The Rideau River
If you were a traveller following the Rideau River by boat, you would find yourself passing through kilometres of ancient seabed, now farmland on top of limestone, before dropping nine metres into the Ottawa River. Explorer Samuel de Champlain, the first European to see this phenomenon, named it Rideau, meaning “curtain” in French.
Designated a Canadian Heritage River, the Rideau drains an area of over 4000 square kilometres, and its watershed is home to more than 600,000 people whose economic, social, and environmental well-being is closely linked to its existence.
For over 50 years, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) has been protecting and enhancing the Rideau watershed to ensure it stays healthy and sustainable for generations. Today, the woodland trails, marsh boardwalks, lakeside beaches, and meandering waterways of the eleven conservation areas managed by the RCVA attract over 200,000 outdoor enthusiasts each year.
As one of 36 Conservation Authorities in the province, the RVCA works closely with all levels of government, landowners, and community groups to preserve a healthy ecosystem along the Rideau River and improve natural resources in the watershed. They are committed to building resilient communities by promoting an integrated approach—one that balances human, environmental, and economic needs. Residents are encouraged to explore and enjoy the watershed’s natural beauty and learn how they can help to protect it.
Strong partnerships and programs
Collaborative programs such as tree-planting, habitat creation, landowner incentives, and shoreline restoration allow Rideau Valley Conservation Authority staff to work closely with Indigenous groups, lake associations, businesses, and the general public. Thanks to strong partnerships and fundraising, they are hopeful that their passion and efforts to protect the Rideau watershed’s natural resources will ensure a thriving environment.
Both the Baxter and Foley Mountain Conservation Areas offer curriculum-based outdoor education programs and day camps that inspire students of all ages to learn about environmental stewardship. Within the city of Ottawa, the Chapman Mills Conservation Area features a walking trail and boardwalk that follow the natural shoreline of the Rideau River. The trail leads visitors through wetland and floodplain areas and past a series of interpretive signs that outline the river’s environmental story at points along the way. Chapman Mills also features two fish habitat compensation projects, and in recent years, dedicated community volunteers have planted over 1500 trees on the site.
Most Ontarians are united in their desire for a world that works for everyone, in which the environment thrives under our mutual care. Science and research, science education, and conservation—core values of institutions like the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority—remain fundamental to our understanding of our world as we seek to design policies that respond effectively to change.
In Ontario, we have a collective connection to the water around us. We all share a responsibility to be good stewards. Collaboration is key, and when I visited the RVCA in 2019, during the flooding affecting much of the Ottawa region, I witnessed the power of community commitment and long-term strategy. Despite dealing with the urgency of the floods, thanks to the RVCA’s 50-year history and experience, they already had a long-term strategy to implement solutions. I could see how thoughtful staff, landowners, and volunteers were in their planning and how they took an holistic approach to watershed management that balanced the three pillars of sustainability.
The results of the RVCA’s care and commitment was made clear when I had the opportunity to visit the Chapman Mills Conservation Area. There, I witnessed first-hand the way social cohesion happens when the community engages with, and celebrates, their local protected environment. They are supporting the economic well–being of the region by completing 88 kilometers of hazard mapping to guide landowners and businesses with development and are improving the environment, increasing flood resistance by planting their six millionth tree.
A resilient future requires all of society to be involved, and the RCVA, with leadership and vision, has mastered inclusive planning and engagement, for the benefit of all.Sustainability