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The Canals of Canada
An historic and modern view of the canals of Canada

Canals have played an important part in the economic and social development of Canada. Undertaken but never completed during the French regime, they were begun soon after 1760 and reached the peak of their development and use during the mid-19th century. The financing and construction of canals to improve navigation on the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes; the Rideau Canal constituting a waterway between the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence, and the canals communicating with the American waterway system of New York state are discussed in detail. Several waterways were proposed and some actually constructed in the Maritimes and in the West. Part of this deep waterway system culminated in the St. Lawrence Seaway, a successful venture in international cooperation.

A recreational boaters “to do” list for navigating historic locks and canals

If touring Ontario’s many canals, locks and waterways is at the top of your “summer bucket list,” there’s no better time than now to make plans. Recreational boaters have several historical destinations to choose from for their summer boating vacation. Hundreds of kilometres of waterways connected by historic lock stations and canals will be open to explore on Victoria Day long weekend, so get ready for navigation season on Canada’s canals and waterways.

Before embarking on one of these incredible, floating vacations, boat owners should ensure they possess valid licenses, permits and insurance coverage. Boat owners and renters should know a pleasure craft operator’s card is mandatory for operators of boats fitted with a motor. It’s also worth noting that a pleasure craft operator’s card is not the same as a pleasure craft license. Boats with motors that are ten or more horsepower will require a pleasure craft license.

Safely navigate Ontario’s historic canals
For both boat owners and renters, it is necessary to possess proof of having successfully completed a boating safety course. Vacationers should expect Ontario’s historic canals and waterways to be regularly patrolled by police that have the ability to write tickets and fines, on the spot, under the Canada Shipping Act and the Department of Transport Act, which, incidentally, includes the Historic Canals Act. Yes, there actually is a Historic Canals Act!

It would also be prudent for boaters to visit the Office of Boating Safety webpage, to download the latest Boating Safety Guide. This webpage is an excellent source for all kinds of information on boating in Canada. Boaters will also find a link to a handy boating safety app that can be downloaded to both Android and IOS smartphones. Having quick access to pertinent boating information will make navigating the following historic canals and lock stations a breeze.

Rideau Canal and Waterway
The 202 kilometre long, Rideau Canal and Waterway is both a National Historic Site as well as a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its legendary canals and 47 lock stations. Parks Canada has ensured boaters and visitors alike will enjoy many things to do and see along the waterway, which covers the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers from Ottawa, south to Kingston Harbour on Lake Ontario. These hand-operated locks and mechanisms were originally built as a military installation in 1832 and are still hand-operated to this day.

The Rideau Canal and Waterway welcomes 90,000 boats during each Navigation Season, which gives recreational boaters all the reason to plan ahead for their boating vacation. It’s as simple as visiting the Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal webpage in advance to purchase seasonal lock and mooring permits. Due to high traffic and the “first come first serve” rule, a seasonal mooring pass is recommended for all of Ontario’s historic canals to make the best use of precious vacation time.

Trent-Severn Waterway
For boating and canal enthusiasts, pristine scenery meets a “must see” engineering marvel along the Trent-Severn Waterway. The Peterborough Lift Lock, also known as Lock 21, is currently the world’s highest hydraulic lock, and is definitely a crowd-pleaser. There are 43 other locks in service along this epic, 368 kilometre-long waterway route to Georgian Bay, include six heritage lock stations. However, for a truly unique experience, boaters must visit Lock 44, aka, the Big Chute Marine Railway. Consider this lock as an amusement park ride for a boat. There are vessel size limitations for the Big Chute: weight: 90 tonnes (99.0 tons) length – 30.5 m (99.2′) beam (width) – 7.3 m (24′).

Once again, Parks Canada offers visitors plenty of things to do with a stunning natural back drop along the banks of the historic Trent-Severn Waterway.

Sault St. Marie Canal
Built in 1895, the Sault St. Marie Canal was the first electric-powered canal in the world, and at one time the world’s longest lock. In 1998, a new recreational lock, featuring the gate machinery from the original lock, was opened. This national historic site offers recreational boaters a beautiful, scenic connection between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. Boaters, pack your bicycles and take advantage of a newly upgraded biking paths and trails located alongside the canal.

With Victoria Day long weekend just around the corner, it’s time to get started on the pre-launch to do list. Boat owners that make advanced planning and preparation a priority will have a much more enjoyable vacation while navigating the historic locks and canals of Ontario.

Starting June 1st 2020, the Rideau Canal National Historic Site will offer limited visitor access and basic services along the entire system, with the exception of Jones Falls and Kingston Mills. Trent Severn and Sault St. Marie Canal will also open June 1, 2o20.

Enjoy the 2020 Navigation Season on the historic canals and locks of Canada, but please follow the directives of the provincial health authority for safe boating. If you have questions regarding insurance of your current recreational boat or if you are looking to buy a new or used boat, call the Safe Harbour Insurance marine agents 1-877-731-1224.

Report of the Canal Navigation of the Canadas
By Lieut.-Colonel Phillpotts of the Royal Engineers (1844) (pdf)

The Canals of Canada
By John P. Heisler (1979) (pdf)

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