Appendix C

Rideau Waterway Canadian Heritage River Nomination Document, Summary of Values

2.1.1 Human Heritage Values

The backbone of the Rideau Waterway is the Rideau Canal, built as a secure military transportation route linking Montreal and points east via Ottawa and Kingston to the Great Lakes and the opening up of the West. The Rideau was part of the grand strategy for the defense of British North America against the perceived expansionist threat from the United States of America following the War of 1812. The project was wholly financed by the British Treasury and was designed and built under the supervision of Lt.-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. The system opened for through navigation in less than six years after construction began. In its time, the Rideau Canal was considered a remarkable engineering achievement. The arch dam at Jones Falls, for example, was the largest dam of its type in the world when constructed in the late 1820s. The Rideau’s extensive engineering works were almost entirely constructed of masonry, unlike most North American canals of the period. It was the first canal in the world whose locks were large enough to accommodate steamboats, thanks to the wisdom of John By, who foresaw civilian use for the waterway after its military days were done. With 47 locks located at 24 lockstations plus numerous dams, weirs, embankments and channels, the builders of the Canal controlled and reshaped the lakes and rivers of the region into a 202 kilometer navigation route from the Ottawa River at Ottawa to Lake Ontario at Kingston. In total, 18 of those kilometers are through artificial channels while the remainder use the natural channels of the Cataraqui and Rideau Rivers. All of this was accomplished in a remote, wilderness, region posing a host of engineering, logistical, and human hardship problems that had to be overcome.

At the time the Rideau Canal was begun, Kingston had a population of about 1,000, primarily Loyalists from the United States. With the construction of the Canal, Kingston became a strategically important site as it commanded the southern end of the Canal where military supplies, troops, and ordnance would have to be transhipped into lake vessels for forwarding to the frontiers of Upper Canada. In 1836, the Fort Henry redoubt was constructed on the heights of Point Henry with the sea battery and stores depot being completed in 1841. It was not until 1846-48 that other defense structures were added - the Murney and Shoal Towers, the Market Battery, Fort Frederick Tower and the Cedar Island Tower. Today a restored Fort Henry Complex and the fortifications erected in 1846-48 remain, along with many distinctive public buildings, including the county courthouse, make Kingston rich in built heritage.

The town of Perth had its origins as a depot of the Rideau military settlement in 1816 and evolved into the administrative center for the district by 1823. Many Rideau Canal workers settled in the area after construction and built fine Georgian buildings reflecting styles prevalent in Upper Canada at the time. Perth’s early character was influenced by Scots who arrived as part of an assisted emigration scheme at the same time as the military settlers. However, as early as 1842, the Irish were the dominant ethnic group in Perth. A strong agricultural community, based on the Perth clay plain, helped sustain the local economy as the lumber frontier moved farther up the Ottawa Valley. Today, Perth is recognized as one of Canada’s architectural gems.

From 1832 to 1846, the Rideau Canal was the primary transportation route between Upper and Lower Canada. With the end of British protective tariffs and the completion of the locks on the upper St. Lawrence River in 1847, the Rideau’s importance declined to that of a regional waterway. The coming of the railways in the next decade further marginalized the Canal’s importance. The British Board of Ordnance continued its ownership and operation of the Canal until 1856 when the system was signed over to the colonial government of Canada. The period of the Canal’s military administration was over.

The Tay Navigation Company was incorporated in 1831 and construction began on the Tay Canal in June of that year. Two locks were completed at Port Elmsley in 1831 but the rest of the Canal had to wait until 1832 due to lack of funds, malaria and heavy rains. The completed Canal was 16 Km. long and included five separate locks, six dams, two swing bridges and a turning basin in Perth. 

While, fortunately, the Rideau Canal was never tested in war, it played a significant role in the commercial life of eastern Ontario through the 19th and well into the 20th century. It facilitated resource extraction and export, agricultural development and industrial centers along the corridor and it played an important role in the growth of the City of Ottawa, the nation’s capital. By the turn of the century recreational activities along the Canal began to assume considerable economic importance. By the 1960s, all commercial traffic was gone and the Rideau had become a recreational waterway and magnet for sports enthusiasts and cottagers from all over eastern North America.

Many significant features remain from the early days. Most original engineering structures are not only in place but are operational, and over half of the military buildings survive. Nearly all lockstation landscapes display their original layout and configuration and many retain their mid 19th century character, thanks in part to Parks Canada which manages the Canal for the protection of the heritage values that make it so special. Whereas these built features are the key historic resources of the Canal, the Rideau Waterway is more than the sum of its engineering works (locks,dams, bridges) lockstations and masonry buildings. The construction of the Canal and the opening of through navigation held far-reaching implications for the natural and human history of the corridor. The Rideau Waterway is an historic transportation route linking together diverse natural and cultural elements along its length and in doing so links the past to the present. Parks Canada’s National Historic Site Commemorative Integrity Statement, describes the Waterway as a unique historical environment where the historic place is approached as a cultural landscape due to the complexity and extent of the elements which make up the Rideau Canal system.

The Rideau Canal has been recognized as a national historic site on several occasions. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada first recognized the national importance of the Rideau in 1925. This was reconfirmed in 1926 and again in 1939 when the Board approved the wording for plaques to commemorate the Rideau’s national historic importance. Finally in 1967, the Board recommended that the Rideau Canal be declared a national historic site.

During deliberations on the Trent-Severn Waterway in November, 1987, the Board commented in a comparative note that the Rideau Canal “is unique among Canadian canals in that so many of its original structures have survived as built and most of its lockstations retain their integrity....”.

All of this leaves us today with a waterway of enormous historical importance to Canada. At 166 years old, it is North America’s oldest operating 19th century canal. It is an engineering marvel of its time and a monument to the long and distinguished history of Canadian engineering. It is the reason that Bytown was founded which led, following a name change to Ottawa, to its eventual choice as the capital of the new emerging country of Canada. It is a pioneering example of efforts at multiple uses for our rivers and early regulation of water quantities, flood plain control and watershed management. The large scale hydrological planning, the ingenuity of the engineering structures and the scale of the logistics of supplying men and materials through remote wilderness support the fact that the Rideau Waterway represents a triumph of human ingenuity and endurance. It was Canada’s first transport mega project.

2.1.2 Human Heritage Integrity 

Parks Canada’s National Historic Site Commemorative Integrity Statement for the Rideau Canal demonstrates the heritage values which make up the site. Based on the deliberations of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, the reasons for the national historic significance of the Rideau Canal are as follows:

  • the construction of the Canal system;
  • survival of many original Canal structures including locks, blockhouses, dams, weirs and original lockmasters houses plus the integrity of most lockstations;
  • unique historical environment of the Canal system.

The Commemorative Integrity Statement calls the Canal a unique historical environment, including not only locks and dams but also wetlands, cottage areas, undeveloped shorelines, farms, small towns and village scenery. Taken all together, this waterway presents a living cultural landscape that is at once historic, scenic, natural and man-made.

In addition to the nationally significant values noted above, the Rideau Waterway was known for its natural sites for grist mills to grind grain and sawmills to process wood. In the latter half of the 19th century, textile mills were developed at Burritt’s Rapids, Merrickville, New Edinburgh (Ottawa), Perth and Smiths Falls. Stove and agricultural implement factories started up at Merrickville and Smiths Falls, and cheese factories were established throughout Carleton, Frontenac, Leeds and Grenville, and Lanark Counties. The Woolen mills are now nothing but ghostly reminders of an industrial past, but a cheese factory survives in the village of Forfar.

2.1.3 Recreational Heritage Values

The lands and waters of the Rideau Waterway support an impressive array of leisure and recreational activities for hundreds of thousands of visitors and residents every year. The three nodes of recreational activity include the historic City of Kingston, the traditional cottage country of the Rideau Lakes, and the lively, world-class water-related events and facilities in and around Ottawa, the Nation’s Capital.

The Rideau Waterway is a prime recreational destination for much of eastern North America. The swimming, pleasure boating, fishing, and hunting in and near the Waterway is renowned and has been for over 160 years. It did not take long after the Canal was built for civilian boaters, sportsmen and private adventurers to use Colonel By’s Canal route as a path to interior lakes and rivers that were previously inaccessible. Today, there are many provincial and municipal parks and marinas, numerous fine beaches, camps, resorts and scenic roads for visitors along the Waterway. The Rideau is also used extensively by school and camp groups who canoe it in part or in its entirety.

Boating is the prime recreational activity drawing people from far and wide to cruise the restorative waters of the Rideau in canoes, power boats and sailboats. In 1997, over 76,000 vessels of all sorts locked through the system during the relatively short five month boating season. Boating is not new on the Rideau. In fact, use of water craft on the Rideau has now been documented back to about 6,000 B.C.

A stone tool from the Archaic era found in 1979 near Rideau Ferry shows a primitive drawing of a canoe with six people paddling on the water. It represents one of the first signs of water craft in Ontario and shows that the Rideau Waterway has a particularly long history of water travel.

The explosion of civilian use of the waterway in the late 1800s brought thousands of people onto the lakes every summer for holidays, many on steamboats. First in luxury hotels like Kenny’s at Jones Falls and the Opinicon at Chaffey’s Lock, and later in private cottages and residences tucked serenely on the grey rocks of the Precambrian Shield, the reputation of the Rideau Waterway for civilized wilderness experiences grew and grew. Today, the Rideau Lakes are one of the best locations for cottaging and summer fun anywhere in eastern North America.

World-class rowing and kyaking facilities can be found at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa. Under the auspices of the Rideau Canoe Club, games, festivals and training takes place from ice out in the spring to late October. Several of Canada’s Olympic athletes and world champions train here regularly . The Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association (CRCA) chose the Rideau Waterway at Merrickville for its national headquarters in 1995. In June, 1998, Canada Post issued a stamp honoring Bill Mason, one of Canada’s best-loved canoe enthusiasts. The first stamp was issued and postmarked in Merrickville at the CRCA headquarters. At the southern end of the system, Kingston has been the site for summer Olympic sailing events and other international sailing competitions.

There are 43 marinas on the waterway serving thousands of resident and transient boaters. Antique and classic boats hold regattas and shows on the waterway. Festivals such as the Tulip Festival, the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Festival Canada and the Franco-Ontarien Festival are held on the Rideau each year. Ottawa is also the site of Winterlude, one of the nation’s premier winter festival centered on skating on the Rideau Canal. For ten to twelve weeks in mid-winter, the Canal becomes one of the world’s longest skating rinks stretching some 8 km. from the National Arts Center to Hartwell’s Locks across from Carleton University.

The Rideau Waterway corridor is home to some of the best hiking and cross-country ski trails in eastern Ontario. Foremost among these is the 300 km. Rideau Trail linking Kingston to Ottawa. The Rideau Trail opens up whole new venues for birding, nature appreciation, conservation education and fitness.

The Rideau Waterway has a hallowed place in Canada’s family of National Historic Canals. In 1998, a series of postage stamps issued by Canada Post highlighted several of these historic routes including two stamps showing the Rideau Canal. The Rideau Waterway is, on a larger scale, part of the international canal network. Many people travel the great distances using interconnecting navigable water routes to see and enjoy some of the world’s finest water systems.

2.1.4 Recreational Integrity Values

The purpose of this section is to describe how the Rideau Waterway appears to meet the recreational Integrity guidelines.

In addition to meeting both of the above guidelines, for a river to be judged to have outstanding Canadian recreational value, it should possess water of a quality suitable for the recreational activities pursued.

In addition to meeting the recreational value guidelines for Canadian Heritage River Status, the Rideau Waterway possesses water quality adequate for many forms of recreation throughout its length, from on-water recreational pursuits such as swimming and boating, to related pursuits such as hunting, fishing, and nature appreciation. In fact, swimming is enjoyed from end to end on the river including Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa. This level of water quality is due to efforts made by many provincial, regional, and local agencies. On-going public education projects further demonstrate a commitment to improve the quality of the resource for future generations.

2.1.5 Natural Heritage Values

The purpose of this section is to describe the outstanding natural heritage features of the Waterway and its immediate environment.

The Rideau is not being nominated on the basis of its natural heritage values because of impoundments on the system. However, there are a number of significant natural resources along the Waterway that serve to enhance both the human and recreational heritage values. Such resources include Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), major wetland areas which contribute to wildlife habitat, rare flora which are ranked by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and by the Atlas of the Rare Vascular Plants of Ontario (ARVPO), and rare fauna which have been evaluated by COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) and by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR).