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National Historic Site of Canada

The Rideau Canal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1925 (plaqued in 1926, 1962 and in 2013). The following information is taken from the official designation which you can find here:

Heritage Values:

It received this designation because of the significance of:

  • the construction of the canal system,

  • the survival of a high number of original canal structures including locks, blockhouses, dams, weirs and original lockmasters’ houses plus the integrity of most lockstations,

  • the unique historical environment of the canal system.
The heritage value of the Rideau Canal lies in the health and wholeness of its cultural landscape, as a witness of the early 19th-century forms, materials and technologies of the waterway, and as a dynamic reflection of the longstanding human and ecological inter-relationships between the canal and its corridor.

Character Defining Elements:

Aspects of this site which contribute to its heritage values include:

  • the completeness of the cultural landscape as a longstanding system of transportation facilities including the waterway, locks, blockhouses, dams, weirs and lockstations with lockmasters’ houses, associated shore lands and communities, extensive wetlands and lakes,
  • the canal bed and its subdivision into lockstations,
  • the original built resources, in particular, the form, craftsmanship, materials and locations of its early blockhouses, lockmasters’ houses, and lockstation buildings canal walls, locks, dams and weirs,
  • defensive siting, materials and functional design of blockhouses, lockmasters’ houses and lockstation landscapes, and remnants such as the guardhouses at Jones Falls and Morton’s Dam,
  • archaeological remnants of construction including the ruin of the engineers’ building, the remains of the lime kilns, the Sapper’s Bridge and blacksmith shop at the Ottawa Locks, the construction camp at Newboro,
  • remnants of engineering design including the canal route, walls, locks, weirs, bridges such as the remains of Ottawa’s Sapper’s Bridge and submerged bridge at the Jones’ Falls dam, and dams (especially the stone arch dams at Long Island and Jones Falls, and the underwater site of the original dam at Merrickville), and the operational technologies including the manual operation of all locks except Newboro, Black Rapids and Smiths Falls Combined Locks,
  • the wetlands and lakes created by the canal construction,
  • on-going operation of the canal and all evidence of its continuous seasonal operation since 1832 (particularly the integral role of its engineering works in the sustained operation of the navigation system as witnessed by facilities at all locks except Locks 29, 30 & 31 at Smiths Falls Combined, the surviving historic layout and configuration of lockstations including their patterns of open space and circulation),
  • the continuity of historic, ecological and visual associations with shore lands and communities along the route, particularly pathways, view sheds from the canal locks and channel to the central core of Ottawa between the Mackenzie King Bridge and the Ottawa River, view sheds between the canal, the fortifications, the harbour in the landscape of Kingston harbour, views from the canal shore lands and communities between Becketts Landing and Kilmarnock lockstation, along Newboro channel, at Chaffeys Locks, and at the lockstations at Davis Locks, Jones Falls, Upper and Lower Brewers and Kingston Mills.

The 2013 version of the NHS plaque at Jones Falls

"Built between 1826 and 1832, the Rideau Canal is the best-preserved, fully operational example from North America's great canal-building era. Lieutenant-Colonel John By's innovative design was based on a "slackwater" system that linked lakes and rivers on a scale unprecedented in North America. The result was one of the first canals in the world engineered for steam-powered vessels. Its construction though more than 200 kilometres of bush, swamps, and lakes was a monumental feat. Each year, as many as 5,000 workers, mainly Irish immigrants and French Canadians, toiled under the supervision of civil contractors and the Royal Engineers. Working in extremely difficult conditions they endured injury and disease, and hundreds died. This fortified waterway was intended as a safe military supply route between Montréal and Lake Ontario by providing an alternative to the St. Lawrence River. It chiefly served as a key artery for moving goods and people until the 1850s and became a popular recreational destination in the 20th century. The Rideau Canal was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2007."

- Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada

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©1996-- Ken W. Watson