Rideau Canal

After ~ 2 weeks exploring the 1000 Islands in NY and Ontario 🇨🇦, we left beautiful Clayton NY on July 25, 2019. Clayton was our base of operations for our time in 1000 Islands as a pick up and drop off of crew, and as a site for Dean to access parts and expertise to help with an injector pump leak that needed fixing before we head full time into Canada for ~ a month or so. He’s amazing at figuring out and fixing issues; I consider him a PhD candidate in diesel engines with a dissertation project in Perkin engines It was a labor of love. Success!

Dean spent hours and hours “in the hole,”
the engine compartment
John and Cindy, our 1000 Island crew,
heading off for a cocktail cruise
around Camelot Island, one of the Parks Canada islands

“Kings Town” 🇨🇦

We were told by many that Kingston Ontario was a city not to be missed, so we used that to clear Canadian customs. It is the start of the Rideau Canal heading north. And a lovely city it is! We docked at the large Confederate Basin Marina, nestled in the city’s harbor. Kingston was the first capital of Canada, and is called “The Limestone City” as most buildings were built from quarried limestone, after a fire ravaged the city and the city decreed all buildings need to be more fire proof. Kingston is also home to the Canadian military academy and Fort Henry, hilt during the War of 1812. Several Martello towers can be easily spied by their red roofs. Troops were stationed here and the roof could be quickly removed to access large guns.

Confederate Basin Marina, old Kingston City Hall, and a historic Martello military tower

We walked the harbor side path, site of the original train service, and into the wonderful town in search of supplies for the boat. So many neat stores and restaurants to explore! We then took the city’s trolley tour, which was excellent and gave us a big historical and geographical picture. There were quite a few other museums we wish we had time to explore including a penitentiary museum and a Canadian healthcare museum – there are 24 museum options!

Heading north on the Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal is a national historic site of Canada, and also part of their extensive 🇨🇦 Parks Canada. It is a chain of lakes, rivers, and canal cuts winding 202 km/156 miles from Kingston, at the head of Lake Ontario, to Ottowa, Canada’s capital city. Only 19 kilometres (12 miles) of channels were cut to connect two rivers and over a dozen lakes to form the Rideau Canal.


The canal was completed in 1832 and soon became a major route for regional commerce, which lasted for several decades until the takeover of railway. It then became a passage for luxury steamboats, barges, log rafts and steamers. Currently, most of the traffic is from pleasure boats. There are 47 locks 😮 located at 24 lockstations and each accommodate vessels up to 27.3 m (90′) long and 8.5 m (28′) wide. Quite amazing to see the lock filled with a cruise shift or stuffed with a variety of smaller boats, including kayaks and canoes.

Most locks are still operated by hand using the same mechanisms as in 1832, when the canal opened. Under normal seasonal conditions, there is a minimum of approximately (5′) of water in the navigation channel. Trawler Clare draws ~ 4.5 feet so we needed to be careful….

Wood, metal, gears and muscle power

Starting in Kingston (head of Lake Ontario), 14 locks raise boats up a total of 50 m/165 feet to Newboro, the highest point in Upper Rideau Lake. From this peak elevation, 31 locks then lower vessels 83 m/272 feet to the Ottowa River. Finally, the remaining two locks raise boats from the Lower Rideau Lake into the Tay Canal. Phew! That’s an amazing amount of water management and engineering! Colonel By had quite a vision when he designed and executed the canal.


We were excited to start this new segment t of our Great Loop tripand caught the 9 am swing bridge at the entrance to the canal, just outside of Kingston harbor.

Immediately, this canal appeared different from the Erie. More riverways and lakes with a few canals linking them together in a 126 mile waterway path.

Locking through, Canadian Park style

After a few miles, we came upon our first set of locks. This was a flight of 3 step locks, then a small “turning basin,” with one additional lock above. Once you start the flight, you proceed through all 4 locks before the locks change over from ascending or northward boats to those descending or traveling south. With 4 other boats, we lined up on the blue line dock to wait our turn….which can be one or more hours depending on the traffic in either direction.

Waiting for our turn and a view of the first two lock steps

Each lock is manned by a Canadian Parks Lock crew, who are professional and super helpful as they guide us through. Some are year round employees and others are students on summer jobs. All friendly and chatty. We still man all the lines but they make sure everyone is safe. We locked through with a charter houseboat with a first time boating family and were super glad everyone got the help they needed – no bumper boats in the locks as the water rushes in!

So much water!

It was a long and steamy but fun day with us doing 7 locks total in our first 16 NM of the canal. We got the rhythm back and were an efficient team as we ascended up the canal in elevation.

After these locks, we veered off the canal to explore Cranberry Lake and found wonder. After the tight turns and channels of the canal, this lake opened wide and stayed shallow, less than 12 feet everywhere. After two anchoring attempts (grassy bottom), our anchor held just south of the shallow “Cranberries” and we had a wonderful isolated spot for the night – few houses off in the distance but otherwise just us and the loons, which chatted and sang to us through the evening and night. The melodious echoes were calming and restorative. We observed at length two parents with two juveniles who hovered fairly close to trawler Clare. The terns continually harassed the loons, dive bombing them and snatching fish. Quite a sight to watch for our evening entertainment.

Reading up on history:

For background information about the history and culture if the Rideau Canal, I read a book by Ron Corbett, The Rideau Canal: Then and Now. This is an updated version, and is a combination “travel guide” with current traveling info on all the 43 locks and 23 lock stations along the canal, but also historical information about the co struction of the canal and the people and towns. It’s a relatively short read, going section by section of the canal from Ottowa (or the “Entrance Valley” as it was originally called), to Kingston where the canal joins Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

Stepping down

Newboro, Lock #16, is the highest point of the Rideau waterway, 407.5 feet above sea level. So far on the canal, we’ve ascended 14 locks; from this point onward, we step down or descend in each lock until we reach Ottowa, 30 more locks to go!

Because we are also descending and the river is flowing out to sea from this high point, our navigational aids or channel markers as change at this point. Previously, from Kingston to Newboro, the “red right returning” rule with red markers kept to starboard (right side of the boat) as we travelled northward held. Now, our red marks are kept to port (left side of the boat). We are so far inland, it’s hard to think about which direction to the sea!

Loving the lakes…

Because the Rideau Canal is made up with a chain of so many lakes, we’ve been able to veer off the canal onto different portions of these lakes to find wonderful isolated anchorages for afternoon play and quiet sleep. Our favorite discoveries

  • Cranberry Lake (read more above)
  • Morton’s Bay off of Whitefish Lake: super narrow channel to enter then beautiful bay with cliffs and clear water. Popular for swimming with dayboaters but few boats stayed overnight. Hiking trail up to Dundee Rock for amazing views.
  • Big Rideau Lake, with moorings at Colonel By island (Canadian Park) – popular, get there early to pick up one of 10 moorings; hiking trail on island. The swimming was wonderful.
  • Nobles Bay, on Big Rideau Lake, anchorage – many choices of isolated spot with a splattering of camps. We found a lovely spot near the Provincial Park with loons, great swimming and nooks and crannies to explore by kayak.

We sadly left Big Rideau Lake but were ready to explore the next phase. We entered the Rideau River, ending our chain of lakes (and anchoring opportunities) and join many other boaters on the River, going from lock/village to lock/village. Our timing for this phase wasn’t great as we were passing through this more crowded and restricted area during the Canadian Construction holiday, with lots of power boaters from Ottowa and Montreal. We have learned to start traveling early to get to our destination by ~ mid day in order to find an overnight spot. However, the locks here in Ontario🇨🇦 don’t start opening until 9 am so we didn’t get as early a start as we might have liked. But it all worked out and we met some lovely boaters and locals along the way – folks like to stop by, admire Clare in her classic beauty, and chat.

We stopped at the towns along the Rideau Canal

  • Smith’s Falls Lock #31- Big Le Boat charter site, with lots of wall docking opportunities at the Victoria Campground and Marina and the lock docks. We chose the (free) lock docks by the town park, and walked to a relatively nearby shopping area (~ 1 mile) to get supplies at Walmart, Canadian Tire (which is a store with everything here), and a large independent grocery store (which was excellent!). A short walk in the other direction brought us to the quaint but struggling old portion of town. We finished our errands too late in the day to tour the Rideau Canal museum, unfortunately, and left too early the next morning to participate in the guided historical walk hosted every Saturday morning so we didn’t experience all this lovely spot had to offer.
  • Merrickville, Lock #23 -again, busy holiday weekend and just snagged the last possible spot on the free wall in “The Pond” area, near but separate from the lock area. Great historic town with shops, a farmer’s market at the lock, and great restaurants.
  • Hurst Marina – professional and welcoming marina. Laundry done as well as a pump out and water tanks filled, and evening Monk*tails with fellow Monk 36 Looper, “Friar Tuck.”
  • Black Rapids, Lock #13 – our goal destination in order to pick up sister Chris from the Ottawa International Airport. Popular place for boaters, fishermen, picnickers, and bikes. Easy access to the Greenbelt bike paths which were great for biking – we had a lovely 15 mile bike ride.
  • Ottawa! Thankfully, we got to Ottawa early enough in the day to snag a spot on the Parks Canada wall by the Wellington St bridge, which was important to be able to get on the “blue line,” the waiting line, for the famous Ottawa Staircase Locks #1-8. We’d read many reviews about staying in the heart of the city and spoke with several local boaters, and decided to give it a try.

Ottawa: end of the Rideau Canal

Ottawa is a beautiful city, stunning as you start to draw near.

It is a very active city, with bike paths weaving in and out everywhere, and many people ride on them for pleasure and for commuting.

The dock wall is in the heart of the city, in the canal, so people are everywhere as are shops and historical architecture.

A youth group of canoers – from Scotland!

Chris and I attempted to tour the historical buildings, but got caught in a little g downpour so aborted and went back to the boat to change our clothes. We wanted to explore the Parlement building on the hill.

Dean, Chris and I did explore the area by foot, including the ByWard open air marketplace, which was block after block of vendors and restaurants. Great place to stock up on fruits and veggies and people watch over dinner. There was a homeless man, soliciting $ by becoming a statue until he heard money jingle in his cup, then he would juggle two tennis rackets and repose. He had a winning smile.

We secured the boat pretty solidly as we heard about boat vandalism in the area but had a quiet night with city sounds. We had planned to be up early to be in line for the 8 locks to catch the first lock through, but we weren’t early enough. We were surprised to hear boats moving by 5:30 am for the 9:00 opening. We dashed up and headed over, but ended up 7th in line. We made the second grouping as they kindly locked 3 sets of boats down before starting locking the others upward.

Top of lock #8, ready to start the flight down
Our boat, reflected in the windows of the historic building as we stepped down
Our view as we descended; what you don’t see are the many tourists watching this process
We had 6 boats in our lock group,
descending the locks together
Note the waterfall action over the lock walk
The view from the bottom after 8 descending locks – an amazing water staircase!

Goodbye Rideau Canal, hello Ottawa River

We leave the marvelous Rideau Canal, and head eastward on the Ottawa River toward Montreal and Sorrel, with crew Chris in board. Ready for the next stage of this adventure!

By the grace of God we go,

~ Karen and Dean

Categories: August 2019, Canada, Rideau Canal, UncategorizedTags: , ,

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: