Boating news: possible schedule changes for Rideau Canal

Visiting steamboat at Smiths Falls locks, 2007

All manner of federal agencies are adjusting to tighter budgets across Canada. Of regional interest, the Rideau Canal National Historic Site and eight other canals operated by Parks Canada may shift operating schedules in response.

The Rideau Canal’s boating season is still set to open May 18. Carol Sheedy, Parks Canada’s vice-president of operations for Eastern Canada, told the Ottawa Citizen :

“…the canal could close earlier than its scheduled date of Oct. 10, depending on the results of Parks Canada’s monitoring and analysis over the summer.

Next year, though, both the opening and closing dates could be affected, Sheedy said. “There has really been no final decision made at this time. There are quite a few different scenarios.”

Asked about rumours that the boating season could be reduced by between one and three months, she replied: “No, that’s absolutely not correct.”

Hunter McGill, chairman of Friends of the Rideau, regrets any reductions in service:

“A lot of tourism in Eastern Ontario is keyed around the Rideau Canal,” McGill said. “If the season is shortened and that element of the attractiveness of the canal is reduced, gee whiz, I would feel sorry for those folks. I think it’s really a pity. It’s kind of short-sighted.”

According to Sheedy, canal use has declined by about one third over the past 25 years, making some adjustments logical.

Sheedy denied that Parks Canada’s moves will result in reduced access to the canal. “We’re simply aligning the season to meet the patterns of use in order to provide services when they’re most highly required. It’s a realignment that’s similar to what private sector attractions or even public sector attractions do based on changing patterns of use.”

This year will see many commemorative events surrounding the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The canal was built as a sort of “never again” response to that conflict, a way to ensure vital waterways would be less vulnerable to conflict with Canada’s neighbors to the south.

The canal was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, which coincided with the canal’s 175th anniversary. Between skating in Ottawa in winter, and boating all the way down to Kingston in summer and fall, the scenic canal continues to play a major role in recreational and tourist activities for the region.

Boaters, do you ply these waters? What, if anything, would make Canada’s canals more attractive to you?

While we’re at it, if you were faced with a mandate to reduce operational expenses on the Rideau Canal, how would you accomplish that? Are there good ideas, or efficiencies, that are being overlooked?

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