Down the Rideau – Post #12 (June 19, 2014)- On board: Jim K & Paul Coates
Down the Rideau Canal we go, heading south toward Kingston, Ontario, which is located on Lake Ontario at the point where it transitions into the St. Lawrence River. The Rideau Canal is an engineering wonder for its time. Colonel By was tasked in 1826 with building a waterway connection from Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River to create a military supply route as an alternative to the St. Lawrence River, a distance of 126 miles through total wilderness. He employed 6,000 workers (of which 500 died) and built 47 locks and 74 dams in just six short Canada construction seasons, opening the canal in 1832. The canal lifts boats a total of 28 stories above the level of the Ottawa River to the high point, then lowers them 16 stories to the level of Lake Ontario. Two years into the construction, Colonel By decided that steamboats were the future, so he decided to redesign the canal with larger locks to accommodate steamboats, even though it meant rebuilding several locks that had already been completed (can you imagine the Change Orders that generated?). It was the largest and most expensive project at that time in the entire British Empire, which stretched around the entire world. Upon completion in record time way ahead of schedule, Colonel By was summoned back to England – for a commendation, he expected. Instead he was hauled before a panel to face a government inquiry into why it cost so much (some things never change…) and an investigation regarding the use of funds. He was acquitted of all allegations, but died 4 years later a distraught and disappointed man. However, his legacy lives on, as the Canal was an enormous economic success and has been in continuous operation since 1832.
Our run down the canal has been fascinating. All the locks are manually operated, and the canal links lakes and rivers to form a continuous waterway. Here are some pictures taken along the route:
One of our favorite stops was in Merrickville, where we tied to a seawall in the downtown area for the afternoon and overnight. Merrickville was settled in large part by British loyalists from the American colonies who fled in 1783 when the colonies won the Revolutionary War, fearing reprisals for their loyalty to Britain. Adjacent to the lock in downtown Merrickville is a fortified masonry Blockhouse, which was built to protect the lockstation from a feared invasion by the Americans. It has been fully restored and houses an interesting Rideau Canal museum. Merrickville grew in colonial days into a significant industrial center, utilizing water power from the strong rapids on the Rideau River to power sawmills, grist mills, and other factories. Remnants of some of the old mills are still standing and can be explored. Fronting Main Street is a collection of historic buildings with architecture from the 1800’s, now housing restaurants, a collection of interesting shops, and other businesses. Here are some pictures:
Our next stop was Smith Falls, a larger and more commercial town than Merrickville. There are three museums in town – the Railway Museum, the Heritage Museum, and a History Museum. Again, we tied up to the seawall in the middle of downtown and walked or biked everywhere, including a pub in town where we watched the Russia/Korea World Cup game. A few pictures from Smith Falls:
We are now in Westport, a small resort village on the northeast tip of Upper Rideau Lake, a side trip of about 5 miles. It is a remote area, and the town is small but quite pleasant with many shops that must be busy at the height of the tourist season. We went to the “rack & tunes” night at the local restaurant/pub, featuring ribs and fries for $10 with live music.
On to Kingston, which we expect to reach over the weekend and spend several days sightseeing. Trish & Pat will join us by mid-week, then we’ll head west on Lake Ontario to the entrance to the Trent Severn Waterway.