Eastern Canada Rowing Routes for Distance Rowing
The Rideau Canal was built in 1826-32 by the British Army under Colonel By as a military supply route. It was an engineering marvel. The total length of the Canal from Lake Ontario (Kingston) to the Ottawa River (Ottawa) is 202 km. The locks are picturesque, many of the lockmaster houses are historic, and there are several defensive blockhouses. In 2007 The Rideau Canal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 46 locks and each group of locks has washrooms. Many lock stations have low canoe docks. To go through the locks, paddle hooks to hold the vertical cables are strongly recommended. Locks are manually operated with the exception of Smiths Falls combined and Newboro locks. You will definitely see loons and herons; ospreys and their nests are a strong possibility to those with keen eyes.
Main rowing segments (approximately one day each for strong rowers in a quad) are:
• Kingston-Jones Falls
• Jones Falls-Newboro-Narrows
• Smith Falls-Rideau River Provincial Park
• Rideau River Provincial Park – Manotick
• Manotick – Ottawa
Distances at locks are as follows:
• 0 km – Ottawa locks 1-8
• 6.7 km – Hartwell locks 9-10
• 8.4 km – Hogs Back Locks 11-12
• 15.0 km – Black Rapids Lock 13
• 23.3 km – Long Island Locks 14-16
• 64.0 km – Burritt’s Rapids Lock 17
• 69.4 km – Lower Nicholsons Lock 18
• 69.7 km – Upper Nicholsons Lock 19
• 70.5 km – Clowes Lock 20
• 73.8 km – Merrickville Lock 21
• 74.0 km – Merrickville Lock 22
• 74.2 km — Merrickville Lock 23
• 86.7 km – Kilmarnock Lock 24
• 92.7 km — Edmonds Lock 25
• 95.4 km – Old Slys Locks 26-27
• 96.8 km – Smith Falls combined lock 29
• 102.2 km – Poonamalie lock 32
• 132.4 km – Narrows Lock 35
• 140.8 km – Newboro Lock 36
• 148.7 km – Chaffey’s Lock 37
• 152.0 km – Davis Lock 38
• 159.0 km – Jones Falls Lock 39
• 159.2 km – Jones Falls Locks 40-42
• 176.5 km – Upper Brewers Locks 43-44
• 179.3 km – Lower Brewers (Washburn) Lock 45
• 195.0 km – Kingston Mills Lock 46
• 195.2 km – Kingston Mills Locks 47-49
• 202.1 km – Kingston Lasalle Causeway
In the almost 40 km stretch between Long Island and Burritt’s Rapids Locks, stopping spots include W.A. Taylor Conservation Area (39.9 km) and the Rideau River Provincial Park (km 50.9 km). The cluster of locks between Burritt’s Rapids and Merrickville are often avoided as is Smith Falls and Lower/Big Rideau Lakes between Old Slys and Narrows Locks. Lower/Big Rideau Lakes can get rough.
A 13 km side canal leads from Lower Rideau Lake up the Tay River to the historic graystone town of Perth. The first Lower Beveridges Locks is at km 110.7, while the Perth Basin is at 120.4 km.
The most beautiful part of the Rideau Canal is between Newboro and Lower Brewers Locks. This area is replete with lakes created by the flooding behind locks and dams. Here you will see loons, boathouses, pines, and rock.
The first locks were built in 1844, but the Trent Canal was not finished until 1920. The Trent-Severn Waterway is 386 km and bisects Ontario from Lake Ontario (Trenton) to Georgian Bay (Port Severn). These locks are bigger and deeper than those on the Rideau Canal. As well embankments are sometimes quite high making boats put- ins and take-outs difficult at some locks. There are 41 locks, including 2 hydraulic lift locks and one marine railway lock. The Peterborough lift lock is the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world (19.8 m). Each lock station has washrooms during hours of operation. To go through the locks, paddle hooks to hold the vertical cables are strongly recommended. There are loons in the Kawartha Lakes as well as other lakes. Cormorants fish in the Georgian Bay section.
Some rowing segments (approximately one day each for strong rowers in a quad) are:
• Port Severn — Gloucester Pond – Big Chute
• Big Chute – Lock 43
• Lock 43 – Sparrow Lake – Lock 42
• Lock 42 – Washago — Lake Couchiching—Orillia (Orillia Rowing Club)
• Canal Lake – Kirkfield (lift lock)
• Balsam Lake – Fenelon Falls (through lock 36)
• Fenelon Falls – Sturgeon Lake — Bobcaygeon
• Bobcaygeon — Buckhorn
• Buckhorn – Burleigh Falls (Lock 28) – Stony and Clear Lakes — Youngs Point
• Youngs Point – Lakefield — Peterborough Rowing Club – Peterborough (through many locks including the famous lift lock at Peterborough)
• Peterborough – Serpent Mounds Park (Rice Lake can get windy)
• Serpent Mounds Park (Rice Lake) – Hastings
• Campbellford-Percy Reach
• Wilson Island-Glen Ross
• Glen Ross-Trenton (Bay of Quinte)
• Bay of Quinte from Trenton-Belleville (Quinte Rowing Club)
A short side canal goes through Lindsay to Scugog Lake on which is Port Perry, the side of the Durham Rowing Club.
West-east water bodies (e.g, Sturgeon Lake, Rice Lake, and Percy Reach) have their water whipped up by the prevailing westerlies. Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching and the Bay of Quinte can be quite rough.
The Richelieu River is another long distance rowing route. It is ‘canalised’ with 9 locks near Chambly and 1 lock at St. Ours. From Sorel to the northern end of Lake Champlain at the U.S. border, there is a distance of 68 nautical miles. This river can be busy with power boats and ski-doos, especially during the Quebec construction break in the last two weeks of July.
The Welland Recreational Canal and the Galops Canal (at Iroquois, Ontario) make for pleasant half day rowing excursions.
The Ottawa River from Mattawa to Lac des deux montagnes at Ste-Anne de Bellevue is part of the fur trade artery of Canada in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Many of the rapids have been submerged by barrage lakes. Rowing in touring quads is very good on many of these lakes, although on summer afternoons the waves can be large and thunderstorms can threaten.
Some rowing sections are:
• Deux Rivieres — Driftwood Provincial Park (Lake Holden)
• Rapides-des-Joachims — Deep River
• Deep River – Oiseau Rock (a sacred aboriginal site) — Petawawa
• Waltham-Davidson — Campbells Bay — Bryson
• Castleford – Arnprior — Morris Island (Lac des Chats)
• Fitzroy Harbour — Britannia Park (Lac Deschenes)
• Ottawa (Ottawa New Edinburgh Club Sculling and Ottawa Rowing Club) — Petrie Island
• Petrie Island-Rockland –Thurso
• Thurso-Parc de Plaissance — Montebello
• Montebello – Carillon dam
• Carillon dam – Lac des deux montagnes (Oka/Hudson) – Ste. Anne de Bellevue
The Ottawa River has many tributaries. Many of these are challenging white water canoeing rivers (e.g., Petawawa, Noir, Coulonge, and Rouge). The Rouge River and the Ottawa River south of Calumet Island are renowned rafting waterways – to be avoided by rowers! It is possible to row several kilometers upstream from the mouths of the Dumoine, Bonnechere, Madawaska, Blanche, and Nation Rivers. The South Nation River, on the Ontario side, has gently flowing waters, but the waters are brown and murky, filled with sediment.
Along the shores of the Ottawa River watch for remnants of the logging drives, such as iron rings, control structures, and squared timber. The pine trees have regrown and are magnificent, especially in the Upper Ottawa. You will see birds everywhere; at Parc de Plaisance ducks and geese congregate in thousands during migratory periods. The Upper Ottawa River is wild and magnificent.
Parts of the Madawaska River are famous whitewater routes, but there are very beautiful rowing stretches such as:
• Lake of Two Rivers — Whitney (The two portages over dams are short. You must obtain Algonquin Park use permits.)
• Kamanwaska Waterway: Barry’s Bay on Lake Kamaniskeg-Combermere — Conroy’s Marsh
• Griffith — Centennial Lake
• Centennial Lake — Black Donald Lake
• Springtown (below Calabogie) — Burnstown Rowing Club — Stewartville
The Grand River in South Western Ontario was declared a Canadian Heritage River in 1994. The southern section below Brantford has vestiges of the Grand River Navigation Company canal and locks. In Spring the Grand River is navigable for kayaks, at least, (with a few portages) from Elora to Port Maitland. However the low water in the summer interrupts navigation. Good rowing choices at all seasons are in the lower Grand River:
• Cayuga — Dunnville (Disembark before the Dunnville dam and weirs which are very dangerous)
• Dunnville – Port Maitland on Lake Erie
The Haldimand Grand River Rowing Club is located at Cayuga.
The Saguenay River in Quebec offers fiord vistas. Scout out the River well before embarking on your trip because the river is subject to tides and has steep shores which limit the put-in places.
The Saint Jean River in New Brunswick is a majestic river in a beautiful river valley. The section from Perth-Andover to the Mactaquac Dam is more a long lake and excellent for rowing. From the Fredericton to Saint John, at the reversing falls, is another uninterrupted long segment.
Lakes in Regions
Haliburton has two interesting chains of lakes for rowers:
• Gull River (Pine Lake, Green Lake, Maple Lake, Beech Lake, Boshung Lake)
• Drag River (Head Lake, Grass Lake, Lake Kashagawigamog, Canning Lake)
As well Gull Lake south of Minden has strong rowing potential.
Algonquin Park, apart from the lakes on the Madawaska River, has many rowable lakes. The most accessible are Canoe Lake and Smoke Lake which are connected via the Oxtongue River and a stump filled creek. The Canoe Lake access point has a restaurant with washrooms.
Hastings Highlands has beautiful rounded hills. Benoit Lake, Elephant Lake, and Baptiste Lake are part of the York River system. Further south and east is Bon Echo Provincial Park in which lies Upper and Lower Mazinaw lakes. Petroglyphs (Aboriginal sacred paintings) can be found at canoe level on Mazinaw Rock.
Muskoka has beautiful lakes including Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau connected to Lake Muskoka by Indian River which has a canal and lock at Port Carling, the home of Hatchets Training Centre. Around Huntsville, Lake Vernon, Fairy Lake, and Mary Lake are connected, though the route to the south through the Muskoka River to Mary Lake has locks. In Southern Muskoka, Lake Kahshe is beautiful and is quite rowable, if you are careful for the rocks.
The Near North hosted the 2012 FISA World Tour. Specifically this big international event occurred on the West Arm of Lake Nipissing, in the French River estuary, and at Lake Ramsay, home of the Sudbury Rowing Club. The West Arm of Lake Nipissing is a jewel for rowing – it is like a sheltered lake with beautiful northern scenery.
Apart from the Rideau Canal lakes and Madawaska River lakes, Eastern Ontario has rowable lakes, such as Sharbot, Moira, Third Depot, Charleston, and Mississippi. All of these are large enough to have a very enjoyable full day of rowing.
In Quebec, Laurentian lakes (e.g., Lac St. Joseph) , Outaouais lakes and reservoirs (Lac Ste. Marie, Lac Poisson Blanc Reservoir, Lac Simon), Lakes of the Cantons de l’Est (Eastern Townships) (Lac Memphremagog, Lac Massawippi) and Appalachian lakes (Lac Temiskouata) are eminently rowable. In the Maritimes there is Grand Lake (N.B.) and Kejimkujik Lake (N.S.) in the park of the same name.
Rowing in Lake Ontario is not recommended for most shells except under good meteorological conditions or with good support. A new class of boats called coastal rowing boats can handle, under most conditions, coastal areas of the Great Lakes and Lac St. Jean as well as coastal waters of the St. Lawerence River/Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence/Northumberland Strait.
Other Adventure Rowing Clubs are situated on Kempenfelt Bay (Barrie Rowing Club) of Lake Simcoe, Guelph Lake (Guelph Rowing Club), Lake Ontario (Hanlan Boat Club in Toronto’s Outer Harbour), and Georgian Bay (Collingwood and Georgian Bay Rowing Clubs). As well the Don Rowing Club is located very close to Lake Ontario where the Credit River flows into the Lake.
Eastern Canada is a mecca for long distance rowing. The best distance routes for multi-day tour are the Rideau Canal, Trent-Severn Waterway, Ottawa River, Richelieu River, and Saint John River. There are numerous routes for weekend or day trips on countless lakes.
Coastal rowing boats may open up the possibility of coastal routes, such as along Lake Ontario. There is already a coastal rowing marathon on Lac St. Jean.
This description of rowing routes is selective. For the most part, they represent routes rowed by members of the Ontario Adventure Rowing Association, sometimes in association with other clubs, e.g., Club Aviron d’Alma, Fredericton Rowing Club. Some areas are neglected, such as North-western Ontario with its Quetico Provincial Park and Lake of the Woods.
Initially check out your route carefully and have appropriate large scale maps or charts. It is important to have good touring, coastal, or open water boats. Carry good safety equipment (e.g., life jackets, whistle, bailer, flashlight). Above all carefully monitor the weather and make appropriate changes.