1.1 Purpose of the Plan

This management plan establishes the long term strategic direction for the management of the Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada (hereafter referred to as the Rideau Canal or simply Canal), consistent with national legislative and policy framework and based on public input. The purpose of a management plan is to ensure the commemorative integrity of a national historic site, guide appropriate public use, ensure the application of cultural resource management principles and practices in decision-making and conserve the natural values of the Canal. As such, it is through the implementation of the management plan that Parks Canada meets its obligations and fulfills its mandate as a steward of Canada’s national historic sites.

As a strategic plan it is a framework within which subsequent management, planning and implementation will take place. The plan contains a vision which describes the Canal as it could ideally exist in 15 years, a set of principles to guide the actions of all those who affect the Canal, and presents strategic goals and actions that need to be implemented by Parks Canada and others to make this vision a reality. Implementation of the management plan will be through the Eastern Ontario Field Unit Business Plan which will identify the resources required to undertake the actions in the plan.

The management plan updates and replaces the first plan prepared in 1996. While there has been no substantive change in policy direction or the operation and management of the Rideau Canal, the new plan has a focus on key strategies with clearly measurable actions. The revised management plan is intended to be implemented over a period of five years at which time it will be reviewed and if necessary, revised to reflect new conditions. This plan and subsequent revised management plans are tabled in the Parliament of Canada.

The management plan provides direction for the preservation of the cultural resources of the Canal such as the locks at Jones Falls
The management plan provides direction for the preservation of the cultural resources of the Canal such as the locks at Jones Falls.
Rideau Canal photo collection

1.2 Structure of the Management Plan

The plan consists of 5 parts. In section 1, the Plan provides background information which establishes the context for understanding the rest of the plan. Section 2 presents an overview of the values of the Canal through a summary of the Commemorative Integrity Statement. Section 3 expresses the vision and guiding principles. Sections 4 to 12 form the heart of the plan, identifying challenges, key strategies and actions to attain the vision for the Canal prescribed for Parks Canada and in co-operation with others. Section 13 is the summary of the environmental assessment and 14 is the 5 year implementation schedule.

1.3 Challenges for the Future

The history of the Rideau Canal is one of challenges successfully met. Lt. Colonel John By, the builder of the Rideau Canal, faced a tremendous challenge when assigned the task of building the Rideau Canal. In only six years, By supervised the design and construction of 47 masonry locks and 52 dams spread out along a wilderness route of 202 km. In the words of Robert Legget, the pre-eminent Canal historian: “Even today, with all modern construction facilities, this would be a major undertaking. One hundred and fifty years ago it was an unprecedented achievement, worthy to be ranked as one of the greatest civil engineering works ever carried out in North America” (Robert Legget, John By: Builder of the Rideau Canal, Founder of Ottawa, Ottawa: Historical Society of Ottawa, 1982).

Throughout the next 130 years after its completion in 1832, Canal authorities were challenged to keep the Canal open in the face of declining use and few resources.

By the 1960’s as the value of the Canal as a national historic site and recreational waterway became more apparent, a new challenge arose: the need to find a balance between increased recreational use and development of the Canal’s shore-land on one hand, and the preservation of its cultural and natural heritage character on the other.

Parks Canada’s goal is to preserve the cultural and natural values of the Canal and its setting while allowing for sustainable development on lands bordering the Canal and recreational use of the Canal itself. Trying to find the balance between these often competing activities is the challenge faced by Parks Canada, municipalities, other government agencies and the residents of the Canal corridor.

The plan sets out a long range program for Parks Canada, in co-operation with others, to meet the challenge of balancing use and the need for protection of the Canal’s cultural and natural values, thereby ensuring that the Canal will be able to benefit future generations of Canadians.

“Colonel By watching the Building of the Rideau Canal”
“Colonel By watching the Building of the Rideau Canal”
C.W. Jeffrey’s, Canadian National

The watercolour by C.W. Jeffreys provides an insight into the construction techniques employed to build the canal. In this artists depiction Colonel By in full dress uniform is inspecting the work with Thomas McKay the contractor with the Royal Sappers and Miners labouring below.

1.4 The Challenge of Ensuring the Protection of the Historic Resources of the Rideau Canal.

The State of Protected Heritage Areas 1999 Report  identified the Canal’s built heritage to be in  fair to good condition. This was largely the result of investments in conservation and asset maintenance during the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, threats to the commemorative integrity of the heritage resources of the Canal were reduced.

The general reduction in available funds to maintain the cultural resources of the Canal has required that the only work undertaken has been on resources whose deteriorating condition  could lead to loss of historic fabric. Furthermore, the Canal must priorize investments to ensure safe public use of these facilities and to continue to offer through-navigation. In many cases these multiple objectives can be successfully realized through an integrated approach to asset management. Should the current-day funding level persist, it is projected that it will become increasingly difficult to guarantee that commemorative integrity can be ensured.

Scaffolding in the upper lock at Long Island
Scaffolding in the upper lock at Long Island, Bill Pratt

The maintenance of the canal system is an ongoing activity.

1.5 The Fiscal Context for the Management Plan

During the next 5 years there is no expectation of resources, beyond the existing field unit budget, being received to implement the management plan. Efforts will be made towards ensuring the protection of Level 1 cultural resources, especially engineering works in most need of work in order to safeguard  their historic value, and to ensure that safe and reliable navigation is not compromised. As well, the Canal will continue to provide quality service through existing resources and partnerships with others. The implementation table in section 14 of the plan shows that many of the actions of the plan will be implemented within 5 years using the existing financial and staff resources. Any other projects can only be undertaken if additional funds become available.

1.6 Parks Canada’s Role

Parks Canada has the responsibility to provide leadership and stewardship in protecting and presenting heritage areas of national significance. This means managing heritage areas under its jurisdiction to the highest standards and assisting and co-operating with others to protect and present other heritage areas of national significance.

The Stone Arch Dam at Jones Falls
The Stone Arch Dam at Jones Falls, Rideau Canal Photo Collection.

The largest dam in North America when constructed, it dramatically illustrates the need for large dams to constrict the “slackwater” canal system used to construct the Rideau Canal.

1.7 Legislative and Policy Basis for the Plan

The Parks Canada Agency Act extended the legislative requirement for preparing management plans to national historic sites, including historic canals, administered by Parks Canada with a requirement for a review every five years. Parks Canada’s programs are directed by the Guiding Principles and Operational Policies. This document explains how the federal government carries out its national programs of natural and cultural heritage recognition, protection and presentation. The following policy objectives from that document provide direction for the management of the Rideau Canal.

National Historic Sites Policy Objectives:
  • to foster knowledge and appreciation of Canada’s past through a national program of historical commemoration;
  • to ensure the commemorative integrity of national historic sites administered by Parks Canada by protecting and presenting them for the benefit, education and enjoyment of this and future generations, in a manner that respects the significant and irreplaceable legacy represented by these places and their associated resources; and
  • to encourage and support the protection and presentation by others of places of national historic significance that are not administered by Parks Canada.
Historic Canals Policy Objective:
  • to foster appreciation, enjoyment and understanding of Canada’s historic canals by providing for navigation; by managing cultural and natural resources for purposes of protection and presentation; and by encouraging appropriate uses.
Cultural Resource Management Policy Objective:
  • to manage cultural resources administered by Parks Canada in accordance with the principles of value, public benefit, understanding, respect and integrity. All cultural resources under the stewardship of Parks Canada are managed in accordance with the Cultural Resource Management Policy.
Historic Canals Regulations:
  • these regulations under the Department of Transport Act provide the regulatory framework for the management, use and protection of the Rideau Canal in accordance with the Historic Canals Policy and the Management Plan.
Canadian Heritage Rivers System Objective:
  • to foster protection of outstanding examples of major river environments of Canada in a cooperative system of Canadian Heritage Rivers, and to encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of their human and natural heritage.
Brewers Lower Mill 1831-32
Brewers Lower Mill 1831-32, Thomas Burrows, Archives of Ontario

With masonry of lock nearly completed and excavation for Canal in progress, this sketch clearly shows the construction of a typical lock.

1.8 The Role of the Rideau Canal National Historic Site:

1.8.1 As part of Canada’s system of national historic sites:

The Rideau Canal is part of a larger system of over 890 national historic sites which contribute to an understanding and collective sense of Canada’s national identity as well as a shared sense of national pride. These national symbols are tangible links to our past, depict our diversity, achievements, shared values and are examples of Canada’s contribution to the preservation of global heritage.

Within the system of national historic sites the Rideau Canal is a commemoration within the sub-themes of:

  1. Technology and Engineering (within the theme Developing Economies)
  2. Communications and Transportation (within the theme Developing Economies),
  3. Military and Defense (within the theme Governing Canada)
Opinicon Lake, looking to North West, November 1840
Opinicon Lake, looking to North West, November 1840,
Thomas Burrows, Archives of Ontario

The Steamer “Hunter” was typical of the steamers plying the canal. The canal was an important transportation route until 1850.
1.8.2 As a historic canal the Rideau Canal:
  • protects cultural resources under its stewardship
  • protects the natural resources of the Canal
  • provides the public with an appreciation of the significant values of the Canal
  • provides a safe and enjoyable recreational navigation system
  • contributes to the ecological health of the Rideau and Cataraqui watersheds
  • encourages compatible and appropriate use     
  • involves others in the protection of the Canal and its setting, and the  provision of facilities and services for public use and enjoyment
  • protects the heritage values of the Rideau Waterway as a Canadian Heritage River through co-operative action.
Lock Blockhouse at the Narrows, the first descent from Summit towards Bytown
Lock Blockhouse at the Narrows, the first descent from Summit towards Bytown,
Thomas Burrows 1841, Archives of Ontario

The Blockhouse at the Narrows was built to defend this vulnerable lockstation. This was one of a number of fortifications along the Canal and in Kingston.

1.9 The Rideau Waterway Canadian Heritage River

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System has been established by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments for the purpose of recognizing outstanding rivers of Canada and ensuring that future management will protect these rivers and enhance their significant heritage values for the long term benefit and enjoyment of Canadians.

The Rideau Waterway was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in February 2000 for its outstanding human heritage and recreational values. These include the Canal system, its historical setting, the wide range of water based recreational activities, and water quality suitable for recreation. See Appendix C, Nomination Document for the Rideau Waterway Canadian Heritage River, Summary of Values, for a detailed overview of its values as a Canadian Heritage River.

The Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada Management Plan has been recognized by the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board as the guiding direction for the management of the heritage and recreational values of the heritage river. The collective actions to implement this plan will ensure that the values for which the waterway was nominated will be maintained.

Boathouses at Chaffeys - Jim Reynolds
Boathouses at Chaffeys - Jim Reynolds

This view of the historic boathouses at Chaffeys illustrates the human heritage and recreational values of the Rideau Canal.

1.10 The role of other government agencies and municipalities

All three levels of government - federal, provincial and municipal - have a role in protecting the heritage character of the Canal and ensuring optimum recreational use. The federal-provincial agreement to designate the Rideau as a Canadian Heritage River is a recent example of how the governments of Canada and Ontario and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority and Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority worked together to protect the Canal environment.

Despite changes in the responsibilities of government agencies and municipalities since the 1996 plan, the principle of co-operative action still holds true. Indeed, without the participation of all levels of government committed to the guiding principles of the plan, the vision for the Canal cannot be fully attained.

Municipalities are the most important partners in achieving the vision for the Canal. The 7 newly amalgamated municipalities have responsibility for shore-land use planning, development control and the protection of natural and cultural features. The Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority (CRCA) and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) regulate development on and adjacent to the floodplain and on unstable slopes, and are actively involved in shore-land development matters through the Rideau Waterway Development Review Team. Both Conservation Authorities have been delegated the authority to protect fish habitat under the Federal Fisheries Act. The RVCA has been especially active through the Tay River Watershed Management Plan and the Rideau Valley Clean Water Program.

The Ministry of Natural Resources regulates hunting and fishing in the Canal corridor and is involved in the review of municipal official plans. The Ministry of the Environment regulates municipal sewage treatment facilities and is responsible for enforcing pollution control legislation. The Ministry of Culture provides support for museums and heritage groups.

Burritt’s Rapids, Simon Lunn
Burritt’s Rapids, Simon Lunn

Burritt’s Rapids is one of a number of small heritage villages along the Canal.
Kilmarnock - Easton Wetlands, Simon Lunn
Kilmarnock - Easton Wetlands, Simon Lunn

The combinations of wetland, farmland and historic lockstation at Kilmarnock illustrates the diversity of landscapes along the Canal

1.11  Regional Context

The Rideau Canal consists of a chain of lakes, rivers  and Canal cuts, winding 202 kilometers from Kingston on Lake Ontario, to Ottawa, the Nation’s Capital. It is part of a larger system of recreational canals in Ontario, Quebec, and New York State providing unparalleled inland boating and heritage tourism opportunities.

The Rideau Canal links the Rideau and Cataraqui Rivers through 47 locks at 21 lockstations, and 18 kilometers of Canal cuts to create a  navigable waterway between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario. The summit of the Canal is Upper Rideau Lake at 123 metres above sea level. From there the Canal drops 83 metres to Ottawa and 49 metres to Kingston. Connected to the Rideau Canal is the Tay Canal which provides a navigation route to the town of Perth.

Consisting of lands on both sides of the Canal, the Rideau Canal corridor has long been recognized as an area of special interest owing to its unique combination of cultural, natural and recreational values. Although neither an administrative nor a formal planning area, the concept of a corridor is useful in recognizing that the Canal cannot be separated from its surroundings and that land use activities in the corridor have an impact on the integrity of the natural and cultural values of the Canal and its recreational values. Map number 1 identifies the Rideau Canal (the designated place) within the context of its adjacent corridor landscape.

The landscape of the Canal corridor is a mosaic of productive, marginal and abandoned agricultural land, wood lots and extensive forests, wetlands, lakes and rivers, scenic shore-lands and a wide range of settlements ranging in size from the city of Ottawa to small historic villages. This diversity of landscape and its historic resources are associated with the national historic significance of the Canal.

Map of the Rideau Canal
Map of the Rideau Canal
For a larger version of this map click here

© Parcs Canada

1.12 Management Plan Review Program

1.12.1 Planning background

The outdoor recreational boom of the 1960’s led to a realization by the Governments of Canada and Ontario that the Canal should be managed as a historic site and recreational waterway. This led to the transfer of the Canal from the Department of Transport to Parks Canada in 1972. Subsequently, both governments agreed to work together towards preservation and optimum recreational use of the Rideau Canal and Trent-Severn Waterway corridors. As a result, provincial parks and conservation areas were established  and Parks Canada purchased a number of  islands, upgraded visitor facilities, developed interpretive programs and restored locks, dams and historic buildings.
In 1988, in response to increased recreational use and development pressures, Parks Canada produced the Rideau Canal Policies which provided direction for management of the Canal in the absence of a management plan. The first management plan was initiated in 1990 and completed in 1996.

The current management plan is prepared under the provisions of section 32.(1) of the Parks Canada Agency Act and will be reviewed under section 32.(2) in 2010.

1.12.2 The need for an update of the 1996 Management Plan

The first management plan for the Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada provided a comprehensive program for conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural values of the Canal, and identified Parks Canada’s role in shore-land development, ecosystem management, public use of the Canal, and regional tourism. Since that time there have been a number of management plan requirements which have necessitated a substantial revision of the format of the plan. These are: the need to provide a strategic long term guide for management of the Canal, consistency with the requirements for management plans as identified in the “Parks Canada Guide to Management Planning”, and the need to identify actions to ensure commemorative integrity.

Appendix B identifies the actions in the 1996 plan, what was accomplished and what is included in this plan revision.

1.12.3 Plan Review Process

The planning process has been designed to review the 1996 management plan and to prepare a revised management plan consistent with current federal legislation and policies, and the evolving conditions facing the Rideau Canal. The process consisted of a review of the current plan, identification of new issues and trends which need to be addressed, public consultation, and preparation of a final plan.

The public consultation program was designed to involve the staff, the public and government agencies in the preparation of the plan. This was accomplished in the following manner:

  • involvement of Canal staff in the preparation of the draft plan;
  • review of all planning products by the Rideau Canal Advisory Committee;
  • discussions with provincial and federal agencies and municipalities to ensure that the plan is consistent with the policies and actions of these bodies, and to solicit their support of the plan;
  • review of the draft plan by Canal corridor stakeholders;
  • involvement of the general public through open houses and the website;
  • request for comment from Members of Parliament and the Ontario Legislature.
Hog's Back Lockstation

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