National Treasure #138: Rideau Canal

It’s a National Historic Site (since 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2007).

It’s the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, apparently.

It offers the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, assuming just the right mix of temperatures and the expenditure of a lot of money for flooding and snow clearing.

It was built to provide “a secure supply and communication route between Montreal and the British base in Kingston,” bypassing the bit of the St. Lawrence bordering New York state, in case of an American invasion. Opening in 1832, it also offered an alternative route for commercial shipping from Montreal to the Great Lakes.

These days, it serves as a 202-km-long navigable system for pleasure boats.

It was built using natural, navigable bodies of water to the extent possible–the Rideau and Cataraqui Rivers and several lakes–using locks where necessary.

Most of the men who died in its construction died from malaria (!), rather than what we would call workplace accidents.

Lock chambers stepping down to Ottawa River in background.

Northernmost lock on Rideau Canal: Ottawa, at Ottawa River.


Grey wooden gates of dry lock, partially open.

Southernmost lock on Rideau Canal: Kingston Mills, on Cataraqui River.


Rocky outbreak forming Hogsback Falls, near locks on Rideau River.

Hogsback Falls in Ottawa: Example of impediment to navigation on Rideau River, hence the locks.


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2 Responses to National Treasure #138: Rideau Canal

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – I note the exclamation mark after malaria in this post. I once asked a doctor friend of mine why was it that the NWMP troopers at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, suffered from malaria during the later 1800’s. He pointed out that malaria can lie dormant in the human body for long periods of time. Thus, when a mosquito bites someone with dormant malaria, it can be transmitted to someone without malaria and become active in the new victim.
    As many NWMP troopers were former British soldiers who had served in the tropics they brought the malaria with them. The same would apply to the Royal Engineers and many of the labourers who worked on the Rideau Canal. Both Fort Walsh and Ottawa have their fair share of mosquitos as you know.

    From Wikipedia. “Two kinds of malaria, P. vivax and P. ovale, can occur again (relapsing malaria). In P. vivax and P. ovale infections, some parasites can remain dormant in the liver for several months up to about 4 years after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito.”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – That solves the mystery. I couldn’t understand why malaria would be endemic in southeastern Ontario, given our winters. It just seems like it should be a hot-climate disease.

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