by Doug Stewart
November 18, 2007
In the final Rideau 175 Lecture held November 18, Merrickville resident Doug Stewart, Director General, National Parks, Parks Canada, presented an overview of the Rideau and its role as living history in twentieth century Rideau and its future vitality as a heritage tourism resource, national historic site, world heritage site and a place for local and National celebration.
“Why” Mr. Stewart asked, “has the Rideau Canal continued its uninterrupted operations over 175 years when so many contemporary canals fell into disuse, were modernised, or disappeared altogether?” The answer he suggested lies in its ability to remain relevant as an example of living history through generations of transition and change.
As early as the 1870s, changing transportation technology led to questions about the economic viability of the Rideau and its utility. A place “with neither use nor ornament” as described by a British politician of the day. And yet despite dwindling commerce, and decreased military relevance, and at times the neglect of the Government that held its custody, the Canal has not only survived, but, thrived, providing recreation, education and livelihood for several generations of residents.
Using a series of outstanding slides for emphasis, Mr. Stewart proposed that its secret in survival was its ability to remain relevant and morph from one vital function to another. From Military fortification to channel of commerce and a pathway to Canada’s expansion. And when those functions became better served, the Canal’s intrinsic beauty and historic construction made it an ideal site for leisure which continues today. A place of quiet enjoyment, in the early days of the 20th century it was renowned for its fishing, hunting and boating sports which encouraged the development of a new commercial base in tourism. Always finding new ways to be appreciated, the Canal has proved itself as an example of living history.
Looking into the future, Doug Stewart saw a continuation and growth of this vitality. World heritage designation virtually assures the Rideau of broadening international appeal. But during this next period of growth he cautioned that the Canal must be protected and preserved to retain its essential qualities as a demonstration of creative genius and an harmonious blend of natural preservation and progress.
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