LUXURY IN THE LOCKS
I was awake early, bringing a coffee to the upper sundeck. We had moored for the night in an enchanting glade below the Burritt’s Rapids Lock and I am greeted this morning to a pink sunrise over the Rideau River – the gray mist that cloaked the locks at first light had now drifted away. I am reminded of the old saying, “Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning,” but since my wife and I aren’t sailing but rather travelling aboard an impressive 45 foot luxury rental yacht along the historic Rideau Waterway, I’m not concerned. We push off and set a course north.
The Rideau River stretches on before us, here and there hemmed by marshland, its glassy surface offers up a mirror image of the ragged shoreline and a cloud-mottled sky. Red and green coloured buoys mark the channel and, as I navigate my Le Boat Horizon Cruiser downstream towards Ottawa, I steer left of the red markers. Smart homes and orderly farms slip past, the landscape getting more civilized, but no less-interesting, as I get closer to the Canadian capital. Our yacht is so expansive that my wife and I do not have to interact if we don’t want to – but, of course, I do cherish her navigational input.
Our smartly-designed vessel comes with four berths with double beds, ensuite bathrooms with showers, a spacious fully-equipped, semi-stocked galley and a dining area with big windows allowing plenty of natural light. The upper deck has a barbecue, wrap around seating and lounging chairs. Bridge controls can be switched from up top to below in case of inclement weather. For such a large yacht it is surprisingly easy to operate even in the narrow locks, with side-thrusters and an ingenious wrap-around bumper system, and the boat’s speed is capped at 10 km an hour to control rambunctious skippers such as myself. I was surprised to learn that no experience or boating license was required, just an orientation at departure.
For fifty years now Le Boat has allowed visitors to access Europe’s most spectacular waterways. In the summer of 2018 the world’s largest rental yacht company brought their luxury cruisers to North America for the first time and the Rideau Canal. Rivers offer a unique way to discover a country and provide an intimate means to explore a region’s landscape, culture and culinary charms. Le Boat lets you set your own course and encounter things at your own pace. There is no worry about finding accommodation; our cruiser is like a floating villa, offering all the comforts of home. Their experience in Europe has allowed Le Boat to perfect the business of luxury rental yachts and, best of all, the boats are surprisingly affordable.
One of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously-operated canal system in North America. Traveling this attractive waterway, you'll be able to unwind and take in spectacular nature, picturesque towns and lively cities. We had started our journey at Le Boat’s new base in the community of Smith Falls – the hardest decision of the whole trip was whether to head south through the bigger lakes on the Rideau chain towards Kingston, or northward through the narrower river passages towards Ottawa. A lover of river travel myself, and because I had explored much of the Rideau lakes before, we decided on a course towards Merrickville and the agricultural wetlands south of Ottawa.
Firstly, however, we make a little side trip to one of Ontario’s most historic, photogenic and best-preserved stone villages. The Town of Perth is situated in Lanark County, about 100 kilometres south of Ottawa and about the same distance north of Kingston. Most of the downtown has been designated a heritage district. The town’s unrivalled stone heritage must be credited to the builders of the Rideau Canal, after the canal mastermind Colonel John By brought in a number of Scottish stonemasons to Canada to work on the stone locks and lock buildings. When the waterway was completed, many of these masons stayed and applied their skills to their new homeland.
Perth is on the Tay River, which is linked to Lower Rideau Lake by the Tay Canal through Beveridges Locks. We hop off for lunch at a riverside Ale House, stroll through the charming stone buildings on the main street, make a quick visit to Glen Stewart Park to see a statue of Canada’s most famous horse, Big Ben, and then, feeling energetic, set off on an afternoon Mills and Mines cycle tour with Heritage Bike Rentals through the beautiful countryside.
Though we could have spent a week in Perth, the next morning we are back on our Le Boat and heading east to Lower Rideau Lake and then north through a winding passage and more locks back through Smiths Falls. The beautiful town of Merrickville is known as the “Jewel of the Rideau,” with its 19th century stone architecture that spans both banks of the Rideau River. We grab a bite at the Red Canoe Café and then tour the Blockhouse Museum, built as a fort in 1826 when the village was a strategic military centre. After a scenic meander through several more locks we moor for the night at Burritt’s Rapids Lock in a light drizzle and so we dined in the spacious sheltered galley.
From Burritt’s Rapids to Long Island Locks is a long reach that offers 21 miles of uninterrupted cruising, passing through a stretch commonly referred to as Millionaire’s Row before reaching Long Island. When you’re cruising along the Rideau Canal you’ll want to take your time, use the optional on board bikes and kayaks to explore the charming rural communities and drop into the quirky shops or waterside pubs and restaurants to sample the local beers and fine cuisine.
Tonight, having reached Ottawa, I am flipping steaks on the barbecue on the boat’s open-air upper deck, enjoying a glass of wine and a beautiful view of the city. Le Boat allows us to dock in Ottawa and have all the amazing Ottawa experiences; go to the restaurants, museums and attractions. A final set of eight flight locks by the Parliament Buildings provide a spectacular drop to the Ottawa River, but we must turn south and make our way back to Le Boat’s Smith Fall’s base.
The trip through the waterway is fascinating, historically marvelous and quintessentially Canadian in every way. Canal and river travel offer peace and relaxation – a way of slowing down the pace of life, of taking time really to see the world around us. There is a steady spattering of locks to keep the boater busy, but otherwise there is little to interfere with the quiet enjoyment of the country. We find the pace of our Le Boat Rideau journey wonderful; the changing scenery and characters we meet lead to new adventures and discoveries around every bend.
IF YOU GO:
PHOTOS: All images by Jamie Ross
1. Our Le Boat Cruiser moored at Burritt’s Rapids Lock.
2. Red and green navigational buoys mark the Rideau channel.
3. We load gear on our rental yacht at Le Boat’s Smith Falls base.
4. A Le Boat Horizon Cruiser heads into the locks.
5. Our Mills and Mines Bike tour in the beautiful Town of Perth.
6. The Rideau Waterway locks are an engineering marvel – simple and ingenious.
7. Most of the locks are still hand operated.
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