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Author Topic:   Rideau Canal June 2013
jimh posted 06-28-2013 12:19 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
In mid June we returned to the Rideau Canal for another very pleasant week of cruising and living aboard our 22-foot Boston Whaler boat. I have previously described a transit of the Rideau Canal in detail for our 2007 trip there. See

Here I will very briefly highlight a few differences.

Operation of the canal system is conducted under Parks Canada. This Spring there was a great deal of controversy created when Parks Canada announced it was going to change the user fees for the canal system, increasing them rather steeply, at least doubling all fees and in some cases increasing them even higher. In addition, hours of operation were to be cut back and services reduced. This raised a protest from many sources. Before the canal system opened, the increased fees were postponed. Parks Canada said it will hold the fees for three seasons, and then increase them. They also reduced the operating hours of the system, and reduced the number of people at each lock. They also closed all the historical sites and eliminated the guides and historical re-creators who had been employed.

Our trip was made during the pre-season lock schedule. Lock employees worked only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This meant that the earliest you could lock-through was about 10:30 a.m., and you had to arrive at the last lock you wanted to pass through prior to 3 p.m. The effect of these hours was to make it hard for us to maintain our planned schedule of lock transits. We had to push each day to make our locks. It was just as well that all the historical sites were closed, as we would have had very little time to visit them if they had been open. Several days we couldn't find time to stop for lunch at a lock because of the shorter hours of operation.

We found that the lock masters were still very friendly and helpful, but they were not shy about mentioning their dislike for the reduced hours of operation and the substantial reduction in boat traffic that had been seen so far. The traffic reduction was attributed to boaters having been scared away by the announcement of higher fees, which was then retracted just before the system opened. Trips through the canal are usually planned in advance, and the notice of much higher fees may have changed many boaters' plans for this summer.

The Rideau Canal system is the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America, and it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site a few years ago. It is certainly a cultural and historical jewel for Canada. It has been in operation for 181-years. I am sure it is expensive to maintain it, but once you have a World Heritage Site, you can't really toss it out in the trash. It would seem like you are obligated to maintain it. Considering how much influence the locks have imposed on the flow of water in the region among the many lakes and rivers of the system, shutting down the canal might be more expensive than maintaining it. Exactly what the future holds for the Rideau Canal is hard to say. Perhaps the policy of Parks Canada will change if a new government is elected. In any case, I would suggest that sometime in the next year or two might be a good time to visit the Rideau Canal, while it is still possible to transit the system in a recreational boat at a reasonable cost. The trip this year in our 22-foot boat cost about $120 for a six-day canal pass.

Our route this year was mainly the same as our prior trip. We travelled from Kingston toward Ottawa. Our rally point changed to the Portsmith Olympic Harbour Marina. We met two other Boston Whaler boaters there, fellow SE Michigan boaters Don and Elsa on their very similar REVENGE 22 LITTLE ZEPHYR, and our neighbors a few blocks away, Suzanne and Paul, on TOTEM, an OUTRAGE 18.

Portsmith Olympic Harbour has two nice large launch ramps and getting a transient berth was no problem. We also arranged parking there for the week for our trucks and trailers. The only downside: the marina seems to have a permanent swell rolling in from Lake Ontario. We had to retreat from our assigned slip to a sea wall in the most remote corner in order to get a the boat to stop rocking and rolling. Also, the boater's bath house, while in good shape, is located down a dark tunnel, which at night seemed a bit scary to visit. The marina was reconstructed in 1974 to accommodate the 1976 Summer Olympics sailing competition. Sailing_at_the_1976_Summer_Olympics#Sailing_1976

On the first day of our canal transit we again stopped at Jones Falls and had dinner at Hotel Kenney.

The meal there was spectacular. They have a new chief and his kitchen gave us the most delightful Sunday evening dinner we've had in years. It was excellently prepared and served, and I highly recommend this hotel restaurant. We also stayed at their dock, instead of at the adjacent locks gray-line (where boats can stay overnight for a fee), which gave us opportunity to use the hotel's boater's bath house with showers. Some of our fleet rented a cabin from the hotel for the night, but the beds were not of the same excellent quality as the food.

On the second day we stayed in Portland, a small village on Big Rideau Lake and a new town for us, and we had a lovely dock at Len's Cove Marina with an unimpeded view of the lake.

Unfortunately, the restaurant at the marina had changed their hours due to lack of business this season, and they were closed that Monday evening. That forced us to hike into the village, where alternate dining choices were a bit slim. We ended up at a pizzeria, whose offerings were not particularly memorable.

On the third day we took a side trip on the Tay River Canal. To transit the two locks at Beverages, we had to call 48-hours in advance and make appointments with the canal system, as these locks are no longer staffed. They sent lockmasters to meet us at the locks at the appointed times. The lockmaster told us we were only the second boats to pass through these locks this season, another bit of evidence of how much traffic has been reduced. The seven miles up the Tay River to the town of Perth were worth the effort. We had nice docks and showers at Last Duel Park marina, about a ten minute hike from town.

In Perth we had a choice for dinner from among 17 restaurants. We tried Michael's Table, a moderately priced establishment, and had an excellent dinner.

On the fourth day we skipped Smith Falls as a destination, but if making your initial transit I would now recommend staying there. We were very surprised that the several finger piers of the marina at the locks were completely empty of boats. When we visited here in 2007 the docks were full, and we got one of the last slips available. This is another sign of a substantial reduction in boat traffic this season. We had also heard of several new restaurants having opened and offering excellent food. Unfortunately, the Hershey's Chocolate factory has closed. The canal system museum was still open, but we did not have time for a visit due to the short hours of the canal system operation.

As we approached the lock at Poonamalie, we joined another boat, MAGGIE C, a 27-foot Albin, traveling to Ottawa. We then locked through as a four-boat fleet the rest of the day.

We pressed on to Merrickville, arriving too late to transit the locks, and we tied up for the night on the blue-line docks above, with permission of the lockmaster as long as we left on the first morning lock cycle. Here we had a very interesting encounter with a fellow Boston Whaler cruiser passing in the other direction. Aboard the REVENGE 25 R T FISHER we chanced to meet Richard T. Fisher's nephew Dick and his wife Jane. We had a very nice gam with them and exchanged information for further contact.

Locals gave us mixed reviews of several restaurants in town. For a change of pace we tried the Mainstreet Tavern.

I stuck with very simple fare--a hamburger--but others tried more complicated dishes with mixed results. Perhaps we'll go back to Gad's Hill Place the next time.

The fifth day we pressed on, making a long run without any locking on the natural course of the Rideau River at planing speed, and arriving about 5 p.m. at Hurst Marina. We ate again at Swan on the Rideau, a tavern adjacent to the marina. The marina is nice, but the slips have a lot of green water and algae due to lack of circulation or flow. At the tavern, the fish and chips were nothing special. The beef pies looked better. The beer was excellent.

On the sixth day, we pushed on to Ottawa. The day began with a bit of a wrinkle. We approached the flight of locks at Long Island, and found the ample stretch of blue-line dock (the space indicating you wish to pass through the lock) was taken up by two boats. These two had tied up in such a way as to occupy about 100-feet of wharf even though their two boats combined had a length of about 50-feet. Our fleet of three had to struggle to tie to about 40-feet of remaining space. When the lock gates opened after about a 20-minute wait, it turned out neither of the two boats ahead of us was planning to transit the locks. I can imagine that in the peak of summer with more boats in the system that little imbroglios like this are much more common.

We stopped for lunch at Hartwell's, the last lock before the flight of eight in Ottawa through which we did not intend to transit. There we had another serendipitous reunion with old cruising acquaintances, running into Wendy and Nick, whom we met in Deep River on the upper Ottawa River in 2004.

They had sold their 24-footer and bought CORVETTE CONNECTION, a beautiful 390 Mainship trawler, and gave us a tour of their new summer home on the water.

Departing Hartwell's turned out to be harder than anticipated due to a bit of an engine problem on one of our cruising companion's boat, but we remedied this with a short tow, as our destination, Dow's Lake, was about a mile ahead. Dow's Lake had three slips for us, and their new boater bathhouse had nice showers with in-suite toilets, a big improvement over the last visit.

We arrived on the weekend of the Italian Festival in town, and the adjacent streets of the Little Italy neighborhood were packed with visitors and attractions. We had another great meal at Pub Italia, and enjoyed the street festival.

Ottawa is a marvelous city to visit. On Saturday we bought an all-day bus pass for two for $7. We visited the War Museum on this trip, and found its exhibits very interesting. They have a remarkable collection. We spent about four hours there. It was nice to get out of the sun and into some air conditioning, as it was a very hot and sunny day.

Paul and Suzanne, both artists themselves, took our recommendation to visit Canada's National Art Gallery. Like we did in 2007, they found the Group of Seven collection there to be stunning. Don and Elsa took a tour of Parliament, and sampled the delightful cuisine of the Bytown markets.

About 5 p.m. Saturday we waited for the number 101 bus, which took us directly to the VIA Rail station. We took the 6:17 train to Kingston, which was exactly on time. At Kingston, a $15 cab ride (shared three ways) took us to the marina. We retrieved our trucks and trailers, and drove back to Ottawa, arriving about 11 p.m.

Parking the trucks and trailers was a bit complicated by the street festival, as the parking lot was very full. We managed to squeeze the three boat trailers into narrow spots. A big wedding reception was going on at the pavilion at Dow's Lake, but by this point in the trip I was so tired that it did not keep me awake for one minute.

Sunday we hauled the boats at the nice ramp at Dow's Lake. It was a long drive to home, about 520-miles. Traffic was light except for a slight delay East of Toronto. We arrived home about 8 p.m.

This cruise was very fun. We enjoyed the company of our two fellow Boston Whaler boaters. The situation with the locks and their reduced hours did have a slight impact on our travel. With an extra hour or two of operation we could have taken a slower pace on some days, and it would have been fun to visit some of the historical sites adjacent to the canal which were closed.

It seems clear that the announcement of the large fee increase and the reduction in hours has affected travel in the Rideau Canal system. I hope Parks Canada can work out the economics of running their World Heritage Site. It is a very interesting place to cruise, particularly in a small boat. The canal provides all the support you need for pleasant cruising in a small boat: bathrooms, showers, marinas, docks, restaurants, small towns to visit, and wonderful scenery. Watching the 181-year-old locks being operated entirely by hand is a delight. I recommend a transit of the Rideau Canal while it is still easy and affordable.

jimp posted 07-05-2013 04:46 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimp  Send Email to jimp     
JimH –

Good report, thanks.

Surprising about the lack of boat traffic. Increased park fees and the price of gas put a dampener on things.

We just got back from Fairbanks, AK (a niece got married). 67 mile ferry ride Juneau to Haines aboard the Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferry Malaspina (408’, 88 vehicles), then 660 miles of driving the Haines Highway (156 miles) and the Alaska Highway (ALCAN). The drive starts in Alaska, north to British Columbia, then NW through The Yukon, and back to Alaska (300 miles in Canada). Surprising here, too, was the lack of traffic, very few R/Vs. We did see one R/V convoy at a rest stop (in 1,300 miles of driving), maybe 6 R/Vs, but all the rest was just an occasional one. Relatives in Fairbanks said it was the price of gas.

Very hot for Alaska, in the mid 90s for part of the trip. Motels and restaurants are not equipped with air conditioning, so it was a bit uncomfortable at times, 95F eating at Fast Eddy's in Tok, AK. On top of that, the mosquitoes were out with a vengeance and all the stores had sold out their bug spray AND fans.


jimh posted 03-20-2015 10:56 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The 2015 season of operation of the Rideau Canal will be the last season in which the fees remain frozen at their old costs, and it is anticipated that in 2016 an increase in fees will occur. If you are planning to cruise the Rideau Canal--which I highly recommend--you might consider planning for this season if at all possible. The present fees are given at

18AGAIN posted 05-11-2015 06:41 AM ET (US)     Profile for 18AGAIN  Send Email to 18AGAIN     
Just a side note to this great trip, we did it in 2012 in our Outrage 18 and tented at all the locks. This is one of the best trips you can take without worrying about nightly accommodations.
jimh posted 05-14-2015 01:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
A further incentive to visiting the RIDEAU CANAL this summer is the value the Canadian dollar: after many years trading at par or above par, the Canadian dollar has fallen to be worth only $0.83. That means your American dollar becomes $1.20 Canadian. You'll be paying 20-percent less for everything this summer in Ontario. It is a good time to visit.

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