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Rideau Canal closes for winter, 1953

Wonders of nature and marvels made by people stretch all across Canada. From a preserved Haida village in B.C. through Alberta's rich dinosaur fossil grounds to old Quebec City and a Viking settlement in Newfoundland, 15 remarkable Canadian places have been deemed World Heritage sites by the United Nations. CBC Digital Archives takes a tour of some of these internationally recognized national treasures.

There goes the last boat through Ottawa's Rideau Canal for 1953. On this warm November day, workers are closing the canal's locks and they won't be open again until spring. In this CBC-TV feature, we get a close-up look at the historic locks and the annual canal closing process. "The locks are opened on the old hydraulic system by manpower and have hardly been altered since their construction in 1832," explains the narrator.
• First opened in 1832, the Rideau Canal stretches from Ottawa to Kingston, Ont.
  • The canal was initially designed to provide a safe route for military supplies from Montreal to Kingston in case of war with the United States. But by the time the canal was completed in 1832, war with the U.S. was no longer a threat so it was never really used for its intended purpose. The canal did become an important travel route for immigrants heading west into Upper Canada, however, and it was also an important commercial route for goods like grain, timber and minerals.

• When constructing the canal, a huge labour force was needed to dig the lock pits, haul the stones, and build the dams and locks. Most of these labourers were either French Canadians or Irish immigrants. Unfortunately, hundreds of workers died of malaria during the construction. Several memorials to those fallen workers have been erected along the canal route.

• By the end of the First World War, commercial traffic along the Rideau had almost completely disappeared. But the canal had taken on a new role: the beautiful scenery along the waterway made it a desirable tourist route, and people soon began using it for recreational boating. It's still used for this purpose today.

• There are 45 locks at 23 stations along the canal, plus two locks at the entrance to the Tay Canal (which leads to Perth, Ont.). The canal itself is approximately 200 kilometres long.

• As was the case in this 1953 CBC-TV clip, most of the locks today (2010) are still hand-operated.

• Since the 1970s, Ottawa has used a 7.8-kilometre stretch of the Rideau as a skating rink when the canal freezes in the winter. It's the equivalent of 90 Olympic hockey rinks in size, and has been designated by Guinness World Records book as the "world's largest naturally frozen ice rink."

• In 2007, the canal was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

Medium: Television
Program: Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: Nov. 22, 1953
Duration: 2:19

Last updated: February 8, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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