The canal was built by the British after the War of 1812 to provide a secure link between Montreal and Kingston, without passing along the Saint Lawrence River because that river borders American territory. Colonel By of the Royal Engineers was in charge; the city at the North end of the canal, now called Ottawa, was originally Bytown.
Actual construction started in 1827 and the canal was opened 5 years later in 1832, with 47 locks in 25 separate lock stations. While the total length of the route is 202 kilometers, only about 19 kilometers are actually man-made, with the rest of the route using existing lakes and rivers.
The Bytown Museum by the Ottawa Locks in Ottawa is a good place to learn about the history of the Rideau Canal.
There are two main ways to see the Rideau Canal: either you can travel by boat in the canal itself, or you can drive alongside. You can either opt to drive or sail by yourself, or go for a guided tour. Some people also cycle this route.
The Canal is generally open to boat traffic from May 20 to October 12. It can be covered in as little as three days by boat, but this won't leave you much time to enjoy the sights. In winter, an 8-kilometer section of the canal in Ottawa is transformed into the world's longest skating rink.
Maximum permitted dimensions are 27.4 m (90 ft) length, 7.9m (26 ft) width, and 6.7m (22 ft) height. Water depth is maintained at 1.5 metres (5.0 feet) minimum, although draught of over 1.2m is not recommended.
This should go without saying, but always wear a life jacket while boating on the canal. The canal itself is not very deep, but it is still possible to drown in it. Parts of the route are along rivers, which are often deeper and may have significant currents.
Swimming in the canal is not an uncommon pastime for local school kids, but it's not recommended because the water quality is often poor.