The 202-kilometre-long route connecting Kingston to Ottawa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the early 19th century under the direction of Lt. Colonel John By of the British Royal Engineers with Irish and French-Canadian workers. Designed as a war-time supply route to protect Kingston after the war of 1812 polarized tensions between Britain and the United States, the canal was fully operational by 1832.
Today the Rideau Waterway is the oldest operating canal system in the North America and offers the perfect setting for relaxation and recreation, especially for the paddler. Built to connect the Rideau and the Cataraqui rivers, the Rideau system encompasses 49 locks, 24 lockstations, and numerous historic buildings. Still cranked by hand, as they were almost two centuries ago, the ingenious system of levers and gears in the lock system lift or lower boats as much as 20 meters at a time.
The Rideau Heritage Route offers a natural paddling environment through a corridor of lakes, rivers and wetlands – showcasing the beauty and diversity of the region. Travelers pass through historic sites, charming villages and spectacular landscapes including the Frontenac Arch Bioreserve.
Most paddlers will start in Kingston as the prevailing winds from the south-west push up to Ottawa. The Cataraqui River Marsh and extensive wetlands gradually transition to towering granite cliffs as boaters climb over 50 meters to the summit at Newboro where the system connects to the Rideau River for its decent to Ottawa. Approaching Smiths Falls, the limestone plains begin to prevail revealing new habitats and shallow marshes . Continuing on to Ottawa the route meanders through quaint rural townships becoming increasingly urban towards the Nation’s Capital. The decent of 83 meters is completed by the 8 lock staircase nestled between the Parliament Buildings and the Chateau Laurier Hotel.