Location Spotlight: Rideau Canal

If you grew up in Ottawa or spent some time here during winter, you probably have fond memories of skating down the Rideau Canal Skateway, maybe taking a break along the way for a hot chocolate and BeaverTail. Once the weather drops and the tuques and mittens come out, the Rideau Canal National Historic Site transforms into the world’s largest skating rink – a magical place that delights children and adults alike. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal is one of Ottawa’s most well-known landmarks, but did you know it also attracts filmmakers from near and far?

Photo Courtesy of the National Capital Commission

Following the War of 1812, Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers was tasked with supervising the construction of a navigable waterway between the Ottawa River (in Ottawa) and Lake Ontario (in Kingston); in case another war with the Americans should occur, the military wanted an alternate route to the St. Lawrence River, a likely invasion target. If the name John By sounds familiar, it should. By founded a small town to house all the labourers who would work on the canal; originally named Bytown, the settlement was renamed Ottawa in 1855 (the ByWard Market was also named after By). Construction of the Rideau Canal and its 47 locks, which were built by hand by mostly Irish, Scottish, and French Canadian workers in what was then wilderness, began in 1826 and was completed in 1832.

Rideau Canal, circa 1912
Photo: Canada. Dept. of the Interior / Library and Archives Canada / PA-045644

Today, the Rideau Canal is a popular destination in all four seasons. During the warmer months, it’s a boater’s paradise with the surrounding pathways offering tourists, runners, and cyclists pristine views of the canal and its surrounding landscape. In winter, the canal freezes and 7.8 of its 202 kilometres becomes a skating rink – the largest outdoor skating rink in the world! The Rideau Canal Skateway is also one of the main sites for Winterlude – Ottawa’s winter festival (running this year February 2 to 19).

“The Rideau Canal Skateway welcomes visitors from around the globe. It is inscribed in the Guinness Book of Records, and was recently chosen by USA TODAY readers as the best skating rink in North America. Now in its 48th season, the Rideau Canal Skateway welcomes all to participate in a most treasured Canadian winter tradition!”
—Dr. Mark Kristmanson, Chief Executive Officer of the National Capital Commission 

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

Bordering the Rideau Canal is some of the most historic and cinematic architecture in the city. Plaza Bridge, located at the northern end of the canal at the Ottawa Locks, stands at the same site where the Sappers Bridge once stood, one of Ottawa’s first bridges. Just east of Plaza Bridge is what is now the Government Conference Centre, built in 1912 as Ottawa’s central train station, and to the north is the Commissariat Building, home to the Bytown Museum since 1952. The Commissariat Building is the oldest stone building in Ottawa, built in 1827 as a storehouse, office and treasury during the construction of the canal. From Ottawa to Kingston, architecturally interesting bridges cross the canal and 24 historic lock stations provide the perfect backdrop to any film or television project.

Ottawa Locks with the Bytown Museum on the left

The Rideau Canal attracts local, Canadian, and foreign filmmakers who are looking for a location emblematic of Ottawa and Canada. In 2016, the Québécois film C’est le coeur qui meurt en dernier, nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards, shot on the Rideau Canal Skateway, a site that is also featured in the novel of the same name. Working closely with the National Capital Commission, our office liaised with the film’s creative and location teams to secure the Skateway as a filming location. Coincidentally, the CBC series Michael: Every Day is also nominated for a Canadian Screen Award (for Best Comedy Series) and it too shot at the Rideau Canal. In the first season’s episode Bridges, the main character tries to overcome his fear of bridges by walking across the one located at the Ottawa Locks; there are also other scenes from the first and second seasons showing characters walking along the canal. Other productions that have shot at the Rideau Canal and Skateway include the Radio-Canada television series Toi & Moi (produced by local production company Slalom); SESQUI, a 360° cinematic experience; and countless travel television series from around the world.

Photo courtesy of the National Capital Commission

Like many other capital cities, Ottawa has different jurisdictions and land owners which will impact the filming approval process. The Rideau Canal, its locks and locks stations are owned by Parks Canada, while the surrounding pathways and greenspace are maintained by the National Capital Commission; the National Capital Commission is also responsible for the Rideau Canal Skateway. Our office staff is always here to help local and visiting filmmakers through the approval process and to help bring your creative visions to life. Contact us for further information about filming on the Rideau Canal or anywhere else in the Ottawa region.