stations.
 Now 60, he's been nursemaiding "97% American" tourists through the nearby lakes in search of large-mouth bass since 1953.
 "Our main goal is to get enough fish in the boat for a shore lunch," he explains. "To satisfy people, that's your main job. To get them to come back, you've got to produce.
 "It's a dying thing. For young kids just starting to do it, it's not enough to get them through the winter."
 Guides or no guides, fishermen will no doubt continue to flock to the prime bass country around Opinicon Lake for years to come. And many of them will likely stay at the storied Opinicon, "the Rideau's most complete resort."
 "I've had 100 people check out and 100 people check in today," says Al Cross, the perpetually harried man in charge at the Opinicon. "I don't have much time to talk."
 Cross, 68, has been putting in 16-hour days at the Opinicon since 1954, when responsibility for the resort fell to him and his wife, Janice Jarrett, whose family has owned the property since 1920.
 The sprawling, tree-shrouded lakeside hotel has been operating as a resort of one sort or another since the 1890s, when it was known as Camp Easy, although Cross says the main part of the building is about 170 years old. Until Jarrett's grandmot her purchased the place, it was operating as the very exclusive Openacon Club, a fishing resort for men that was ritzy enough to provide personal barbers and a private golf course.
 "We're still classified as a fishing resort, although now we're more of a family resort," says Cross, breaking occasionally to direct traffic in the parking lot or shepherd guests to their rooms. "The new lady of the house doesn't want her husba nd to go out fishing for two weeks. She might let him out for a couple of days between Thursday and Saturday."
 The days when steamships full of tourists used to dock beneath the Opinicon are long past, but despite its relatively isolated location and minimal advertising the hotel is as busy as it ever was. In fact, says Cross, he just checked out the Opi nicon's oldest repeat customers -- a family that's been coming to the resort since 1917.
 "(Guests) like the area and the fact that Chaffey's Locks hasn't changed much in 100 years," says Cross. "Most resort areas are very secluded and attractive for a few years, and then people get ahold of it and they bring their friends in and bui ld cabins. And pretty soon it's a city and it's lost its charm. We've hung on because we've had basically the same population for the last 100 years."
 He pauses for a moment.
 "I've got to run now. In about three minutes I'm setting the dining room for dinner."
A series of boats are jammed into the head lock at Jones Falls for the last run of the day. The entire four-lock descent can take a long as two hours.

 JONES FALLS --If there's a climax to a voyage down the Rideau Canal, it's Jones Falls.
 There's no shortage of competition along the way, mind you. But the journey from Chaffey's Lock to Jones Falls itself -- past the well-camouflaged cabins of the Queen's University Biological Station on Opinicon Lake, through the remote Davis Loc k station to the final, labyrinthine approach in shallow, loon-haunted channels crowded by limestone and granite cliffs -- ranks as many a boater's favorite portion of the canal.
 But if there's a single place that encompasses everything that's right about the Rideau system, it's probably the quadruple lock station at Jones Falls.
 From an engineering standpoint alone, it's a towering achievement. Historian Robert Leggett called the massive 20-metre (62 feet) stone arch dam at the site "John By's masterpiece," and one is tempted to agree. To construct the placid, winding s taircase of locks that now gingerly carries boaters down the 18.3-metre (60 feet) drop at Jones Falls, By's men first had to completely dam a steep gorge where water used to plunge the same distance over the rocks into Whitefish Lake below.
 It was the largest dam in the British Empire when it was finally completed in 1832 -- a feat made all the more remarkable when one realizes it was built by hand, using materials carted in through the thick wilderness from 10 km away.
 But beyond the mechanics, Jones Falls is emblematic of both the aesthetic and human qualities that draw people repeatedly back to the Rideau system. For starters, it's a gorgeous site -- an oasis of rolling green hewn from the rugged stone and s oftwood of the Canadian Shield. It's got living history in the form of the still-operational foundry located next to the locks. And, at least on this occasion, it's got a shining example of the canal staff's oft-heralded skill and good-natured manner.
 Canalman Raymond Laforest is the man in charge of lining boats up at the head of the locks for the descent, which can easily take a couple of hours during peak time. And, since Jones Falls is the second-busiest station on the canal (behind the O ttawa Locks), it's frequently peak time.
 Take this occasion, for instance. It's the last run of the day, and Laforest is trying to jam 11 boats of various shapes and lengths -- cruisers, sailboats, runabouts -- into the first lock so no one is forced to camp unwillingly at the site ove rnight. Darting all over the lock, megaphone in hand to bark directions, he manages to cram all of them in.
 But there's a problem: Locks are built as inverted arches, so each one is 1.2 metres (4 feet) narrower at the bottom than it is at the top. The boats are so tightly packed that things could get dangerously close as the water level drops.
 An apologetic Laforest is forced to crank open the gates and ask the last boat in to pull back to the blue line until morning.
 "These things happen sometimes," he says. "I wanted to please my customers, but ..."
 Finally, the boaters are ready to descend. Leaving them with instructions to assume the same positions once they've passed through the turning basin below and into the next lock, Laforest disappears into his shack and emerges with an accordion.
 To furious applause and a chorus of "thank you, Rays," he perches on the lock gate and serenades the downwardly bobbing boaters with a medley of old standards.
 Laforest and his accordion -- he claims to have the largest collection in Canada -- are something of a legend on the Rideau. Lock staff and veteran boaters alike drop his name from Ottawa to Kingston.
 A former professional musician and garage owner, he became a canalman at Kingston Mills Locks 15 years ago after answering a radio ad for the job. The accordion stayed sheathed for a while, but eventually he brought it down to the locks.
 "I didn't play right away -- I waited a couple of years," recalls Laforest. "Then I'd play a little bit, and more and more I saw the reaction of the people."
 By the time he was transferred to the Narrows Lock in 1984, Laforest and his co-workers were hosting "a party on the locks every year with my music."
Canalman Raymond Laforest strikes up a tune at Jones Falls locks. He and his magic accordion are legend among boaters the length of the canal.

 The Rideau Canal gets a bit anticlimactic after Jones Falls -- at least if you're heading in the direction of Kingston.
 The serenity of endless wood bluffs is shattered by a convoy of 10 Jet-Skis making its way from Kingston to Perth.
 "The dirt bikes of the water, that's what I call them," New Jersey cop Larry Burke observes disdainfully from his rented houseboat.
 Below Lower Brewer's Lock, the Canadian Shield begins to break again and the voyage up the canal out of Ottawa begins replaying itself, albeit in reverse. Pastures reassert themselves on the once-rugged landscape, cottages become more numerous a nd murky, reedy wetlands glazed with water lilies line the shores again.
 Along the aptly named River Styx -- a broad, shallow table of mud-colored water broken only by twin lines of channel markers twisting into the distance -- the gradual reclamation of the surrounding land continues, not just by pastures, but by pe nitentiaries and parking lots as Kingston draws nearer.
 At Kingston Mills, the last lock station on the canal, four locks wind away from Colonel By Lake and down about 13.5 metres (45 feet) into a rust-tinted gorge beneath a clattering train trestle and the four-laned roar of Hwy. 401 -- providing wh at Rideau Canal superintendent John Bonser calls "a whole continuum of transportation history" in one spot.
 A picturesque hop between the verdant banks of the widening Cataraqui River gets cut suddenly short by the intrusion of CFB Kingston on the shore, and soon the city proper swings into full view -- not to mention the looming swells of the overwhe lming St. Lawrence River and its monstrously proportioned boat traffic.
 And then, strangely, it's over.
 The insularity of the Rideau is gone by the time you've passed through the LaSalle Causeway, replaced by the open seaway and all its encumbrances on one hand, and a furiously busy harbor on the other.
 "In Kingston, they're totally unaware of the Rideau," says canal historian Gordon Cullingham. "They don't have any locks, they don't have a river -- just a slack backwater called the Cataraqui. But they live on the lakes. Their life is the lakes , not the canal."
 That's probably not entirely true, but the canal's presence in Kingston -- which had been around in one form or another for years when the canal was built -- is certainly diminished, compared to its omnipresence in Ottawa or Chaffey's Locks or M errickville. The Canadian Forces base, the walls of Fort Henry and the stone towers guarding the entrance to the harbor do, however, provide a memory of its military beginnings.
 Still, to get to the Rideau you've no choice but to pass by the city, and in that sense it's a fixture of the system.
 But it all seems over awfully quickly.
 Perhaps that's a good thing, though. You're left with the sense there are other sights to see on the Rideau Canal. Other places to visit, other people with interesting tales to tell. That's why it lures you back. That's why it's addictive: If yo u could see it all in one trip, it wouldn't be worth going.
  • Part 1: The Canal
  • Part 2: 'Ottawa was the canal'
  • Part 3: Shooting the rapids
  • Part 4: Smiths Falls
  • Part 5: Westport

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