The Rideau Canal (French: Canal Rideau), also known as the Rideau Waterway, connects the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on the Ottawa River to the city of Kingston, Ontario, on Lake Ontario. The name Rideau, French for "curtain," is derived from the curtain-like appearance of the Rideau River's twin waterfalls where they join the Ottawa River. The canal was opened in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States and is still in use today, with most of its original structures intact.
The canal system uses sections of major rivers, including the Rideau and the Cataraqui, as well as some lakes. It is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, and in 2007 it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is operated today by Parks Canada as a recreational waterway. The locks on the system open for navigation in mid-May and close in mid-October.
The construction of the Rideau Canal was a preventive military measure undertaken after a report that during the War of 1812 the United States had intended to invade the British colony of Upper Canada via the St. Lawrence, which would have severed the lifeline between Montreal and Kingston. The British built a number of other canals (Grenville, Chute-à-Blondeau and Carillon Canals, all along the Ottawa River) as well as a number of forts (Citadel Hill, La Citadelle, and Fort Henry) to impede and deter any future American invasions of Canadian territory.
As many as one thousand of the workers died from malaria, other diseases and accidents. Most deaths were from disease, principally complications from malaria (P. vivax), which was endemic in Ontario within the range of the Anopheles mosquito, and other diseases of the day. Accidents were fairly rare for a project of this magnitude; in 1827 there were 7 accidental deaths recorded.
In 2007 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognizing it as a work of human creative genius. The Rideau Canal was recognized as the best preserved example of a slack water 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.
The 202 kilometres (126 mi) of the Rideau Canal incorporate sections of the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers, as well as several lakes, including the Lower, Upper and Big Rideau Lakes. About 19 km (12 mi) of the route is man-made. Communities along the waterway include Ottawa, Manotick, Kars, Burritts Rapids, Merrickville, Smiths Falls, Rideau Ferry, Portland, Westport, Newboro, Seeleys Bay and Kingston. Communities connected by navigable waterways to the Rideau Canal include Kemptville and Perth.
In winter, a section of the Rideau Canal passing through central Ottawa becomes officially the world's largest skating rink. The cleared length is 7.8 kilometres (4.8 mi) and has the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks. It runs from the Hartwell locks at Carleton University to the locks between the Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier, including Dow's Lake in between.
It serves as a popular tourist attraction and recreational area and is also the focus of the Winterlude festival in Ottawa. Beaver Tails, a fried dough pastry, are sold along with other snacks and beverages, in kiosks on the skateway. In January 2008, Winnipeg, Manitoba, achieved the record of the world's longest skating rink at a length of 8.54 kilometres but with a width of only 2 to 3 metres wide on its Assiniboine River and Red River at The Forks. In response, the Rideau Canal was rebranded as "the world's largest skating rink".
Rideau Canal Festival
The Rideau Canal Festival is a festival that takes place in Ottawa annually on the Civic long weekend in August. The festival program focuses on 3 main themes: Rideau Heritage, active lifestyle, and World Heritage/Environment. The festival celebrates the Rideau Canal with a flotilla, tours of the canal, art and photo exhibits, music, and bike tours. The festival is geared towards families and includes children activities as well.
The festival started in 2007 and since then has been directed by Michel Gauthier. It was a response to the 2007 UNESCO World Heritage recognition. The festival was also the very first festival in Canada to adopt the Aim-for-Zero model, which includes strategies for minimizing the carbon foot-print of the festival. Aside from focusing on educating the public on the history of the Canal, the festival seeks to raise funds to assist in preservation efforts. Programs such as Adopt-A-Metre are used to assist with such an effort.