Experience the Rideau Canal: the heartbeat of Canada’s Capital
Built between 1826 and 1832 by Lt. Colonel John By of the British Royal Engineers, the stone-walled canal received a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 2007 and is the first such site in the province of Ontario. People from all over the world are drawn to its urban beauty, its historical significance and its modern recreational uses as it weaves its way gracefully through Ottawa’s charming downtown core. Check out some of the many ways you can explore this scenic waterway all year-round:
BY LAND: Ottawa Locks: the flight of eight massive locks that connect the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal in the summer are still manually-operated and fascinating to see in operation. Watch Parks Canada staff as they crank the cast iron winches by hand to open and close the gates that allow pleasure boats to travel through. Stop at the Parks Canada Lockstation to learn how the system works – just like it did in the 1830s! One of the most picturesque views in Ottawa is looking down on the Ottawa Locks from the Plaza Bridge up above.
Rideau Canal Pathways: the dedicated multi-use pathways that run along both sides of the Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa are popular for cycling, running and walking in the summer, and even for snow activities in the winter. The land is mostly flat with gardens, parks and neighbourhoods lining the way. In May, tulips bloom along the canal during the Canadian Tulip Festival, followed by a variety of flowers in the summer and fall colours in the autumn.
Bicycle rentals of all types are available at RentABike, located across the street from the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel under the Plaza Bridge, and at Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals on nearby Sparks Street. Both also offer guided tours – group and personalized – for all cycling levels. Find out more on Family-Friendly Bike Trails.
As you explore the pathways, keep an eye out for signage and outdoor exhibits highlighting the waterway’s historical and cultural significance. Rideau Canal Promenade installations are located at the following seven sites: Ottawa Locks, Shaw Centre, Pretoria Bridge, Lansdowne Park, Dows Lake, Central Experimental Farm, and Hartwells Lockstation.
ON THE WATER – Boating: from May through October, people flock to the calm waters of the Rideau Canal. Rideau Canal Cruises runs an eco-friendly electric boat cruise that takes you from downtown Ottawa to picturesque Dows Lake. Sit back, relax and enjoy live narration about the canal and the city along the way. Or head to one of Le Boat’s bases located between Ottawa and Kingston (in Smiths Falls or Seeley’s Bay) to rent a luxury self-drive houseboat that’s fully equipped for your boating pleasure.
Paddling: for a relaxing urban experience, rent a canoe, kayak, pedalboat or stand-up paddle board from the Marina at Dows Lake Pavilion. Paddle around the canal’s romantic nooks, urban vistas and small islands – you might encounter ducks, see fish underwater and spot beautiful birds! For more on paddling the canal and other Ottawa waterways, click here.
ON THE ICE – One of Ottawa’s iconic experiences – and a bucket list item – is ice skating each winter on the Rideau Canal Skateway, which is the world’s largest skating rink as designated by the Guinness Book Of World Records. When the canal surface is sufficiently frozen (usually from early January to early March each year, depending on the weather), you can skate on the maintained ice for 4.8 miles from downtown Ottawa to Carleton University via Dows Lake. The Skateway surface is equivalent to more than 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks and you can skate for free, 24 hours a day! Along the way, you’ll see distance markers, heated huts, washrooms and food kiosks. There’s nothing like gliding along the frozen canal, sipping a hot chocolate and eating a delicious, doughy, BeaverTails pastry – the sweet treat was born in Ottawa in 1978.