After more than 80 kilometers on the Rideau Trail, I finally arrived at the Rideau Canal. In Ottawa, I began my hike at the foot of the canal, where it meets the Ottawa River, but it took me miles and miles of hiking through fields, forests, and swamps before seeing again the canal that gave its name to the trail.
I am still far from reaching my hiking goal for the year, but it seemed like an achievement.
I must say that my hike on this section of the trail started rather badly. It had taken me just a few minutes walking out of Marlborough Forest to get my feet wet. Then, while the forest gave way to the fields, I lost myself. I could not find the orange triangles, I continued my way through the field and quickly found myself in the scrub to the waist and stepping into water puddles, again.
But hey, I still arrived at Burritts Rapids. And there, the Rideau Trail made me walked over the Rideau River and its canal for the first time.
Burritts Rapids is a cute little hamlet, one of the first built on the banks of the river (towards the end of the 18th century). Many of its historic buildings are still standing today, including a church built in 1832. When you walk on the main street (which the Rideau Trail follows), you can see plaques on each house and building indicating their year of construction and their historical significance.
The swing bridge above the canal dates from 1897. It is activated by hand. And you can still drive over it (if you are not too afraid of the wooden span!). I just crossed it on foot.
The Rideau Trail then follows a long, quiet country road. I couldn’t see the canal anymore, but I could hear it and feel it nearby. Then I saw it again when the Rideau Trail took me to the Nicholsons Locks. The weather was beautiful on this Sunday of August, so the locks were rather busy. I sat there for a few minutes to watch the employees at work, manually opening and closing the doors to allow the boats to continue on their way.
In fact, that’s what’s fascinating about the Rideau Canal. It has remained intact and has changed little since its construction in the 1830s. Almost none of its locks have been mechanized, they still have to be activated by hand. This is what made the canal worthy to be recognized on UNESCO World Heritage List.
As I lost a lot of time watching the canal and its locks, I stopped my hike that day to come back to the same point a few days later. After the Nicholsons Locks, the Rideau Trail continues to follow the road to Merrickville. I made a small detour to visit McGuigan Cemetery on the road, one of the oldest near the canal and in Eastern Ontario. There are mostly the graves of the people who worked on the canal, nearly 50% of whom died of malaria (yes, malaria has already existed in Canada).
After, I hiked two easy kilometres to Merrickville. I already wrote an article about this village that I like, but I was happy to find it in the context of my hike. Here too, you can find locks and historic buildings, including a blockhouse, built to protect the canal in the event of an American invasion. The banks of the canal, converted into a park, is charming. The main street is too.
After Merrickville, the Rideau Trail veers north and follows an anonymous trail for a few kilometres. I did not know exactly where I was, but the forest trail was pleasant and quiet, and the orange triangles still showed me the way forward. I disturbed some partridges and got bitten by mosquitoes (I need a new mosquito repellent), but I did not wet my shoes. That too is an achievement!
I finished my hike as I reached my 100th kilometer on the Rideau Trail. Only 50 kilometers to go to reach my goal!
My journey on the Rideau Trail:
- Km 1 to Km 5 – Year goal: 150 kilometers on the Rideau Trail
- Km 5 to Km 25 – Along the Ottawa River
- Km 25 to Km 35 – In the wilderness of Stony Swamp
- Km 35 to Km 50 – On the country roads
- Km 50 to Km 80 – Marlborough Forest and its horseflies