Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Pamela MacNaughtan

The waters of Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal mirror the blue sky, white clouds, and lush vegetation hugging the shoreline. It’s too perfect, and I’m not entirely sure that what I’m seeing is real. If I was an Instagram girl I’d be lounging at the front of the boat in a swimsuit while my Insta husband takes photos of me. Instead, I’m standing on the top deck of a Le Boat Horizon 3, snapping landscape photos in a euphoric stupor.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal is a place where function and beauty coexist seamlessly. It invokes thoughts of summertime boat tours and ice skating on the canal in winter, but there is more to see and enjoy on the Rideau Canal.

exploring the rideau canal with le boat
experiencing the charm of the rideau canal with le boat

The canal and waterways link several lakes on its 202 km journey from Ottawa to Kingston. On a sunny day, life on the water feels ethereal. A playground for local boaters for many years, the canal waterways are becoming a favourite refuge with boat-less travellers thanks to companies like Le Boat. No boat or boating license? No problem, Le Boat has you covered.

I was so excited when Le Boat invited me to experience Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal for a few days in late summer. I’ve always associated canal boating with European destinations, so I was thrilled to learn I could see more of the canal by boat.

Building the Rideau Canal System

Newboro Lockstation on the Rideau Canal waterway
newboro lockstation

A slackwater canal system, the Rideau Canal (the oldest one in continual use in North America) was built as an alternative supply route from Montreal to Kingston. The Saint-Lawrence River was too close to the American border for comfort; and after the War of 1812, the fear of another American invasion was all too real. 

In 1826, Lieutenant-Colonel John By arrived in Canada, tasked with building the canal. Originally, the canal’s plans featured locks to accommodate small barges. Colonel By, thankfully, had the foresight to make the locks big enough to allow vessels as large as steamboats to pass. With the approval of the higher-ups, Colonel By began construction in 1827.

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It took five years to finish the construction of the Rideau Canal, thanks to the hard work of local labourers (many of whom were Irish immigrants). The finished canal featured forty-seven locks, fortified lock master’s houses and blockhouses, all for the low low price of £800,000 (the British government was not happy about the expense though, tightwads!).

Until 1849, the canal was used often for commercial shipments. Over time, however, vessels slowly switched back to the Saint-Lawrence River. While there was a loss of commercial traffic, local transport continued to utilize The Rideau Canal until after WWI. The canal became somewhat dormant after that, but taking it apart was too expensive. 

Parks Canada breathed life back into The Rideau Canal after it was transferred into their care in 1972. Its battle-weary and commercial transport days are long behind it, but not forgotten. Today, Parks Canada maintains the history of the canal and focuses on preservation and sustainability.

Leaving the hotel in Ottawa early in the morning, we drove towards our departure point, Smith Falls. Stopping at a handful of historic points and towns along the way.

Watson’s Mill

Watson's Mill in Manotick, Ontario - Rideau Canal waterway
Watson’s Mill in Manotick

In Manotick, Watson’s Mill is a 19th-century water-powered flour mill sitting on the shore of the Rideau River. Standing on the opposite side of the river in A.Y. Jackson Park offers a beautiful view of the mill. 

Originally known as the Long Island Milling Enterprise, the mill was owned by Moss Kent Dickinson, Joseph Merrill Currier, and two other businessmen. Circumstances changed, however, when Currier’s wife of 6 weeks accidentally died at the mill. He sold his shares to Dickinson, and the others followed suit. Some say they’ve seen the ghost of Currier’s wife on the second floor where she died.

Today, Watson’s Mill (named for its last owner, Harry Watson) is an active water-powered flour mill. It’s located in Dickinson Square, along with Dickinson House where each of the mill’s owners lived with their families. We didn’t have time to explore, but I’ll return for a flour grinding demo (May to October, Sun 1-3 pm) and a tour through the mill and house. 


Merrickville blockhouse, Wick Witch Apothecary, and Grey Glass in Merrickville, Ontario with Le Boat
charming merrickville

I fell in love with Merrickville the first moment I saw it. It’s a Victorian village of around 3,000 people, perched on the Rideau River, and absolutely charming. While we didn’t have time for a walking tour of the town, we did visit the Merrickville Blockhouse (part of the Merrickville Lockstation Walking Tour). Built between 1832 and 1833, the blockhouse was one of four erected on the Rideau Canal, and the largest defence post (American invasion was a big worry for a time).

The blockhouse has been turned into a museum, exhibiting tools and artifacts chronicling the history of the Merrickville-Wolford area. A short walk from the blockhouse is St Lawrence Street, one of the main arteries of the town. There was candle shopping at Wick Witch Apothecary, gelato for breakfast at Stella Luna, and a stop at Gray Art Glass to admire glassblowing masterpieces.

Our time in Merrickville was long enough to convince me to return – spending a day or two wandering, eating, and shopping.

Afternoon Tea at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario

afternoon tea at the railway museum or eastern onatrio with le boat
afternoon tea at the railway museum of eastern ontario

Before making our way to the Le Boat base in Smith Falls, we stopped at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario. Located in the old Smith Falls train station (built in 1912 by the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway), the railway museum is a fascinating activity in Smith Falls. The train station’s interior retains much of its original architectural details, and there’s a gift shop for souvenirs, but the best parts of the museum’s collections are outside.

There’s a Canadian Northern steam locomotive, and a Canadian Pacific diesel locomotive (both built by Montreal Locomotive Works); a trackmobile used by the Hershey Chocolat Company in Smith Falls; cabooses, a dental car, snowplow car, and more. It’s the perfect place for train-lovers.

The museum hosts events throughout the year, including a delicious afternoon tea in a restored 1899 dining car. Blue and white china adorn tables draped in white linen, a three-tiered serving dish filled with finger sandwiches, scones, and sweet treats perched in the middle of the table. It’s one of the more unique afternoon teas I’ve gone to and so fun.

Le Boat Base in Smith Falls

Le Boat on the Rideau Canal waterway
Le Boat in Smith Falls

While stopping to see Watson’s Mill, Merrickville, and the train museum was fun, arriving at the Le Boat base in Smith Falls sent ripples of joy throughout my body. It was one of those knock-on-wood-perfect days. The blue sky was dotted with puffy white clouds and the water of Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal was like squeaky clean glass. Our gear and food were piled into wheel barrels for easy transportation to the boat. While my chaperones (haha), Guy from Parks Canada and Lisa from Le Boat, loaded the boat, I sat back and admired its beauty.

Le Boat Horizon 3
who needs camping when you can le boat?

Our boat, a Horizon 3, is equipped with three bedrooms, a captain’s chair, a cozy kitchen, and eating space inside. Outside, up a small ladder, is an outdoor table, more seating, a small grill, and another captain’s chair – all under a canvas canopy. There’s space to lay in the sun, too.

Foodie adventures with Le Boat

There’s camping, and then there is Le Boat-ing (I made a verb! haha), both are fun, but the latter is the superior choice. For starters, every Le Boat has a kitchen with an oven, stovetop, microwave, and fridge inside, and a small grill on the upper outside deck. It’s small, but as Lisa from Le Boat proved during our trip, amazing meals happen in small kitchen spaces.

Meals prepared on Le Boat in the Rideau Canal
meals prepared onboard le boat

Stocking the fridge with farmer’s market finds before departure is a good starting point. Think about yummy sunrise breakfasts (or late morning if you had a lot of fun the night before), and leave room to pick up ingredients for lunch and late-night snacks along the way. Don’t plan to eat all of your meals onboard though!

One of the best parts of cruising around the Parks Canada Rideau Canal waterways is stopping in small towns and communities. Spend a few hours (or stay overnight) exploring, stopping in bakeries, eating ice cream, visiting wineries, and checking out local restaurants.


Westport Harbour with Le Boat
Westport Harbour

It was a big cruising day as we made our way across Big Rideau Lake, through the Narrows lockstation into Upper Rideau Lake and over to the town of Westport. At a cruising speed of 25 km/hr (the fastest a Horizon boat will go), the journey to Westport was as delightful as the town itself. The sun was out, the water was calm, and I was wondering why it’s taken me so long to explore the Rideau Canal beyond Ottawa.

The harbour in Westport is small and serene, with grand weeping willows, colourful flowers, and space to relax on land. The main street of town is a short walk from the harbour – it’s where you’ll find Westport Brewing Company. After a day on the water, sitting on a patio enjoying a cold local brew is quite nice.

Beer tasting at Westport Brewing Company with Le Boat
westport brewing company

A 20-minute walk from the harbour is Scheuermann Vineyard and Winery, and my favourite foodie destination along the Rideau Canal. This family-owned and operated vineyard and winery began in 2011 with 500 Pinot Noir and 500 Chardonnay plants on 4 acres of land. Four years later, they opened their doors to the public for wine tastings and have been going strong since that time.

Today, Scheuermann has 9,000 plants across 6.3 acres of land, free-range chickens and sheep, woodfire ovens, and an insanely delicious food menu. Everything we ate was divine, which sounds like hyperbole, but is absolutely true. We started with a wine tasting, the fire-baked artichoke dip, and maple balsamic greens. Pizza was, of course, next. The highland pizza (garlic oil, wood-grilled AAA rib steak, highland blue cheese, wood-fired caramelized onion, white cheddar, and crème fraiche) was a fast favourite.  

Scheuermann Vineyard and Winery
Scheuermann Vineyard and Winery in Westport

Dessert was a serving of salted honey pie, which I am still drolling about to this day. On a beautiful summer (or autumn) day, this winery is a wonderful place to relax. You’re free to roam around or relax under a massive canvas tent. Sure, the chickens may come pecking around your feet, but that is part of the charm. Best of all, you can buy some wine to take back to your Le Boat for later.

Chaffey’s Lock

Chaffey's Lock on the Rideau Canal with Le Boat
Entering Chaffey’s Lock

The route from Westport to Chaffey’s Lock is a delightful mix of big lakes and narrow canal channels lined with lush vegetation. Great Blue Herons perched here and there on rocks, sunning themselves and looking for yummy snacks in the water. As we neared Chaffey’s Lock, canoers paddled around larger boats, and I dreamed of owning a little cottage with a dock. Spending time on the channels and lakes of the Rideau Canal is far more peaceful than I anticipated.

We spent the late afternoon hours relaxing in the tiny harbour, joking with fellow boaters. After sunset, it was time for dinner at The Opinicon. It’s an iconic part of Chaffey’s Lock, starting as the home of John Chaffey in 1896. Over the years it’s been a rooming house, private fishing lodge, and family resort (I keep imagining the resort from Dirty Dancing). Today, it’s home to a restaurant, pub, and 50s-style ice cream shop.

dinner at The Opinicon in Chaffey's Lock on the Rideau Canal
dinner at the opinicon

Sitting in the dining room, we sat back and enjoyed a slow dinner. A coconut shrimp starter leads to a perfectly cooked burger and yummy fries. Having snacked on the boat earlier in the day, I was too full to think about dessert. The next day, however, I was delighted when we visited the ice cream shop and I was able to get a waffle cone piled with tiger tail (orange and licorice swirled together) ice cream. I felt like a kid again, a tasty way to end my time with Le Boat.

Practical Information

passing through locks and utilizing le boat maps
passing through locks and utilizing le boat maps

In terms of communication and ease of booking, Le Boat is one of the best. They make sure you have all of the information you need before arrival. There are guides to help you plan your routes and stopovers, and the staff is friendly and very knowledgeable.

Training and safety before departure – Once everything is loaded, and before departure from the base, Le Boat staff spend an hour or two going over boat safety and the ins and outs of operating the boat. This training and practice period is mandatory for all boaters. Once Le Boat staff decide you’re able to safely maneuver and moor the boat, as well as navigate through the Rideau Canal, the adventure begins.

Navigating Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal – The most important part of cruising through Parks Canada’s Rideau Canal is to stay between the green and red markers. While you can navigate the canal solely by the markers, picking up one of Le Boat’s map books before departure is highly recommended. They contain a wealth of knowledge on routes, boating lanes, etc.

The lockstations – One of the best parts about cruising through the Rideau Canal waterways is the lockstations. There are 27 lockstations on the journey from Ottawa to Kingston, and we passed through four of them – Smith Falls, Poonamalie, The Narrows, and Newboro.

Booking with Le Boat is easy, call them at 1-800-734-5491 or visit their website at While I was invited to experience Le Boat as a media guest, my opinions are my own. I didn’t drive the boat, so no freaky stories about that… maybe next time? They are operating on the Trent-Severn waterway this year, so who knows!

The only downside to my time on Le Boat was the bathroom and shower room. I’m a big girl with big boobs and those doorways are a bit skinny. I was able to get into both, it was just a bit snug. That’s a ME problem though, and I would happily do it again to experience parts of Ontario by water.