Rideau Canal cruise a laidback summer trip

The Kawartha Voyageur passes through a lock station on the Rideau Canal. A custom built hydraulic...

The Kawartha Voyageur passes through a lock station on the Rideau Canal. A custom built hydraulic bow lifts up so the boat can fit into the locks. JOSEPHINE MATYAS PHOTO


, Last Updated: 4:20 PM ET

They call it a boat, but it's not your usual, run-of-the-mill watercraft. It's a custom built, floating inn with a hydraulic bow that rises up to fit into a very particular space.

"We are specifically built to travel through the locks of the Rideau Canal," Marc Ackert, captain of the Kawartha Voyageur, says with a laugh. "We're 38 metres long -- but with the bow folded up we have just inches to spare. Colonel John By was very consistent and I thank him."

Lieutenant-Colonel By -- designer of the Rideau Canal connecting Ottawa and Kingston through 47 locks at 24 lockstations -- imported technology from the Old World to build the historic 202-km waterway. The locks are simple gated chambers, filled with water that can be raised or lowered to allow boats to navigate around obstacles such as waterfalls or whitewater.

The 181-year-old canal was commissioned by Great Britain to provide a safe wartime supply route for Upper Canada, protected from attack by the United States. Parks Canada staff at the locks still operate the original hand-cranks to open and close most of the chambers.

The Kawartha Voyageur has been at the heart of the Ackert family business for three decades. Think of it as a giant houseboat -- with private cabins for 45 passengers. It's slow-paced travel on a system of inland waterways and canals steeped in history. Scenery slips by luxuriously, which turns out to be just the way the mostly senior crowd likes it.

At Burritts Rapids we slide snugly into the lock chamber, rise up as water flows in, and then tie up on the far side for the night. The boat never travels overnight, so there's plenty of time for exploring the shoreline at twilight or early morning.

It's not long before an impromptu bocce game is set up on the grass at the locks. The action is enough to pull some people away from their jigsaw puzzles, knitting projects or perusal of the day's newspaper. Others head out for a circle hike on the 4-km Tip to Tip Trail, along a woodland path, through the tiny community of Burritts Rapids and across the old swing bridge to check out the nesting snapping turtles.

The Rideau Canal demands that you slow your pace in every way. It's a trip that should not be rushed.

"We spend two days on the Rideau River and then two days on the lakes," Ackert saus. "I think of the Rideau Canal like a roof. We travel from the Ottawa River through the locks to Westport, at the height of the roof. Then we descend until we reach Lake Ontario."

Ackert knows this landscape well, having navigated more than 40,000 passages through the locks in his time commanding the wheelhouse. And with every lock, he gets to play with that unique folding bow.

"My dad never gave me a Meccano set as a kid. But as an adult, I've got the real thing."

Slow boating

The custom-built Kawartha Voyageur is outfitted with an elevator and Wi-Fi. There is no television onboard, but there are plenty of books, magazines, puzzles and art projects, card games and conversation.

Scheduled stops include museum visits, short hikes and shopping in historic villages such as Merrickville. Fall trips are especially popular because of the blaze of colour along the Rideau Canal.


Riverboat cruises are four nights/five days in length and travel both directions between Kingston and Ottawa. Snacks, drinks and all meals included. For information, see ontariowaterwaycruises.com.