Since 2007, this outstanding example of canal-building has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It connects Canada’s capital city Ottawa with Kingston, 202 kilometres (126 miles) further south, through a chain of lakes, rivers and man-made locks and canal-cuts.

Back in the early 19th century, a solution was sought to establish a more effective supply and communications route as a defence system – bearing in mind the territory wars in North America at that time. Under the supervision of the English engineer Lt. Colonel John By, the construction of the slackwater canal system began in 1826. Some 4,000 men worked on the project, approximately 1,000 of whom died from malaria and tough working conditions. When construction works were finished in 1832, the waterway was mainly used for commercial purposes (Legget, 1986) and as a travel route for thousands of immigrants.

Geography of the Rideau Canal

In 1925, the canal was designated as a Natural Historic Site of Canada. Also in 2007 UNESCO decided that the Rideau Waterway was worth being protected and registered the canal as a Cultural World Heritage Site. With the use of new, cost-effective technology and planning methods, and the exceptional historical and recreational value it has – being the best preserved and oldest continuously operated canal in North America – it met two of UNESCO’s criteria. “The Rideau Canal is an extensive, well preserved and significant example of a canal which was used for a military purpose linked to a significant stage in human history” (UNESCO, Criterion iv). In remembrance of the many workers who lost their lives while building the canal, several monuments have been erected.

“In memory of 1000 workers and their families who died building this canal 1826 – 1832”

Living Heritage
Today, the canal is operated by the government organisation Parks Canada. Their mandate is defined as follows:

“On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations.”

As a result of this, each year one third of the canal’s assets are thoroughly inspected by engineers (UNESCO, 2018).

In 2016, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, announced a $57 million infrastructure investment in order to foster economic and touristic development of all cities and communities on the canal.

Along the Rideau Heritage Route, many festivals and events take place throughout the year. Fall Fairs, antique shows, Victorian towns and military blockhouses as well as numerous outdoor activities such as marathons, paddling, fishing and camping attract millions of tourists per year but also offer locals a high amount of recreational activities. Between May and October, the locks are open for navigation and during the winter months, a 7.8 kilometre segment of the canal in Ottawa is  turned into the world’s largest ice skating rink (Horgan, 2017). Not only does the Rideau Canal connect several cities in the Canadian province of Ontario and demonstrates innovative 19th century craftmanship, it is also an impressive example of how heritage can live through the centuries. ▪

Boating during the summer months
Rideau Canal skateway in Ottawa




Government of Canada (10 May 2016) “ Government of Canada invests $57 million in Rideau Canal National Historic Site”, available: [accessed: 18 October 2018]

Targeted News Service (4 September 2013) “Parks Canada Announces Partnership to Enhance the Financial Sustainability of the Rideau Canal”, available: [accessed: 18 October 2018]

Horgan, C., (2017) “Ottawa in the spotlight: as Canada turns 150, has its capital finally come of age?” available: [accessed: 18 October 2018]

Parks Canada (2018), available: [accessed: 17 October 2018]

Rideau Heritage Route (2018), available:
[accessed: 17 October 2018]

Legget, R. (1986, pp. 91 – 94), “Rideau Waterway”, University of Toronto, available: [accessed: 16 October 2018]

UNESCO Website (2018): Rideau Canal, available:
[accessed: 15 October 2018]



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