The canal was opened in 1832 as a military strategy against a possible war with the US and is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. Sadly, as many as 1,000 workers died from malaria during its construction over 6 years. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.
The Rideau Canal is now popular for pleasure boating with cruises offered by various companies. In the winter, parts of the canal in Ottawa are turned into the world’s largest outdoor skating rink.
Next to the locks is the Bytown Museum. It’s a history museum housed in the oldest stone building in Ottawa, built in 1827. Ottawa was founded as Bytown in 1826, after British Lieutenant-Colonel John By, and changed it’s name in 1855. It does a great job telling the history of the city and is also kid-friendly with some interactive exhibits. As of September 2016, adult admission is CAD$6.50, with a six language audioguide included.
The imposing building just above the canal is the Château Laurier, a landmark hotel built in 1912 by the defunct Grand Trunk Railway. It was built in conjunction with Union Station (now the Government Conference Centre), located across the street. Canadian National Railway merged with Grand Trunk in 1923 and the hotel became one of the most important in its chain (which included Château Frontenac in Québec City).
After I crossed the locks and admired the scenery on the Ottawa River, I ended up in Major’s Hill Park, where I found a small Celtic cross erected as a memorial to the workers who died during the construction of the Rideau Canal. Walking through the wooded park offers great views of Parliament Hill and the river. From there, I explored the rest of downtown Ottawa.