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Exploring the Historic Rideau Canal: A Visitor's Guide

Skaters on Rideau Canal
Skaters on Rideau Canal
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It is one of history's curiosities that a camp for 2,000 construction workers, led by Colonel John By, should eventually become the capital of Canada. Colonel By's Rideau Canal starts east of the Houses of Parliament, and connects the Ottawa River to the Rideau Valley through a system of locks. Canal banks provide space for all kinds of activities for Ottawa locals and tourists, from skating in winter to waterfront walks in summer. The War of 1812, with the young United States, had shown how easily the U.S. could threaten the St. Lawrence. After the war, the Duke of Wellington dispatched scouts to Upper Canada to see if a solution could be found to the difficult situation.

Colonel John By was sent to Canada in 1826 to oversee the building of a canal that would circumvent the dangerous waters of the St. Lawrence at Montréal and provide an alternative route for navigation as far as Lake Ontario, 200 kilometers to the southwest. At the time of building (1826-32), the canal was a triumph of constructional engineering. More than four dozen dams were required to control the water levels, and the 83-meter ascent to the summit between Ottawa and Lake Ontario meant that boats had to pass through numerous locks.

The Parliament of Canada and the Rideau Canal
The Parliament of Canada and the Rideau Canal
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Although steamers plied the canal for more than a hundred years, the waterway never came to have any major economic significance. Today, with its 24 operational locks, the canal is used mainly by pleasure boats and for tourism. The staircase of eight locks on Parliament Hill is highly photogenic. Ottawa's first stone building was on a site next to the canal.

Rideau Canal Locks
Rideau Canal Locks
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Among the many interesting features on the Rideau Canal is the Stone Arch Dam at Jones Falls. Other attractions along the Jones Falls Locks include a lockmaster's house (built in 1841), the Blacksmith's shop (built in 1843), and Hotel Kenney, one of the oldest hotels in the area (built 1888).

Eight locks at the north end of the Rideau Canal, near the entrance to the Ottawa River, were completely overhauled some years ago. Known as the Ottawa Locks, the area has an interpretive trail running alongside the canal.

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