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Save Our Rideau
Built Heritage

Graded B

A basic requirement of any cultural World Heritage Site such as the Rideau Canal is to maintain the structures that are integral to its designation as a World Heritage Site. For the Rideau Canal that is both the structures that maintain it as an operating canal (locks, dams, weirs, canal walls, bridges) and structures that relate to the heritage aspects of the designation (blockhouses, lockmaster's houses). It is also a requirement for any National Historic Site (the Auditor General in 2003 pointed this out in spades - Parks Canada has a responsibility to maintain the structures that relate to its National Historic Site designation).

The Government of Canada has made significant in-roads in addressing this problem with a $46 million infrastructure program announced in June 2015 and an additional $57 million announced in May 2016.

This funding has now addressed all the heritage structures that were listed as being in poor condition in the 2012 National Asset Review (PDF) although work on several assets for which deferred work was indicated (i.e. Davis Lock) have not been funded.

There also remains a significant problem with base capital funding - the Rideau Canal still does not have sustainable capital funding (see bottom of page of a chart of historic numbers). This remains to be addressed so that we don't end up, 20 or 30 years from now, with the same deferred work problem that the current infrastructure program is partially addressing.

Commemorative Integrity

February 2017 - had a meeting with Parks Canada regarding Commemorative Integrity and Cultural Resource Management of the Rideau Canal. Very disappointing, it was apparent from the meeting that Parks Canada does not have staff with the required skill sets to properly apply CRM policies. Parks Canada has refused a follow-up meeting.

There is a problem in that some of the infrastructure work is threatening the Commemorative Integrity of the site. View the Commemorative Integrity page for a full definition of what it means, but in a nutshell it is the built heritage of the site that relates to its construction (i.e. locks, dams, weirs) and the heritage landscapes of the site which includes everything from viewscapes to overall heritage appearance.

One of the things that threatens the heritage appearance of the site is the use of modern materials for repair, these have a cumulative impact on the historic character of the site. We now have several recent examples of where this has and it may become a bigger problem as the infrastructure work continues. Examples include the "short term" repair of the quoins at Jones Falls done in modern white cement with straight, regular lines. This clashes with the heritage view of the locks (and prompts the very first question I get on every tour I give of Jones Falls - "why do those look so different?"). There is a bit of an excuse for that one since a "short term repair" can only be done with a planned "long term heritage appropriate repair" - and, in theory, that long term heritage appropriate repair will be done if Parks Canada is to follow its own rules.

More recent examples include the 2011 repair to the weir at Jones Falls, done in ultra modern cement (white, straight lines) and includes modern features such as an aluminum staircase (fits okay in a modern factory, not so much on a heritage site). That work, which is in full view to the visiting public, is in contravention of Parks Canada's own Commemorative Integrity policies.

Same goes for the 2015-16 work at Poonamalie where the Minnow Creek Weir was done the same way. It would have taken little effort to try to emulate the original character of the weir, but that was not done - ultra modern white cement was used, with straight lines and a stripped apart open landscape. It completely changed the character of the site. If Jones Falls is any indication, the cement will not "soften" over time. It is in full view of the visiting public, the heritage character (commemorative integrity) of the site was not taken into account in the design of the work. Engineering goals and heritage character can work in harmony. In fact in any planning, the engineering design must take into account both the ecological and cultural commemorative integrity of the site - this wasn't done at Poonamalie.

Public Engagement

Part of the public engagement that Parks Canada should be doing is to consult with local communities about the infrastructure work - to talk to them to get a sense of what the local community thinks about the site and the work to be done (including the design of that work). This has been very hit and miss. In some areas, such as the Bobs Lake Dam and the Burritts Rapids work - Parks Canada has done a lot of public consultation. In other areas such as the work for Jones Falls it has done zero consultation.

Part of the problem is that the public relations person for the infrastructure work is based on the Trent-Severn and so does little engagement on the Rideau Canal. The people in charge of Cultural Resource Management don't do any consultation. An additional problem is that Parks Canada, since it has been isolated for so many years, is unfamiliar with those local communities and so apparently can't identify who they should be reaching out to.

Sustainable Capital Funding

So that we don't repeat the roller coaster of letting heritage structures deteriorate to the point where huge injections of cash are needed to save them - yearly, steady, and predictable capital funding is required. That means a consistent and sustainable capital budget for the Rideau Canal. There is no history for this, it's never happened, but if we look to the past, when Parks Canada took over the Rideau Canal, they were spending a lot more than they are today (in 1975 the number was $13 million (in 2015$). While we're not likely to see that again, we clearly need a lot more than the 1 to 6 million that has been allocated in the recent past, since those numbers are not sufficient to sustain the heritage assets in good condition.

Rideau Canal Maintenance and Capital Spending
in current dollars (not adjusted for inflation)

  2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14
Capital 1,995,148 3,430,617 5,828,132 2,006,665 1,034,424 ~1,900,000*
Maintenance 2,889,586 3,292,393 2,791,111 2,967,600 3,199,362 ~2,950,000*

* 2013/14 numbers based on Parks Canada's stated total of 4.85 million on both maintenance and capital spending.

Links & Documents of Interest

 Auditor General's Report on Built Heritage - This 2003 report is what started it all, forcing Parks Canada to do a full asset review which revealed the scope of the problem. The link is to Chapter 6: Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Federal Government.

 2012 National Asset Review - Rideau Canal - A listing of the heritage assets on the Rideau Canal, their estimated 2012 value and the amount of "deferred work" (required repair work) for those assets - which was $104 million (2012$). Note that this is a subset of a much larger report detailing all of Parks Canada's assets.

 Parks Canada Agency, Report on Plans and Priorities, 2016-17 - This documents contains a commitment by Parks Canada to improve all their heritage assets that are in poor or very poor condition, to fair or good condition, by March 2020. See pages 52 to 54 of this report.

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©2012- Ken W. Watson