The Rideau Canal – it is a historic Canadian treasure, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and an engineering marvel that opened the door to trade and commerce between Ottawa and Kingston. Today, the canal unlocks many wonders as well. Fantastic canoeing, kayaking, and houseboating, old-fashioned locks still hand-cranked like the old days, and some of the province’s most charming small communities. On any trip through the Rideau Lakes region must include stops in Westport and Merrickville. Bursting with history, majestic churches, tasty treats, and waterfront charm, you’ll spend an enjoyable afternoon exploring at a leisurely pace and perhaps take home a few souvenirs.
Merrickville is a delightful place sure to capture the hearts of travelers. The Merrickville Blockhouse, with metre-thick stone walls, is the second largest remaining blockhouse in Canada, and was constructed as part of a canal defense system. The blockhouse contains two floors of agricultural and domestic artifacts and displays the typical life of a military officer and his family. From the Merrickville Blockhouse, walk over the bridge to the Merrickville Industrial Ruins on Pig Island, which once bustled with 58 different enterprises, among them a foundry, tannery, cooper, and several mills. The poignant ruins and the explanatory signage make for an interesting visit.
Merrickville’s great popularity with daytrippers is due in part to the diversity and quality of its shops. A must-visit store – particularly for a sweet tooth – is the Downtown Ice Cream Shoppe. This shop has dozens of ice cream and gelato flavours made by the proprietor (who studied at the Cordon Bleu), including cranberry loves raspberry, beet-o-rama, totally tubular tarragon, and seasonal strawberry with caramelized onion!
There’s also Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Mustard and Food Shop, which sells a seemingly endless variety of the gourmet condiment that has made this brand famous. There are also great take-home prepared meals (such as herb-crusted salmon and wild mushrooms and pork and chicken chili) – perfect when staying at the Merrickville Guest Suites or at a nearby cottage. Down the road, be sure to stop by Gray Art Glass. The colourful creations from several artisans (from modestly priced earrings and tumblers to stunning vases that make for a perfect gift) are displayed in the bright and airy shop. You can also peer through a window into the adjacent glass blowing studio to watch the artists at work.
This lakeside community south in the heart of the Rideau Lakes region is especially photogenic in the fall when the plentiful trees turn bright shades and set off the rising, glinting steeple of the impressive United Church. There are a couple great bakeries in town, offering fruit or cream pies, cinnamon buns, molasses or garlic cheese bread, or scones.
A stroll along Westport’s friendly streets will bring you to Bateman House Furniture (rustic décor for perfect for the cottage) and the Rideau District Museum in the former International Buckle Factory. The tiny museum is home to the oldest outdoor carved wooden statue in Upper Canada and one of the only surviving dump carts from the construction of the Rideau Canal.
Stay at the Cove Country Inn Resort and Spa ’s Fredenburgh House by Upper Rideau Lake or their Main Inn overlooking the Westport Pond. These modern, yet county-style accommodations are complemented by a full dining room serving prime rib, seafood, roast beer, and other family favourites.
Whether on a weekend getaway from Ottawa or Kingston or on a longer exploration of the canal, a visit to Merrickville and Westport is sure to lead to a stroll down quiet, sunny streets, a picturesque view over the water, and great food and art shopping.