A Ride Through the Historic Hamilton Canal (Dutch Canal)

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The Hamilton Canal (හැමිල්ටන් ඇළ) also known as the Dutch Canal (ලංදේසි ඇළ) and Paru Ela (පාරු ඇළ) in Sinhalese, connecting Puttalam and Colombo, has a rich history dating back to the colonial era. It was first started by the Portuguese  (1505–1656) who started cutting the waterway from the Kelani Ganga River. They built the canal to redirect river floods and protect fertile paddy land. These paddy fields were nestled in a valley between sand dunes that kept the sea away on one side and high ground on the other. Nowadays, the Colombo-Negombo road runs along this high ground (Brohier, 1980).

These paddy fields extended for miles along the sand dunes in the area called Muturajawela. The name doubtless originated from the harvests of pearly white rice Mutu-samba or “pearl-rice” the fields annually produced (Brohier, 1982). However, attempts to rescue these paddy fields failed as the canal opened a waterway to carry saline water from the sea towards the paddy fields destroying the fields altogether.

However the importance of a canal as a means of transport of people and commercial goods was not lost with the Dutch who were masters of building canal systems for transport. They expanded and upgraded the disused canal up to Negombo and it was recorded in 1706 that the canal had been extended up to Maha Oya. Possibly within that decade, cuts had been made linking rivers, backwaters and lagoons which established water communication from Colombo to Puttalam (120 Miles) and 15 miles more across the Puttalam Lake to Kalpitiya (Brohier, 1978). The Dutch also introduced the flat-bottomed “Padda Boats” to Sri Lanka.

The primary purpose of the Hamilton Canal was to facilitate the transportation of goods and people between the capital city of Colombo and the coastal cities of Negombo and Puttalam which were significant trading ports during that time. The canal served as a vital waterway for the transportation of goods such as spices, coconuts, and other agricultural products from the interior regions to the coastal areas for export.

When the British took over the coastal area of Sri Lanka from the Dutch, under the supervision of Garvin Hamilton, Agent of Revenue and Commerce, Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) initiated a new canal in parallel to the Dutch Canal starting from Kelani River up to Negombo. The new canal was completed in 1802 and could accommodate two-way boat traffic. It was named after It was started in 1802 and was completed in 1804. The Canal was named “Hamilton Canal” after the Revenu Agents name. Further reclamations for this canal were abandoned due to the war with the Kandyans (Brohier, 1980).

However, with the advent of modern transportation methods such as railways and roads, the importance of the Hamilton Canal declined over time. Neglect and lack of maintenance also contributed to the deterioration of the canal’s infrastructure.

In recent years, there has been renewed interest in revitalizing the Hamilton Canal as a recreational and tourist attraction. The rehabilitation of the canal has been done not only up to Negombo but a further 9km stretch up to Maha Oya. It is now used for activities such as boat rides, kayaking, and leisurely walks along its banks. The picturesque scenery and historical significance of the Hamilton Canal make it a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike, offering a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s colonial past and maritime heritage.

Rides on fibreglass boats or traditional Oruwa are arranged along this restored part of the Hamilton Canal by individuals at various locations.


  1. Brohier, R.L. (1978) Links Between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands: a Book of Dutch Ceylon. Colombo: Netherlands Alumni Association of Sri Lanka.
  2. Brohier, R.L. (1980). Ancient irrigation works in Ceylon (1934). Colombo: Ministry of Mahaweli Development.
  3. Brohier, R.L. (1982). Discovering Ceylon. 2nd ed. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Lake House Investments.

Also See

Map of Historic Hamilton Canal

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)

The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Travel Directions to Historic Hamilton Canal (of Negombo Area)

Route from Colombo to Historic Hamilton Canal
Though : Wattala – seeduwa – Katunayake
distance :40 km
Travel time : 45 minutes
Driving directions : see on Google map

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