Canal festival a great way to celebrate long weekend

Ottawa residents don’t need to get out of the city to make the most of their August Civic Holiday long weekend when the first-ever Rideau Canal Festival comes to town.

The idea behind the celebration, according to the president and CEO of the festival Michel Gauthier, is to celebrate the canal being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The canal is one of only 15 sites in Canada – and the only one in Ontario.

The canal now shares the honour with some of the most recognized and celebrated places in the world, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Great Wall in China, and Vatican City. In order to achieve such stature, the location must prove to have outstanding cultural or historical values.

Gauthier says he hopes the festival will help people from out of town as well as Ottawa residents to appreciate the beauty and usefulness of the Rideau Canal.

“We should be proud and feel privileged to have a UNESCO heritage site in our own backyard,” he said.

To encourage participation, Gauthier says it’s important that the festival and all of its various activities remain free to anyone who wishes to partake in the celebration. Instead, people will have a chance to sponsor a piece of the Rideau Canal through the Adopt-A-Metre program which allows people “to own a little piece of history for only $20,” according to Gauthier.

All proceeds raised through adoptions will be used to support the sustainability of the festival as organizers hope it will become an annual event, as well as to offset carbon emissions produced by the event.

Aside from being the first ever Rideau Canal Festival, the celebration is groundbreaking in another way as it aims to be as eco-friendly as possible. Gauthier says organizers searched for a zero-impact festival model and when they couldn’t find one they designed one themselves.

The festival has partnered with Zerofootprint, a Toronto-based environmental group, to monitor all carbon emissions and to ensure that the celebration leaves little to no environmental impact.

Gauthier says the environmentally friendly concept is important now that the canal is among the 878 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“The whole concept and mandate of UNESCO is preservation,” he said. “So we wanted to make sure that we stuck with that and had little to zero impact on the environment.”

But the primary goal of the festival is still to recognize the historical and cultural significance of the Rideau Canal.

“When the canal first started it was very much about economic development,” said Gauthier. “Now, it really is about quality of life in the city.”

The 202-km canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. Lt.-Col. John By supervised construction of the waterway connecting the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. It officially opened in 1832, and was initially intended to provide a secure supply and communications route from Montreal to the British naval base in Kingston in case of an American invasion of Canada.

Activities on Monday, Aug. 4 will largely be held at The Bytown Museum and will celebrate the man behind the canal with Colonel By Day.

The celebration will begin on Thursday with the official festival launch at Confederation Park and the Adopt-A-Metre kick off party. Friday celebrations include the Enbridge 100 km BBQ challenge, and a guided tour of The Bytown Museum and Ottawa Lockstation, among others.

On Saturday, Aug. 2 Gauthier says festival-goers are “in for a surprise” as the activity he is most excited for, the first ever night flotilla takes off from the NAC and travels to Dow’s Lake, followed by fireworks. The Parade of Lights Flotilla will be followed by a second daytime flotilla on Sunday that will celebrate various world heritage sites from around the world featuring boats that have traveled to Ottawa all the way from Kingston.

The festival has received strong support from the city’s private sector as well as $300,000 in funding from the Ontario government. A total cost of roughly $700,000 and months of planning later; Gauthier says organizers are ready to throw the first Rideau Canal Festival – as long as Mother Nature cooperates.

“We’re ready,” he said. “I would like to see 1,000 people out at the festival, but at this point it all depends on the weather.”

For more information about the festival visit