My Songquest nomination if the Rideau Canal running from Lake Ontario in Kingston to the Ottawa River in Ottawa.
The Rideau Canal is now a World Heritage Site and a marvelous feat of engineering. Colonel By, making judicious use of existing bodies of water, created an unbroken link from Kingston to Ottawa, thus bypassing American controlled sections of the St. Lawrence River in response to the War of 1812.
The canal was never used for warfare, but has since gone on to be a premiere recreational facility. One can boat from one end to the other utilizing various lock systems to adjust for varying water levels and avoiding rapids and other natural barriers.
In winter, the Ottawa end of the canal is turned into a 5 mile long skating rink and is the centrepiece of the Winterlude Festival. People commute by skating and use it as a short cut from one side of the canal to the other.
The canal traverses some of the most beautiful scenery during journey. Lakes, rivers, wooded areas, they are all there for the viewing. Fishing is one of the pastimes enjoyed along the way.
Many people were employed during the building of the canal. Large numbers of French Canadians settled into what is now called the Byward Market and were instrumental in the excavation and building of the canal. Large numbers of immigrant Irish also worked alongside their French speaking counterparts and settled an area beside the canal, now called Sandy Hill. During the time of construction it was known as Corkstown. A new pedestrian bridge crossing the canal allowing easy access to the Ottawa University was recently built and named after Corkstown.
My lives were given to the building of the Rideau Canal. Malaria was a common ailment from the large numbers of mosquitoes that infested the marshes that were dredged for the canal. Accidents also accounted for a number of lives that were lost.
The Rideau Canal may never have been used for warfare purposes, but a tall ship did actually travel the distance from Kingston to Ottawa in recent years thus fulfilling the purpose for which it was designed.
If not for the Rideau Canal, Bytown may never have been renamed Ottawa and chosen as our nation’s capital.
In conclusion, the Rideau Canal is a stunning piece of engineering that is still used today and serves to delight all who boat or skate on it. Historically it had a grand purpose, helped make Ottawa our nation’s capital, and now allows us to enjoy the many outdoor activities enjoyed by Canadians and thousands of visitors to the area.
Let us honour those who had a hand in this wonderful waterway and it’s place in our history. The United Nations recognized the value it has when it named it a World Heritage Site. Maybe it is time that we also did so.