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article imageOttawa's Rideau Canal in desperate need of repair

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By Andrew Reeves     Oct 24, 2011 in Travel
Ottawa - Boaters on the Rideau Canal are claiming that the historic waterway is in desperate need of repair to upgrade or replace the crumbling infrastructure for both safety and aesthetic reasons.
The crown jewel of Canada's UNESCO World Heritage Site location, the Rideau Canal, is in desperate need of major infrastructural changes, according to boaters who regularly traverse the canal.
One of those concerned, Kanata financial planner Brian Cowper, e-mailed other boaters this past month to note the "miserable state of disrepair" that the canal is currently in, according to the Ottawa Citizen.
"We can physically see the ugly patches, emergency and temporary repairs on 30-year old gates whose life expectancy is about 15 or 20 years, to simply make them safe for the passage of recreational craft," Cowper wrote.
One of the key dangers in the canal system is the infrequency with which canal gates are replaced. Once intended to last for upwards of 15 years, some gates are now remaining in place for double their intended lifespan, with only temporary solutions put in place to keep the gates functioning.
One lockmaster, who spoke to the Citizen on condition of anonymity, noted that the government "keeps saying they're safe, but we've had six emergency shutdowns this year in our area. I can never remember one in the years I've been in this area."
Part of the problem is the constant wear and tear that comes from operating a 202 kilometre (125 miles) canal in Eastern Ontario, where upwards of 90,000 people not only boat along the canal, but use its parks, beaches, and historical sites. Another factor in the decline are the effects that winter weather takes on the 45 locks that make up the waterway system.
But Ken Watson, proprietor of rideau-info.com and author of four books on the Rideau Canal, told the Citizen that the canal is "badly under-capitalized," despite a stable budget of $2.4M annually from Parks Canada, the government agency which operates the waterway.
Watson maintains that the $2.4M provided by the federal government is "far below what is needed to properly maintain the canal. That's a significant heritage - and now World Heritage - issue."
Parks Canada has a three-fold mandate in running the Rideau Canal, which perhaps explains why the available budget is stretched too thinly to keep the waterway running effectively. In addition to operating a Canadian National Historic Site, the UNESCO designation also comes with an expectation that the site will be maintained at a higher standard for sites of international significance.
In addition to operating a site of historic significance, Parks Canada must also maintain a safe, navigable waterway that stretches over 200 kilometers from Kingston to Ottawa. And the demands of maintaining and operating such a waterway must surely exceed $2.4M annually, forgetting any work that must be done to use the site for historic purposes, let alone major infrastructural upgrades.
But the choice does not have to be between boaters and historic tourists, or daily operation vs. necessary upgrades. If the Canal is of such historical and recreational significance to Canadians, they must either demand more money for the Canal from the government, or pressure Parks Canada to re-allocate funds already within its budget.
Also, given the importance of the canal in the defense of Canada in the War of 1812, and the vast amounts of money Prime Minister Stephen Harper is spending on that war's bicentennial celebration next year, Parks Canada should see a golden opportunity to request additional federal funds to improve the site.
Because while a statue or a commemorative party would make headlines, improvements to the waterway that helped Canada to retain its independence from the United States would be of long-term significance.
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