Adventures in kayaking: Manotick’s back channel

by DaniGirl on June 21, 2020 · 0 comments

in Ottawa's hidden treasures, Postcards from Manotick

In the decade we’ve lived here, I’ve harboured a not-so-secret covetousness of other people’s boats. Many Ottawa folks don’t know that half of the village of Manotick is on an island in the Rideau River called Long Island, and we’re only a couple hundred meters from water to both the east and west of our place. I love water and have always been drawn to it, and living on the island, I look at the river almost every single day. I walk along it, sit on the dock and dangle my toes in it, and just sit contentedly to look at it. But finally, this spring, I realized a long-term dream for my own boat: I got a simple little kayak. I have to admit, I was a little worried that I might like the *idea* of kayaking a lot more than I liked actual kayaking. But, it turns out I love it even more than I ever expected I would.

Having finally acquired a boat, I needed to figure out a way to get it to the water, and it seemed silly to drive such a short distance. So I also invested in a little wheely cart to go along with my kayak so I could walk to put it in the water. In theory, it’s wonderful: I can put in at one spot, wheels tied to the back of the kayak, and get out wherever I like, and drag the kayak back home behind me. However, the first few outings were a little less than ideal until I figured out the trick of not having the wheels collapse and divest themselves of the kayak every couple hundred steps. One of these days I’ll post a video to show how I finally figured it out, because nothing I found online seemed to help. I’ve got the hang of it now, but it certainly took longer to get the knack of the wheely cart than it did paddling the kayak!

My friend Yvonne snapped this photo of me taking my kayak for a walk after we went paddling together one morning.

woman pulling kayak on a wheeled cart

I thought it would be fun to share some of the things I discovered poking about the neighbourhood with my kayak, as from the looks of the waterways lately more than 50% of the population has ALSO decided that this, the year of the COVID, is indeed the ideal year to get a kayak / SUP / canoe. I spent a while googling information on whether you could paddle the back channel and didn’t find much, so this one is for a future kayaker wondering the same thing!

As I mentioned, Long Island splits the Rideau River into the main channel to the east of Manotick and what’s known as the back channel to the west of the island. Coming from the south, you can go part way up the west channel (moving toward Ottawa) until you get to the weir at Watson’s Mill. This is a lovely area known as Mahogany Bay, and they’ve just installed a public dock that’s perfect for personal watercraft and swimming up a bit from the Mill.

After the weir, the back channel continues on parallel to Rideau Valley Drive for a bit, where the weir near the Long Island Locks also dumps into it. It then continues on past Nicholl’s Island and joins back up with the main channel at the base of the Long Island Locks.

shallow water in the back channel of the Rideau near Manotick

I knew the back channel was shallow in spots, but I also know that a kayak doesn’t need a lot of depth, so one sunny Saturday morning in early summer I set off from the “Duck Lot” launch kitty-corner from the base of the Mill. It was shallow and I could see an impressive number of huge boulders in the clear water but I got a ways down before I actually managed to wedge myself on one. Perhaps a more agile kayaker could have avoided them, but I had anticipated something like this might happen and just stepped out of the kayak to drag it for a bit of a hike through the knee-deep water and around the worst of the rocks. The water became deep again and it was pleasant paddling on the slow-moving water, and very peaceful save for the sounds of traffic on the road on the other side of the trees. I was surprised that many of the homes were completely obscured from the waterfront by trees, as most of the lots on the main channel are fully exposed to the banks.

A turtle on a rock in the Rideau River

A northern map turtle, basking in the sun.

I encountered a few more shallow spots, what might have even been Class I rapids, and got stuck again, but was able to wiggle myself off the boulder. But mostly, it was a very pleasant paddle. There’s a bit more wildlife in the quiet back channel than in the main channel, and I saw several turtles sunning themselves. Unfortunately, there’s really nowhere to get off the river except down near the dog park, on the far side of the bridge that turns from Maclean to Barnsdale, and it’s quite rocky there. When the water is a little higher, I’d like to continue on down past the north end of Long Island and around Nicholl’s Island. As it was, I went for the partial circumnavigation and pulled my kayak out, hauled it across the dog park on my wheely cart, and put back in on the main channel side, to the delight of several dogs taking a dip. One cute little French bulldog tried to hop right into the kayak with me as I pushed off. Pro tip: the water access at the dog park is quite crowded with wet doggos on a sunny Saturday morning!

So, while you can in theory paddle the back channel from the Mill to the dog park (formally known as David Bartlett Park) I’d suggest you choose a day when the river levels in the channel are high.

I’ll have another post with places you can put your kayak in and out from the main channel in another post. Any other locals care to weigh in with tips for personal watercraft around Manotick?


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