Rideau Canal fish being tested for mercury, other heavy metals

Fish in the Rideau Canal — which was listed this week as a contaminated area this week by Parks Canada — are being tested for PCBs, mercury and other heavy metals.

Testing comes after the area was listed as as contaminated site by Parks Canada

The Rideau Canal in Ottawa as seen from the Laurier Avenue bridge in the 1890s. The federal Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is testing fish from the canal after a downtown stretch was deemed this week to be contaminated. (Library and Archives Canada)

Fish in the Rideau Canal are being tested for PCBs, mercury and other heavy metals, the federal environment ministry has confirmed. 

On Thursday, Parks Canada listed a downtown stretch of the waterway as a contaminated area.  

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is testing fish collected over the summer from Dow's Lake, as well as from three locations on the Rideau River and five on the Ottawa River, spokesman Gary Wheeler told CBC News in an email.

There is concern that the contamination could spread to other wildlife if the fish are eaten, Wheeler said. The ministry has said the risk to humans, however, is low.

Officials have said the discovery of contamination is not surprising — the canal has been home to a paint factory and has had both trains running along its edge and steam-powered boats hauling industrial goods across its surface.

Wheeler said the ministry hoped to complete the fish testing "as soon as possible."

The industrial history of the Rideau Canal 

The Rideau Canal as seen during the construction of the Grand Trunk central station, circa 1911. (Library and Archives Canada)
Construction takes place on the Canada Atlantic Railway Station near the Rideau Canal in January 1896. (Library and Archives Canada)
Railroad tracks arrive at Union Station next to the Rideau Canal in this archival photo. (Library and Archives Canada)
Repairs are made to the bridge over the Rideau Canal near the Chateau Laurier, sometime after 1912. (Library and Archives Canada)
Construction takes place on the Mackenzie King Bridge near the Rideau Canal in 1951. (Library and Archives Canada)