The world’s great navigators set off into unknown waters, charting courses never mapped before in search of new worlds and steeling themselves for the high chance they would never return home again. They were masters of the sea, and of their own destiny.
Before them, Polynesian explorers mapped journeys by the stars, relying on celestial navigation centuries before GPS could even be dreamed of, and passing on their knowledge through song.
But here on Canada’s Rideau Canal, there’s no need to worry about any of that.
The world’s largest ice rink melts to reveal something amazing
While in winter this waterway freezes over to form the world’s largest naturally-formed ice rink in the world – with the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks – by mid-May, the Rideau is home to the simple pleasures of canal boating. The kind of boating that requires no licence, no sails to hoist, and no need to leave life’s luxuries at home.
Spreading its watery wings 202 kilometres from Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, Ontario, to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River at Kingston, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously-operated canal in North America.
You’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time
And travelling along it, surrounded by a shapeshifting, untarnished landscape – from the spires of fairy-tale hotels in Ottawa to the wilds of Big Rideau Lake – feels a little bit like waking up in a new European hamlet each day.
Stretch and yawn to the doppelganger of a rural French town, cruise through lagoons lifted from Italy, blink and you’re surrounded by Irish-like fields of green, and cruise dramatic lakes with Dutch and German vibes.
Whichever direction you choose to explore, you’ll be briefed and trained up for your self-drive boating holiday in Smiths Falls, about an hour south of Canada’s capital, Ottawa.
Where to eat, drink and explore
Captain James Cook may have had tonnes of pork, beer, bread and sauerkraut, but if you arrive prepared with your hiking boots and a keen sense of adventure, the rest will all fall into place.
If you opt to head north, include a stop in Merrickville, once of the oldest settlements along the canal, for lunch. Instead of finding bus-loads of Aussies like you would in the well-trodden towns of Banff or tech-kings of Toronto, you’ll meet some of the 3000 friendly locals as you wander alongside picturesque Victorian-era stone houses and have the chance to watch artisans at work.
After a scoop of maple walnut ice-cream from Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe, continue on to Burritts Rapids and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back to Canada’s earliest days. Sitting pretty on an island in between the Rideau River and Rideau Canal, from the water you’ll have the chance to see the Burritts Rapids swing bridge – the oldest structure of its kind crossing the Rideau Canal – being operated by hand, just as it was done when it opened in 1897.Back.