Although this post covers a relatively short distance – about 225 miles – it spans the longest time period yet, more than three weeks of our travels. We spent a good deal of this time exploring the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal, which in their own way were as important to the development of English Canada as the St. Lawrence River and Lachine Canal were to the development of Quebec.
- The Ottawa River provided power to supply mills of many kinds, and the means to export raw materials to Montreal and beyond. The main export was wood, and for a time during the 1800’s Britain could not have maintained its navy (or naval superiority) without lumber from the Ottawa Valley.
- The Rideau Canal also had a military connection (as it appears much did in those days). The canal was an outcome of the War of 1812, built to provide a ‘back door’ supply route if the Americans again threatened the St. Lawrence River connection between Montreal and Kingston. Constructed between 1826 and 1832, it is one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. Perhaps more impressive, it has enjoyed continuous operation in essentially the same manner since it was first opened.
Our other focus was Ottawa. Formerly called Bytown after Lt. Colonel John By, the British Royal Engineer who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal, it developed from a remote lumbering and milling town into a beautiful national capital. Sir Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s Prime Minister when many of the legacy buildings were constructed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, professed that he wanted to build a capital as impressive as Washington DC. Although the dominant styles are quite different, with Ottawa displaying a more British/European look (no surprise there), we would say this has been accomplished.
It was also interesting to visit the national museums in Ottawa. We spent time at the Aviation Museum, the War Museum and even the Currency Museum (we had previously been to the very impressive Museum of Civilization, so it wasn’t on our list this time). The buildings and exhibits were on par with the Smithsonian institutions we saw in Washington DC, had the advantage of being much less crowded, and were well worth the time. Admissions were modest (or free).
Like Quebec, this was a great region to brush up on our Canadian history, and we very much enjoyed our time here.
The next and final installment (for this year) will be from Kingston and the Thousand Islands.