May, 2024 Ottawa to Kingston Tour along the Rideau Canal


It was a beautiful spring jaunt through rural eastern Ontario following the early 19th century Rideau Canal. Such a pleasure with 21 of us, mostly Ottawans, six from BC and one from Virginia, cycling from Ottawa to Kingston and back. And under perfect weather except for one morning shower. Linda Graupner led the convoy, with the able assistance of Nel Ahmed and Geoff Kennedy, each leading a separate group. The terrain had a few bumpy hills to add to the interest but nothing that raised more than occasional grumbles. We had three e-bikes.

What delighted the senses during this ride were the early Canadian stone houses, acres and acres of green lawns, super-fragrant lilacs everywhere, split-rail fences, bird songs and serenity. We saw woodchucks, painted turtles, armadas of Canada geese and hordes of dragonflies keeping the mosquitoes under control. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention poison ivy; it was everywhere and made a nice ground cover beside the road.

PHOTO: The relaxed group: L-R, Geoff, Margo, Don, Tim, Robert, Diane.

PHOTO: Geoff and Don repair Marg’s flat. Tim (the engineer) offers helpful advice.

It was a fascinating march through early Canadian history, at least from a western perspective where BC’s “settlement” history commenced in 1843 with the HBC fort in Victoria. Here’s the stats: Rideau Canal, built in 1827-32 to protect Upper Canada from feared American invasion, Kingston Penitentiary (1833-34) for same motive (lol), Fort Henry near Kingston (1837), the city of Kingston became capital of the United Canadas (1841-1844). It would seem Ontario was essentially complete by about 1850. Well, OK, except for a few recent additions such as the Welland canal, St. Lawrence Seaway, the CN Tower and others.

The Rideau canal and lake system is 200 km long and boasts 47 lock stations, 24 of which are hand- operated. We visited more than a dozen. Watching the young park workers in action, it’s quite amazing how easily the lock gates and road bridges are opened and turned by hand. Your scribe could even do it with a little coaching. The man in charge of construction way back then was Col. John By. The canal cost a staggering £822,000. England was appalled, Parliament conducted an inquiry and Col. By was charged with misappropriation of funds. He was subsequently cleared, but died in disgrace. Those damned parliamentarians should have been sent to Upper Canada to understand the challenge of constructing a canal (the largest in North America at the time) in that primitive and isolated bush environment without access to hydro (as we understand the term) or even iPhones. Also, construction workers were dying like flies from malaria. To complete its construction within five years was amazing.

PHOTO: Park girl and Chris opening a lock gate.

PHOTO: Another park worker turning a road bridge over the canal. It took about 3-5 minutes.

In Kingston, some of us toured Kingston Penitentiary, in operation for 179 years and now a tourist attraction run by university students and former guards. Fascinating. We continued on to the university, historic downtown, funky Chez Piggy restaurant and Fort Henry. A coterie cycled around Wolfe Island to admire the wind turbines.

PHOTO: Six of us were incarcerated in Kingston Pen for “unacceptably happy behaviour”: Carole, Marg, Mike, Diane, Margo, Robert.

Here’s your writer’s tour highlights. All lock stations and towns along the route were delightful, and I would particularly recommend Merrickville for its blockhouse; Smiths Falls for major rapids and its old town and Hershey’s is coming back – yaay! Narrows for its amazing swing bridge; Westport’s Cove Inn, for its funky music and where Don was overwhelmed by a surprise birthday cake; Newborough as the highest point on the canal; Opinicon for its historic hotel, park-like setting and best ice cream and root beer float stop of the trip; scenic Kingston Mills; Jones Falls for its dramatic locks, innovative stone-wall dam and generous food: and Athens for its garage sales (every house had one) and cinnamon buns.

PHOTO: Sharing the joke as Don Taylor confronts the biggest b’day cake in Westport. Photo by George.

For more adventurous members who missed this tour, you might consider camping rather than motel accommodation. The locks are part of the federal park system and allow camping. We spoke to a couple of kayakers camping at Jones Falls. They advised their overnight camping fee was $5.50. It appears this may only apply to boaters, not cyclists, but it’s a bargain worth checking out.

Chris Hodgson

Victoria Chapter