View of two locks in the evening beside tree-lined shore. Jones Falls Lock Station, Rideau Canal World Heritage site

Rideau Canal, Ontario

Two large recreational boats with their owners sitting in a full lock. A train is visible on a bridge in the background. Kingston Mills Lock Station, Rideau Canal World Heritage site
Two kayakers paddle on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa beside the National Arts Centre. A large American recreational boat (the Integrity) is visible as is the Peace Tower and East Block of Parliament Hill. Kayaking on the Rideau Canal
© Ottawa Tourism

Date of Inscription: 2007

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Rideau Canal was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee under the following criteria:

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 military purposes linked to a significant stage in human history - that of the fight to control the north of the American continent.

Description

The Rideau Canal is a recreational paradise, attracting visitors from across North America and beyond to travel its 202 km length and explore its historic engineering and military feats at 24 unique lockstations . Consisting of a series of beautiful lakes and rivers connected by canals, it stretches from Kingston to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America.

This engineering marvel and the fortifications built at Kingston to protect it were constructed at a time when Great Britain and the United States of America vied for control of the north of the American continent. Conceived in the wake of the War of 1812, it was to be a war-time supply route providing a secure water route for troops and supplies from Montreal to reach the settlements of Upper Canada and the strategic naval dockyard at Kingston. Through a stroke of brilliance, Lt. Col. John By of the British Royal Engineers envisioned and built a canal that would join the Cataraqui and Rideau Rivers. Thousands of Irish immigrants, French Canadians and Scottish stonemasons were among the labourers who helped push the canal through the rough bush, swamps and rocky wilderness of Eastern Ontario. Opened in 1832, the Rideau Canal was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century, and today is the best-preserved ‘slackwater’ canal in North America, and the only canal from the great 19th-century canal-building era that still operates along its original route and with most of its original structures intact.

When the fear of war passed, the canal soon became a major artery for regional commerce. Today, the log rafts, barges and steamers have given way to pleasure boats and paddlers, while scenic driving, cycling and hiking routes along the waterway provide easy access to the lockstations by land.

More Information

Parks Canada:

Rideau Canada National Historic Site

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

World Heritage Centre:

World Heritage - Rideau Canal