We are fortunate in Ottawa to have a great number of unique and interesting sites to visit, and my family loves to take advantage of as many as possible. We were particularly happy when we stumbled upon one that appealed to all of us recently, watching a boat travel down the locks of the Rideau Canal into the Ottawa River. It's one of those treasures that you are probably aware of, but just don't appreciate how unique it is until you experience it.
We started at the top, near the Chateau Laurier hotel. Our original intent was to just have look at the locks from the top lock, but we arrived just as a boat was pulling into the first lock. The lils were fascinated to watch the lock staff help the boat tie to the mooring cables on the side, then run to the lock to start the water draining. They thought it was hilarious to watch the boat, which was not a big boat, sink down lower and lower as the water drained, and compared it to their boats on the bath tub.
The locks are operated by hand, so as you walk down the path, the lock staff are moving at great speed to get to the next set of cranks to either open the lock, or the doors within the lock that let the water out. There are eight locks in total here, and the lift (or in this case drop) is 24m. It took a little over an hour from start to finish, and we barely noticed the time passing by!
There is no cost associated with this viewing, as you are just walking down a public pathway. The paths closest to the locks have many stairs, and as such are not accessible/stroller friendly. There is a fairly steep path nearby, which would be suitable. You won't be able to actually observe the operations as well from this path, however. You can walk across the every lock, but if you attempt to do this while a boat is moving through, you have to be well ahead of them! If you have very young children, you may want to consider wearing them in a carrier, as the sides are completely open to the canal below. I was glad both parents were present for this trip, as my monkeys are, well, monkeys who need some pretty close supervision.
You can't predict when a boat will be going up or down the locks, as there is not a set schedule. I would guess that it is fairly frequent to constant on a summer weekend, but you might want to have a backup plan if you are heading out.
There is also the Rideau Canal Museum near the top of this set of locks. We didn't visit it on this trip, but will on our next! More information about the lock system can be found on the Rideau Canal website.