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Rideau Canal Lock Doors – Ottawa
We headed over to Ottawa this past holiday weekend to visit their annual Tulip Festival. I’ll have a post on that sometime soon, but since we were there for three full days of course there was time for a few doorscursions 🙂
In the shadow of the Parliament buildings you’ll find an important national treasure and key piece of Canadian history the Rideau Canal.
Canals have locks, locks have doors – hence I get a door post out of it – whoohoo!
Awarded Unesco World Heritage Site status in 2007 the Canal was originally built for military purposes between 1826 and 1832. In reaction to the war of 1812 it was meant to provide a secure supply and communications route from Montréal, Québec to Kingston, Ontario taking boats on a detour away from the border with upstate New York, at the time considered a difficult route to defend.
The waterway stretches 202 kilometers (126 miles) from Kingston to Ottawa and contains 45 locks. Surprisingly only 19 kilometers of the canal had to be dug by hand. The rest simply consists of existing lakes and rivers.
It didn’t take long before the military function of the canal was deemed unnecessary. It saw commercial use for a while but as cargo ships plying the St. Lawrence seaway became larger, ways around some of the more treacherous rapids on the St. Lawrence were devised, and rail service to the interior of the continent came along, the canal gradually saw less and less use.
Today the canal is preserved and operated under the authority of our national parks service, Parks Canada and is open to pleasure boaters from Victoria Day weekend in May until our Thanksgiving weekend in October.
Come winter, Parks Canada turns the Ottawa portion of the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America over to the National Capitol Commission, who convert it as soon as it freezes in early January into one of the world’s biggest outdoor skating rinks.
While we were there we had the good fortune to watch a boat going through the locks.
The simple beauty of the engineering involved in taking a boat from one elevation to another, in steps through individual compartments called locks, is fascinating to observe.
In a nutshell a boat will enter and stop in one lock after which the door behind it is closed.
When going downhill as was the case here, an underwater valve in the lock is opened allowing water to spill down into the next lock.
This raises the water level in that lower lock enough to even out with the lock above – the one that the boat is in. The entire system is gravity-fed. There are no pumps or machinery involved.
With the water level even in both locks the doors can now be opened allowing the boat to move ahead into the next lock.
The whole process is then repeated with the boat going downhill, one step at a time until it clears the final lock.
Parks Canada staff told us that the lock doors are made of steel and are replaced roughly every ten to twelve years. A workshop is even maintained nearby for repairs and to keep the canal fed with replacement parts.
As always, I thank you for looking 🙂
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