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Save Our Rideau
UNESCO World Heritage Status At Risk

This is an archived page (no longer updated)
see the Archives Page

Note: you will find supporting documents for this section at the bottom of this page


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 was magnified by drastic cuts made in 2012 and 2013 (both in funding and heritage expertise within Parks Canada) and by the management restructuring of the heritage canals which has reduced Parks Canada's ability to properly manage the World Heritage Site. Most worrisome perhaps is that the backlog of maintenance work that needs to be done on the Rideau Canal to maintain its structures has exceeded $104 million (2012 dollars).

When the Government of Canada nominated the Rideau Canal as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it made a commitment under the World Heritage Convention to ensure the "protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage" of the site "to the utmost of its own resources" (quotes are from the World Heritage Convention). Clearly with the cuts being done on the already under funded Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, the Government of Canada is not meeting its requirement to support the Rideau "to the utmost of its own resources."

We are in fact a wealthy first world nation that can afford to support our World Heritage sites if there is the political will to so. With the budget cut to Parks Canada and with no intervention by the Government of Canada to the fact that Parks Canada cut the Rideau Canal to a far greater extent than their overall cut (+20% vs 5%), the Government of Canada is abandoning its legal commitment under the World Heritage Convention.

The backlog in maintenance work is now threatening the integrity of the Rideau Canal. For instance, of the 47 lift locks, only 2 (4%) are listed as being in good condition, with 13 (28%) listed as being in poor condition (from Parks Canada's 2012 National Asset Review).

Parks Canada, which has not lived up to its own Rideau Canal World Heritage Site Management Plan (see Details below), in now removing both funding and skill sets that are required to meet the commitments they made to UNESCO when the Rideau Canal was designated a World Heritage site. The restructuring of the Rideau Canal as part of their new, poorly conceived, "Ontario Waterway Unit" has only made the lack of heritage support worse.

The Rideau Canal World Heritage Site

The site includes the boundaries of the Rideau Canal (all the waters of the Rideau, including the Tay Canal, up to the high water mark), plus the Kingston fortifications (Fort Henry, Fort Frederick, and the three Martello Towers). These are all owned by the federal government. In addition there is a 30 metre buffer zone which falls under the jurisdiction of the 13 municipalities that border the Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal World Heritage Site Periodic Report

In 2013 Parks Canada made a report on the state of the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site to UNESCO. What's in that report? What did they say about their heritage management of the Rideau Canal? We don't know because Parks Canada, despite repeated requests, refuses to release the report, even though it should be a public document.
UPDATE: Parks Canada finally released the periodic report to the Ottawa Citizen on Jan 6, 2016. See Documents below.


Built Heritage (the asset base)

The Government of Canada has a World Heritage Site obligation to maintain the assets, the various built structures that serve to keep the Rideau in operating condition and tell the heritage story. This includes the locks, dams, blockhouses, lockmaster's houses, canal walls, weirs - all built structures. The backlog in the maintenance work for these structures has now topped $104 million dollars. See the Built Heritage page for details ...

Rideau Canal World Heritage Site Management Plan

The Rideau Canal World Heritage Site Management Plan is the formal commitment by Parks Canada, as an agent of the Government of Canada, to the conservation and protection of the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site. It details exactly how Parks Canada is supposed to manage the site to meet the Government of Canada World Heritage commitments. See the Management Plan page for details ...

2006 ICOMOS Report

As part of the nomination process, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) did a technical evaluation of the nominated property (the Rideau Canal and the Kingston fortifications). This technical evaluation report made several observations and recommendations. One was to protect the visual values of the Rideau Canal. See the ICOMOS report page for details ...


The 2012 purge of heritage expertise within Parks Canada and the restructuring of their administration of the Rideau Canal, lumping it in with the Trent-Severn Waterway, and operating both as simply recreational canals and water control systems has put the Rideau's World Heritage status in jeopardy. See the Restructuring page for details ...


When the Government of Canada nominated the Rideau Canal for World Heritage Status, they committed at that time to supplying the finances and resources to fully live up to both their international obligations under the World Heritage Convention and the commitments they made in their management plan for the World Heritage Site.

Their agent for these commitments, Parks Canada, which has not lived up to its existing World Heritage commitments, is now removing the funding, management capability, and the heritage skill sets required to properly manage the Rideau World Heritage Site into the future.

It should be noted that Parks Canada is aware of most of these concerns. While some issues are new concerns due to the current cuts, much of what I present here was part of my Heritage Issues List that I presented to Parks Canada in 2010. I've yet to receive a formal reply.


The following are some of the documents (PDF files) relating to the Rideau's World Heritage Status


The following is taken from UNESCO's World Heritage website regarding the designation of the Rideau Canal:
Outstanding Universal Value

The Rideau Canal is a large strategic canal constructed for military purposes which played a crucial contributory role in allowing British forces to defend the colony of Canada against the United States of America, leading to the development of two distinct political and cultural entities in the north of the American continent, which can be seen as a significant stage in human history.

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.

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

The nominated property includes all the main elements of the original canal together with relevant later changes in the shape of watercourses, dams, bridges, fortifications, lock stations and related archaeological resources. The original plan of the canal, as well as the form of the channels, has remained intact. The Rideau Canal has fulfilled its original dynamic function as an operating waterway without interruption since its construction. Most of its lock gates and sluice valves are still operated by hand-powered winches.


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© 2012- Ken W. Watson