It is one of the curiosities of history that a camp for 2,000 construction workers led by Colonel John By should eventually become the capital of Canada. Colonel By’s Rideau Canal begins east of the Houses of Parliament and connects the Ottawa River to the Rideau Valley through a system of locks. Channel banks host a variety of activities for Ottawa residents and tourists alike, from ice skating in the winter to waterfront walks in the summer. The War of 1812, with the fledgling United States, had shown how easily the US could threaten the St. Lawrence. After the war, the Duke of Wellington sent scouts to Upper Canada to see if a solution to the difficult situation could be found.
Colonel John By was sent to Canada in 1826 to oversee the construction of a canal that would bypass the dangerous waters of St. Lawrence in Montréal and provide an alternate route for navigation as far as Lake Ontario, 125 miles to the southwest. At the time of its construction (1826-32), the canal was a triumph of construction engineering. More than four dozen dams were needed to control water levels, and the 83-foot climb to the summit between Ottawa and Lake Ontario meant boats had to pass through numerous locks.
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Although steamboats passed through the canal for over a hundred years, the waterway never took on great economic significance. Today, with its 24 operational locks, the canal is mainly used by pleasure craft and for tourism. The staircase of eight locks on Parliament Hill is very photogenic. Ottawa’s first stone building stood on a site next to the canal.
One of the many interesting features on the Rideau Canal is the Stone Arch Dam at Jones Falls. Other attractions along the Jones Falls Locks include a lockmaster’s house (built 1841), the blacksmith’s shop (built 1843), and Hotel Kenney, one of the oldest hotels in the area (built 1888).
Eight locks at the north end of the Rideau Canal, near the entrance to the Ottawa River, were completely overhauled several years ago. Known as the Ottawa Locksthe area has an interpretive trail along the canal.