To the people who visit Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is an engineering and historical wonder. It was designed by Col. John By of the Royal Engineers and built by French and Irish labourers. Scottish masons, under the leadership of Thomas MacKay, created the locks that allow boats to gain access to the main water ways between Ottawa and Kingston. The locks still operate today as they did in 1832. It is no surprise it was designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2007.
Ottawa locals know the canal's history, but we love it for so many other reasons. From summer to winter it is our playground. We bicycle, stroll, jog and rollerblade on the pathways that hug its shores. And in winter, we get ON the canal. This amazing Skateway is 7.8 KM long. It is the largest outdoor skating rink in the world! Change huts and snack stations are at ice level – put in place in the fall before the water freezes. There is nothing like balancing a hot chocolate in one hand and a treat in another while trying to skate to a picnic table near-by. Sitting down and indulging in one of Ottawa’s favourite treats – Beaver Tails – is a right-of-passage for anyone who sets foot on our frozen Canal, skate or no skate.
We go to the Canal to relax and enjoy the beauty of it all. Ottawa’s artists show up in the early morning or late afternoon to create their own interpretations of what and who they see. The trees and flowers vie for their attention with a dazzling display of colours. In May, Ottawa hosts the world’s largest tulip festival. Nearly 300,000 tulips bloom each year in 30 beds at Commissioners Park. In spring, the bright green buds on the trees burst open and in the fall the leaves turn a golden red.
The canoes silently glide by while people in their pleasure crafts wave to the folks on shore and say hello. We drive on the scenic parkways, not to rush here and there, but to take in the view of the gardens, stately homes and embassies. And an evening out is all the more romantic when it includes dinner at a restaurant that overlooks the Canal.
Yes, the Canal is a great place for historians and engineers but also for the adventurer, the artist, the athlete and the dreamer. So I invite you to come to Ottawa and join us as we explore our Rideau Canal.
Want to visit Ottawa with a local photographer and storyteller? You can get in touch with Colette via her guide profile page, here: Colette in Ottawa.