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Driving Tours of the Rideau Canal

PICNIC TOUR - Southern Rideau

The object of the picnic tour is to travel back to simpler times. There is no better place to do this than the Rideau. Take a break from fast lives, fast food, and urban pressures. Pack a picnic lunch, your swim gear, a fishing rod, and prepare to relax.

Kingston via Hwy. 15 to Morton - Leaving from City Hall, drive down Ontario Street, over the bridge crossing the entrance to the Rideau Canal, past Royal Military College and Old Fort Henry, and turn left at the lights onto Highway 15. Follow Hwy. 15 north to Morton, it is about a 25 minute drive.

Morton - at Morton, you can stop at the little park area adjacent to to the bridge. A trail leads along the side of the creek bed, past the old mill ruins and to a small parking area at the head of Morton Bay. The dam here is managed by Parks Canada, it keeps the water backed up into the Rideau Canal.  Prior to the dam, this was the site of White Fish Falls where water from the White Fish River flowed to Lower Beverley Lake and on to Gananoque. A wooden guardhouse once stood on top of the towering cliffs in this location.

Option A - Morton to Crosby to Forfar to Elgin to Jones Falls - If you would like some local cheese to add to your picnic lunch, continue north on Hwy. 15 to Crosby. Turn right onto Cty. Rd. 42 into Forfar. As you enter town, you will see the Forfar Dairy store on your right. Stop and pick up some aged cheddar or fresh curd. They also have some interesting spreads and dips for chips or crackers. Continue east along Cty. Rd. 42, and turn right on Cty. Rd. 8 to Elgin. If there are any last minute picnic items you need, stop at the grocery store in Elgin to pick them up. Leaving Elgin, turn south on Hwy. 15. Then continue down Hwy. 15 to the Jones Falls cutoff.

Option B - Morton to Jones Falls - If you have all you need picnic wise, then turn left just north of Morton, onto Cty. Rd. 11. Follow Cty. Rd. 11 to Jones Falls. You can turn left off Cty. Rd. 11 following the signs for the Hotel Kenney. This will put you at the bottom of Jones Falls. Alternatively, keep going on Cty. Rd. 11 and follow the signs for the Jones Falls Dam. This will put you at the top of Jones Falls.

locksJones Falls - Jones Falls has 4 locks, consisting of a set of 3 lower locks, a turning basin and an upper lock. It is arguably the most scenic lockstation on the Rideau. Sightseeing features include the magnificent stone arch dam, the lockmaster's house, the blacksmith's shop, the locks themselves, and the Hotel Kenney, built in 1888, one of the early hotels along the Rideau. Picnic tables abound, you can sit on top of the dam with a nice view out into the southern end of Sand Lake, you can sit at the upper lock, watching the boats, or you can sit by the lower locks, watching boats proceed up or down the staircase of three locks. The turning basin is a popular swimming hole but there are many other spots to go for a swim, including off the dock at the top of the dam. If you like fishing, largemouth bass can be found both at the top of the locks, in Sand Lake, or at the bottom, in Whitefish Lake. If you have kids, put a worm on a hook anywhere and haul in the sunfish.

Jones Falls is an engineering marvel. The four locks move boaters up and down at total of 60 feet. The dam, an arched cut stone dam, was one of the first built in North America, and in its day, was the highest such dam in North America. It spans a length of 350 feet and rises to a height of 60 feet. It was built from local sandstone, much quarried near Elgin, under a contract with John Redpath. Over 250 men, including 40 masons, worked on the dam and locks. Although it is hard to imagine in this tranquil setting, this was one of the worst areas for malaria during the building of the canal. In the summer of 1828, almost everyone in the camp, were suffering from "swamp fever".

The first lockmaster of Jones Falls was Peter Sweeney. In 1844, the defensible lockmaster's house at the top of the hill was built, and this became the Sweeney family place of residence. It has been restored today to it's 19th century appearance and it is well worth a visit. Sweeney served as lockmaster until 1872. He left behind a journal, known as The Sweeney Diary. A copy of this is available for sale at the Hotel Kenney. The Blacksmith's shop was built in 1843 and used to make repairs to the iron works of the locks as well as fix more mundane items such as the scythes used to cut the grass around the locks.

By picnicking at Jones Falls, you are following a long tradition that dates back to the 19th century. Near the turn of the century, a popular event was the Victoria Day (May long weekend) picnic at Jones Falls. Many locals would don their Sunday best and come out to Jones Falls to enjoy the warm weather and a picnic feast. It is said that if a young woman donned her white summer frock and was courted at the dam that day, she would marry her sweetheart within a year.

Jones Fall via Cty. Rd. 11 to Kingston. - At the end of the day, pack up your gear and head south on Cty. Rd. 11, enjoying a leisurely country drive, back to Kingston.

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©1996- Ken W. Watson