5.1 The Rideau Canal Ecosystem

The Historic Canals Policy and the Cultural Resource Management Policy require the protection of the Canal’s natural resources and identified ecosystem features respectively including some habitats, natural landscapes and resources, and their values. These policies also encourage others to protect ecologically related natural features on adjacent lands through co-operative action and private stewardship. The Historic Canals Regulations, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Species at Risk Act and Canada Fisheries Act provide a federal regulatory framework for protection of ecological values on Canal lands and waters. Provincial legislation regulates fishing and hunting and the protection of water quality. The natural environment of the Canal is considered to be an important aspect of its historic value in the Commemorative Integrity Statement (Appendix A, section 4.0, and section 11.0).

The location of the Rideau within three physiographic regions and two watersheds results in a system with outstanding biological diversity. Most notable are the outstanding range of wetlands, a number of significant plant and animal communities, a number of species of flora and fauna considered to be at risk and one of the most diverse fish communities in Canada. Ongoing research is adding to these lists and further confirming the significance of the Canal’s major wetlands. These are found in a setting in which over half of the shore-land is still in its natural state, a remarkable amount given the Canal’s long history of human use.  As well, 16% of the Canal’s shore-lands is wetland (190 km), and more than 20 of these wetlands are provincially significant.

The Rideau Canal ecosystem, although generally healthy, is subject to a variety of ecological stresses such as nutrient loading from private and public sewage treatment facilities, storm water discharges, agricultural run-off, shore-land development, disturbance and fragmentation of wildlife habitats, fishing pressure, recreational activities and the effects of invasive species. The long term cumulative impact is estimated to be significant as many of these impacts are expected to continue or increase over time. Clearly this points to the need to reduce the sources of stress on the ecosystem. This will be a challenging task as the activities which are the source of ecosystem stress are integral to the economy of the Canal corridor.

Suburban development is not consistent with the ecological health of the Canal environment
Suburban development is not consistent with the ecological health of the Canal environment.
Manuel Stevens, Parks Canada

5.2  Ongoing ecosystem management activities:

  • Environmental assessments as required by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of many proposed private or public in-water and shoreline works along the Canal such as docks, marinas, lock and dam reconstruction and other activities that could affect the environment.
  • Application and enforcement of the Historic Canals Regulations and Canada Fisheries Act to regulate in-water and shoreline works and protect aquatic habitat.
  • Review of municipal official plans, zoning by-laws and other planning instruments with other agencies to influence the adoption of environmentally sound planning policies.
  • Review of planning activities, land division and other development activities to assess and mitigate potential environmental impacts.
  • Participation, co-ordination and technical advice for inter-agency and community based  environmental research projects (eg watershed planning, bio-diversity study,  biological inventories, water quality and aquatic plant  monitoring. etc.)
  • Communicating ecosystem management and environmental stewardship messages to the public, Canal staff and other groups, and providing information on a variety of environmental subjects.
  • Fostering public participation in environmental stewardship
  • Co-operating with other government agencies, stewardship councils, lake, cottage and other associations such as the Rideau Waterway Land Trust Foundation and Centre for Sustainable Watersheds and universities  in conducting research, inventories and environmental monitoring to promote the health of the two watersheds.
One of only a few sections of natural shoreline still remaining between Kars and Long Island
One of only a few sections of natural shoreline still remaining between Kars and Long Island
Manuel Stevens, Parks Canada

5.3 Ecosystem management challenges:

The following major concerns must be addressed to secure the long term ecological health of the Rideau Canal ecosystem.

  • Projected funding limitations over the next ten years may affect the ability of the Canal to develop and implement the necessary range of ecosystem management strategies and programs. Investment decisions will be made through the business plan and based on criteria related to greatest environmental benefit.
  • The need to protect ecosystem features especially those that directly relate to the construction of the Canal as these have historic as well as natural value.
  • The impairment of water quality on a watershed level as a result of the cumulative impact of land management and development activities and the need to establish achievable goals and objectives for water quality, and ecosystem management.    
  • The ability to consistently meet mandated requirements for environmental assessments as required by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and consistent permitting, monitoring and enforcement of in-water and shoreline construction activities with limited staff and resources.
  • The availability of, and access to, environmental data in support of sound decision making, long term planning, and the review of developmental impacts on Canal aquatic and riparian habitats.
  • The need to identify and document environmentally sensitive features such as critical habitats and populations of floral and faunal species at risk for biodiversity conservation purposes in the Canal corridor.
  • The impact of invasive species on overall ecosystem health and especially aquatic biodiversity.
  • The public confusion over the roles of government agencies and municipalities, and public perception that they are not co-operating or co-ordinating their activities and planning.
  • The long term cumulative impact of shore-land development, erosion control structures, docks, boating activities, intensive agricultural use, urban land drainage and sewage treatment plant effluent, and exotic species on the ecological health of the Canal and its associated shore-lands.
  • The need to undertake research and establish an ecological indicator and monitoring program to assess the ecological health of the Canal  and to consistently address a wide range of ecosystem health issues, e.g. the impact of shore-land development on riparian habitat, water quality, protection of threatened, vulnerable or endangered species and tourism use and development.
The protection of wetlands and natural shorelands is critical to ensure a healthy ecosystem
The protection of wetlands and natural shorelands is critical to ensure a healthy ecosystem.
Rideau Canal Photo Collection

5.4  Strategic Goal:

To conserve the ecological values of the Rideau Canal corridor.

5.4.1 Key Parks Canada actions:
  • Protect natural ecosystem features such as wetlands and critical habitats under Parks Canada jurisdiction.
  • Ensure that the potential environmental impacts of in-water construction, and when applicable, shore-land development activities, on the aquatic ecosystem are assessed under the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act and Historic Canals Regulations.
  • Continue the program of monitoring of in-water and shoreline construction activities and enforce infractions under the Historic Canal Regulations, Contraventions Act and Canada Fisheries Act.
  • Complete the inventory of wetlands and other significant natural features under Parks Canada jurisdiction and establish management strategies to maintain their ecological values.             
  • Review municipal planning policies to encourage land use and environmental management policies to protect the ecological values and water quality of the Rideau Canal corridor.
  • Manage submerged aquatic vegetation through harvesting in the navigation channel where it interferes with boating.
  • Parks Canada will show leadership by managing its activities in an environmentally responsible manner.
Osprey Nest at Upper Nicholson’s Lock
Osprey Nest at Upper Nicholson’s Lock,
Rideau Canal Photo Collection

The presence of species such as osprey are excellent indicators of ecosystem health.
5.4.2 Key Actions in Co-operation with Others:
  • Continue to co-operate with other agencies and environmental interests in the establishment of a shared corridor-wide environmental data management program to fill critical information gaps, analyze and manage the data in support of sound decision-making and the protection of ecological values.
  • Complete and make widely available guidelines and best management practices for in-water and shoreline construction activities.
  • Work with other agencies, organizations and stakeholders to identify ecologically sensitive lands for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the Income Tax Act for ecological gifts. Parks Canada will continue to support the identification of areas along the Canal important for potential biodiversity conservation purposes, in addition to those already identified or designated, which include significant wetlands, ANSI sites, migratory bird and fish sanctuaries, islands dominated by unaltered natural landscapes, and significant stretches of undeveloped shorelands, particularly in narrow channel and lockstation areas.
  • In co-operation with other agencies and organizations, establish manageable ecological indicators and implement an environmental monitoring program to assess the environmental health of the corridor over time. These indicators will measure environmental change and monitor the cumulative impact of human activities on the environmental health of the corridor.
  • Prepare and implement a conservation strategy for species at risk.
  • Continue to work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ministry of Natural Resources to protect fish habitat and enforce regulations to ensure the continuation of sustainable fish populations.
  • Co-operate with other agencies and environmental interests to monitor the spread and impact of invasive species.
  • Support, encourage, and where appropriate, participate in community based and inter-agency environmental research, inventory, protection and monitoring projects such as watershed planning initiatives and private land stewardship.               
  • Raise public awareness of ecosystem values and the role of all stakeholders as stewards of the environment.
Merrickville Lockstation

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