Officially opened in 1832, the Rideau Canal has long been one of the most important and renowned routes in Canada. Granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2007, the 202-kilometre- long waterway stretches from Ottawa to Kingston, and has been travelled for almost two centuries by traders, explorers and pleasure-seekers alike. One of the best ways to experience the canal is to follow in their wake by renting a canoe or kayak and exploring the Rideau River from Merrickville (rentals are available at the Blockhouse Museum through www.canaltripping.com; expect to pay between $22 and $37 per day). Start your journey at the museum and paddle west toward the Rideau Bird Sanctuary, just outside of town. Spread across 800 hectares, the sanctuary sees more than 20 species pass through each year, including great blue herons and ospreys, making it one of the most biodiverse regions for birds in Ontario.
Celebrating its 175th year, the Merrickville Fair & Agricultural Show (Aug. 9 to 11) is one of the finest summer festivals along the Rideau Canal. Although there are attractions you might expect to see at any similar rural event, such as a petting zoo and magic show, anyone in town will tell you that one of the fair’s most anticipated spectacles is the demolition derby. But there’s more going on than fender benders and magic tricks. When the event was established in 1838, the agricultural show was the big draw. Today, the horse and cattle shows are still pretty serious business for some, but they also offer a fun glimpse of everything from purebred Hereford bulls to Clydesdales. Ticket prices range from $5 to $8 per day for adults; children under 12 get in free.
Merrickville is often referred to as Canada’s best-preserved 19th-century town, and the home that houses the Millisle Bed & Breakfast is a perfect example of that age’s architecture. Built in 1850, the Victorian-era home features five ensuite rooms decorated with period antiques, plus an inviting wrap-around veranda just steps from the canal — perfect for a quiet summer sit down. Owners Debra and Hugh MacLennan dish up numerous gourmet breakfast options, including freshly baked English cream scones served with fresh local jams, California frittata or Atlantic salmon scrambled eggs. Rates per night range from $105 for a twin to $215 for a triple.
Any trip to charming Merrickville, Ont., is not complete without a paddle down the Rideau Canal and a visit to the Rideau Bird Sanctuary. This protected area sees more than 20 bird species fly through each season, making it the ideal eastern Ontario destination for any bird lover and one of the most biodiverse regions for birds in the province. Rent a kayak or canoe and arrange for it to be dropped off at the Blockhouse Museum, a perfect starting point for the journey. Explore the map on the right for a sample half-day itinerary.
Ideally situated next to the region’s wetlands, the Rideau Bird Sanctuary makes for a wonderful half-day trip. Paddling out to the sanctuary from Merrickville takes about 15 minutes to half an hour depending on how long you pause to soak up the lush Ontario countryside. Below is a list of bird species found in the region during the 1998-2001 Rideau River Biodiversity Project, click on the links to hear their calls.
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)
American Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca carolinensis)
American Wigeon (Anas americana)
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca crecca)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias)
Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Redhead (Aythya americana)
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)