The Rideau Canal is no longer just the world’s longest outdoor skating rink. it is now a bona-fide UNESCO World Heritage Site. The canal, built between 1826 and 1832 by Lt. Colonel John By, was inscribed on the list of heritage sites early this morning. It is the first man-made site to be designated in Canada.
Although it is now a hub of American tourists either skating or boating their way into Ontario’s heartland, the canal was built as a military transport and communication line to defend against American invasion. It was also one of the most brilliant and inspired engineering feats of its time. Here’s what UNESCO has to say about this national treasure:
The Rideau Canal, a monumental early 19th-century canal covering 202 kilometres of the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers from Ottowa south to Kingston Harbour on Lake Ontario was built primarily for strategic military purposes at a time when Great Britain and the United States of America vied for control of the region. The property, one of the first canals to be designed specifically for steam-powered vessels, also features an ensemble of fortifications. At the start of the project, in 1826, the British chose the so-called “slackwater” technology to avoid the need for extensive excavation. Instead, a series of dams were built to back up river water to a navigable depth and a chain of 50 massive locks were created. It is the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America demonstrating the use of this European technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century to remain operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact. The canal was protected by the construction of six ‘blockhouses’ and a fort. Defensible lockmaster’s houses were later added at several lock stations and, between 1846 and 1848 four Martello towers were constructed to strengthen the fortifications at Kingston harbour. The Rideau Canal is of historical importance as it bears witness to the fight for control of the north of the American Continent.
Also, the Rideau totally beat out the Erie Canal for the heritage site honour. Take that, New York!
Full disclosure: I have a personal attachement to the Rideau Canal. I spent a great summer at the Jones Falls lockstation variously as ye olde blacksmith and ye olde lockmaster, traipsing around in period costume for schoolchildren. I can still forge a rosehead nail in 45 seconds, and I know what it’s like to get bitten by an out-of-control sluice crank.
Also, my dad was instrumental in putting together the UNESCO application. Way to go, pop.
So everyone grab a beavertail and head on down to the Rideau Canal. We always knew it was special. Now it is special and recognized by a major international organization.