Ottawas Rideau Canal a world-class treasure

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OTTAWA-The Rideau Canal, which extends from Ottawa to Kingston, Ont., is much more than just a playground for boaters, fishermen and those fortunate enough to own a cottage along its shores. The Rideau heritage route, as its marketers have dubbed it, contains enough quiet pleasures to keep visitors busy for many summers.
Here are a number of diverse ways you can experience the 202-kilometre waterway and the lands and historic communities along its course. Most can be done in a day or a weekend. But remember - the canal's been here 177 years. There's no need to rush.

• Cruise control
If time and money are short, hop aboard the Harriet By for a 45-minute putter through the Rideau Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Merrickville, Ont.
If you've got a day, consider a trip through the heart of the Rideau Canal on Chuckles, a 30-foot restored vintage cruiser that operates from Chaffey's Lock. A 3 1/2-hour return trip to Jones Falls, Ont., costs $55, with lunch and dinner packages available at additional cost.
The apex of Rideau cruising is a five-day trip from Ottawa to Kingston (or vice versa) aboard the Kawartha Voyageur, a 120-foot, 45-passenger ship. The trip costs $1,475 per person.

• Luxury paddling
There are nearly 200 inns and bed and breakfasts along the Rideau system, many within easy portaging distance of the water. Some even offer pickup services at the waterfront.
That gives canoeists and kayakers the best of both worlds - a superb multi-day paddle through calm waters (unless the wind is blowing, that is) followed by a restful night in a comfortable bed and a satisfying, perhaps even gourmet, breakfast the next morning.
Often, restaurants are within walking distance, meaning it may be possible to banish freeze-dried camp food entirely from the menu.
The full journey, from Ottawa to Kingston, takes eight to 10 days. But if that's too much of a commitment, consider a shorter outing. A paddle from Newboro, Ont., to Jones Falls can be done in a day, Ottawa to Merrickville in three.

• Dine by the water
On a lovely summer's day, nothing beats dining al fresco by the water. In Ottawa, you can check out the Canal Ritz and the restaurants at Dow's Lake Pavilion. But for sheer atmosphere, it's hard to beat Kelly's Landing, a couple of kilometres south of Manotick, Ont.
From the road, it doesn't look like much -a gas station-cum-convenience store and ice-cream bar. But inside is a full-service restaurant with a terrific deck-patio that overlooks the Rideau River. Not only do diners get well-prepared food at reasonable prices, they also get million-dollar views of the many spectacular boats that pass or stop at the restaurant's dock.
For a more casual option, pack a lunch or barbecue dinner and drive to a lock station. Most are like well-groomed parks, offering picnic tables, washroom facilities and, of course, the canal's historic locks, most still operated by hand.

• Play by the Tay
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the completion of the first Tay Canal, which ran from Port Elmsley, Ont., to Perth, Ont. It was rerouted in the 1880s, and is now a 10-kilometre passage that begins in Beveridge Bay, Ont., on Lower Rideau Lake. It's also one of the prettiest paddling routes in the Rideau system.
Anniversary celebrations are already underway, culminating in Tay Canal Week from July 4-12. Events will include canal boat tours, voyageur canoe visits, a classic boat flotilla, concerts and exhibitions.

• The play's the thing
Again this year, the Parks Canada Players - a troupe of university theatre studies students - will perform Ghosts and Echoes of the Rideau, a collection of ghost stories, mysteries and legends of the Rideau Canal. Expect the show to be offered up and down the canal on Saturdays in July, and in Ottawa on Wednesdays and Saturdays in August.

• Camp at a lock station
As long as you arrive by boat, Parks Canada will allow you to camp at most lock stations on the Rideau system for a nominal fee.
There are no reservations and space is allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, but there's rarely any problem getting a spot.
Lock station camping offers soft grass, washroom facilities (usually with potable water) and, in a few cases, easy access to shops and restaurants. As well some stations - Poonamalie, near Smiths Falls, Ont., is an outstanding example - are jewels of beauty and serenity. You'll sleep like a baby.

• Grist for the mills
Back in the day - way, way back - mills were at the economic heart of the region. You can visit two fine examples today, one in Delta, Ont., and the other in Manotick.
In Delta, the Old Stone Mill, built in 1810, is the oldest surviving automatic stone grist mill in Ontario.
In Manotick, Watson's Mill, which dates from 1860, is the only industrial heritage site in the city of Ottawa. A working mill, it sells stone-ground whole wheat flour and whole wheat bread on weekends.

• Hike or bike
The Cataraqui Trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail, follows an abandoned CN rail line for 104 kilometres from Smiths Falls, Ont., to Strathcona, Ont. It's a multi-purpose recreational trail for hiking, cycling and even horseback riding (many horse farms along the route offer trail rides).
The separate Rideau Trail extends from Ottawa to Kingston for about 200 kilometres - 300 including loops and side trails. Maintained by the Rideau Trail Association, it's for hikers only.

• Take to the links
No fewer than 20 golf courses can be found along the Rideau waterway from Ottawa to Kingston. But one, the Links O'Tay, which now goes by the more prosaic name, Perth Golf Course, has a special distinction. Three of its holes have been frustrating hackers since 1890, making them the oldest holes in Canada. The course's first clubhouse was a cheese factory, whose owners created what was at the time the world's biggest cheese as Perth's contribution to the 1873 World's Fair in Vienna.

• Explore historic villages
A cost-free way to experience the Rideau is to take a walking tour through its towns and villages, which are replete with 19th-century buildings. The Rideau Heritage Route Tourism Association has prepared heritage walking tour booklets, with details of each historic property.
Free copies are available at travel information centres along the route.

• Rise to the occasion
For the most part, the topography of the Rideau does not lend itself to spectacular vistas. But there are exceptions. One of the best known is Spy Rock at Foley Mountain Conservation Area, just north of Westport, Ont. It towers 65 metres above Upper Rideau Lake. The view of Kingston harbour from Fort Henry Hill at the system's southern end is equally inspiring.
Less well-known, but perhaps most spectacular, is the vista from the top of Rock Dunder, a couple of kilometres south of Jones Falls.

• Go deep
Inside Murphy's Point Provincial Park, 19 kilometres south of Perth, lurks - wait for it - one of the Seven Wonders of Lanark County! Not impressed? You obviously haven't been to the Silver Queen Mica Mine.
In the early 1900s, minerals were mined and shipped by barge along the canal, providing extra income for the region's hardscrabble farming families. The Silver Queen mine, reached by an easy 2.3-kilometre return trail, operated from 1903-20 and is now open for guided tours (sign up at the park gatehouse). Visitors can descend into the mine, see exposed mica and other minerals, and learn about the life of a miner at the turn of the century. An interpretive trail guide tells the mine's story.
Ottawa Citizen

Organizations: Rideau Canal on Chuckles, Parks Canada, Dow's Lake Pavilion Trans Canada Trail Rideau Trail Association Rideau Heritage Route Tourism Association Silver Queen Mica Mine The Silver

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Kingston, Merrickville Manotick Perth Newboro Rideau River Smiths Falls Delta Port Elmsley Beveridge Bay Lower Rideau Lake Ontario Strathcona Canada Vienna Spy Rock Westport Upper Rideau Lake Point Provincial Park Lanark County

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