Ottawa Family Fun

Looking for an easy Ottawa summer adventure? Try locking through one of the beautiful and historic Rideau Canal locks in a kayak or canoe! We tried it recently for the first time, and I had no idea it was so accessible and easy.

On a sunny June morning, we set out to paddle around Burritts Rapids, just south of the southern boundary of Ottawa. I had been there a few days before, exploring with my kayak on my own, and was lucky enough in my timing to have a front-row seat to see the Parks Canada staff operating the 1899 swing bridge to let through some big boats.

Burritts Rapids bridge opening as seen from kayak

On my first visit, I poked around by the lockstation (and even took shelter there from a short but vigourous downpour under a leafy tree) but decided instead to paddle downstream toward the southern tip of the island. The main channel here was actually a dry flood channel or snie at one point that was flooded by Colonel By’s engineers to create a navigable channel past the eponymous rapids on the other side of the island that comprise the original flow of the Rideau River.

Beloved and I paddled downstream toward the lock station and portaged through to the north part of the channel, bypassing the lock. Although our canoe is pretty heavy, we had no trouble half carrying it and half dragging it down the grassy slope of the portage. We had a little more trouble when we got to the footbridge at the end of the portage – it’s so narrow we couldn’t even get through with the canoe tipped on its side – we had to lift it up and over the railings.

A narrow bridge at the end of the portage around the Burritts Rapids lock

A narrow bridge at the end of the portage around the Burritts Rapids lock.

We explored the north channel, hoping to make it up to the weir near the far western end, but the eponymous rapids and super low water levels this year stopped our progress just under the bridge onto the island. (We’re not very facile with the canoe yet, but learning!) We considered ending our trip at the tinest beach ever at the petite Henry Street Park and walking over to get the car, or doing battle with the footbridge again to portage back up to the main channel, but in the end we decided to try something I’ve always dreamed of doing: we locked through the lock just like a big boat!

Locking through is easy. You can state your intention by waiting alongside the blue-painted dock and giving three solid whistle blasts, or calling the lock station. Since I had to pay for a day pass, I walked up to the lock station while Beloved waited with the canoe. It was less than $15 for a day pass for our 16′ canoe. You can read more about fees and passes on the Parks Canada website. I had been hesitant to ask the Parks staff to operate the lock for just me up until now, but they were friendly and accommodating.

After many years of watching the Parks Canada staff crank open the lock doors, it was fun to watch it from the perspective of the water waiting to enter. I was amused that they only opened one of the big grey lock doors for us to pass through.

approaching an opening rideau canal lock from the perspective of a canoe

We paddled into the lock and over to the side where the big black drop cables are attached to the wall. The staff hadn’t given us any specific instructions, but I knew from reading the locking through information on the Parks website that we were supposed to loop a strap or a rope through the cables to keep us moored to the side as the water level increased – holding the cable with your hand or tying firmly to it is discouraged.

woman in a canoe in the midst of locking through the Rideau Canal

I’d expected it to be turbulent as the water entered the lock to raise the level, but it was relatively calm, smooth and quicker than I expected. I think it took about 15 minutes for the lock to fill and lift us about 17 m. Burritts Rapids is a single lock, but some of the lockstations have two, three, four or even eight locks to move up or down.

A person in a canoe in a lock on the Rideau Canal at Burritts Rapids as it fills with water

We watched as the Parks staff moved into place to begin turning the big metal crank that operates the lock doors, and again they opened only one door. They waved us forward and we paddled out, moving up the lock much more conveniently and comfortably than the awkward portage down! We slipped through the big doors, feeling very much like a proper big boat, and they cranked the doors closed behind us.

A lock door on the Rideau Canal at Burritts Rapids in the process of closing

I can’t wait to take the kids through more of the locks later this summer. What a perfect daytrip for families – and there are 24 lock stations from Kingston to Ottawa to explore. That will keep us busy for a while! And one day, maybe we’ll do the very big and very cool adventure of paddling the length of the canal, camping at the lock stations as we go.

Have you paddled through a lock on the Rideau Canal? I’d love to hear your experience.


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On a muggy May day that felt more like August, I explored Kemptville Creek for the first time. I started at Anniversary park, having heard they have a special kayak launch attached to the small boat dock there. It was quite cool and made getting into the kayak and launching a simple affair, once I realized I’d have to use my hands to lift and push myself off and not just wiggle my way forward like I usually do from a beach launch.

kayak launch at anniversary park

Kemptville Creek is a lovely paddle with calm waters and a lot of variety on the shoreline. Heading upstream (left from Anniversary Park, or south) you have tidy waterfront homes on one side and reedy marsh on the other. The frogs were singing loudly as I set out, and among the water lilies just starting to grow on the surface, some sort of splashy fish thrashed about. I saw lots of shore birds, turtles, and a swimming mammal that was too quick for me to catch a good look but was likely a mink or otter.

If you don’t have access to a canoe or kayak of your own, you can rent one from Drifter’s Outdoors (Facebook link) right on the creek, on the bank opposite from Anniversary Park.

placid waters on kemptville creek

You can go about 2.5 km until you come to the bridge over Prescott Street. It’s quite neat to see the downtown area of Kemptville suddenly appear as you’re paddling along. (I have a deep love of small town “downtowns”.) At the bridge where Prescott St passes the river, the water suddenly becomes quite shallow and even in this year of lower spring water, the current was too vigorous for me to bother fighting it to explore further upstream.

Rapids past Prescott Street

Turning right/north/downstream from Anniversary Park, it’s about 5 km to where Kemptville Creek opens into the Rideau River, across from the Rideau River Provincial Park. (Did you know that Kemptville Creek was once known as the South Branch of the Rideau River?) As you paddle north from Anniversary Park, you’ll see a beautiful diversity of trees in Ferguson’s Forest on the western bank. I’ll bet this area is spectacular in the autumn season and I’ll be sure to check it out.

Kemptville Creek facing north

I really enjoyed this area and will definitely be exploring it more. Are you familiar with this area? Any stories or tips to share?


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I spent most of the summer of 2020 kayaking around the Rideau with a few side adventures and writing blog posts in my head about my adventures, but never quite got around to posting them. I figured I’d probably do it through the winter, waiting for kayaking season to begin again. Apparently I didn’t do that either, because here we are with an early start to the kayaking season and I’m back on the water again. Maybe I’ll do a better job of blogging my kayaking adventures through the summer than I did my kicksled adventures this winter?

With all the paddling researching I did last year in my inaugural year of kayaking, I completely missed the fact that there is a lovely creek perfect for exploring just 15 minutes from the house. There are two boat launch spots in Kars, at the far southern boundary of the sprawling city of Ottawa. One is on the Rideau River itself, and the one I’ve been using is behind the Kars Recreation Centre on Stevens Creek. There’s a small dock, and free parking.

On an unseasonably mild April morning, I set out by myself. It was warm enough to be without a jacket but early enough that I saw just one lonely mosquito, and though the Rideau River is still dangerously cold, the small shallow creek was warm enough that I didn’t need any special cold water gear. (If you’re new to paddling early in the spring, be sure to read up on cold water safety.)

kayaking at Stevens Creek

The first kilometer or so of the river is bordered by reeds, and when the sun is out there are dozens of turtles basking on the fallen logs. When you come up to Roger Stevens Drive, you’ll see a gas station on the right (wouldn’t it be awesome if you could paddle through to the takeout window?) and on the left is a small tributary that early in the season you can follow for another kilometer or so. It’s only a few inches deep and wide enough for one kayak at a time to pass in most spots, but it was fun to explore.

kayaking at Stevens Creek

You’ll pass under a bridge that is Roger Stevens Drive and then see Stevens Creek Farm on the right. On the morning I kayaked, curious horses watched me paddle by with interest. The creek becomes much more scenic as it winds through farm land and past large trees overhanging the banks. Just after passing under a second bridge that is Second Line, I encountered some rocky rapids that signaled a good spot to turn around. I’d made it approximately four kilometres from the launch.

I loved this entire stretch and it reminded me of a smaller version of the Jock River near Richmond. It’s an easy paddle through placid, shallow water with lots of turtles, a mink or otter (it moved too quickly for me to be able to tell which), ducks and geese and many red wing blackbirds. Altogether I paddled nearly 9 km, including poking around at the mouth of the Rideau River and down a tributary for a stretch. A wonderful paddle that I can’t wait to revisit!

kayaking at Stevens Creek

A few days later, I launched from the same spot at the Kars Rec Centre but instead went out into the Rideau River by turning left from the launch and paddled upstream for nearly 1.5 km to get to the mouth of Cranberry Creek. It was a lot less scenic than Stevens Creek, comprising mostly reeds and duck blinds. The duck blinds were a bit of a surprise to me – I forget we live on the edge of the urban/rural boundary sometimes. It actually took seeing a few before I realized what I was looking at, and I wouldn’t paddle here around the autumn duck hunt season.

kayaking at Cranberry Creek

This creek wasn’t as scenic as Stevens Creek, and it was so shallow that I kept touching the bottom with my paddle in places. After about three kilometres from the mouth of the creek, it narrowed down so much that the water was becoming stagnant and I figured I’d followed it as far as I could without risk of getting stuck. It’s quite pretty coming up to the bridge for Rideau Valley Drive – probably the prettiest part of the creek.

kayaking at Cranberry Creek

These are two great little tributaries that were safe and easy paddles, good for exploring early in the year while waiting for the larger rivers and lakes to warm up. I’m guessing they get quite choked with lily-pads and other weeds later in the summer, so spring is probably the sweet spot for them. I’m not sure I’d bother going back to Cranberry Creek, but Stevens Creek is now at the top of my list for favourite local places to launch, along with the Jock at Steeple Hill Crescent and the Manotick boat launch. With luck and patience, I’ll write about those another day!

Do you have a favourite place to paddle early in the season in Ottawa? I would love to hear about it!


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About five years ago, I was taking my in-laws on a tour of the Rideau Canal. We watched a pair of skaters zoom by us, pushing some sort of wood contraptions on skis. I was immediately fascinated, and later that evening my father-in-law and I perused various sources with plans to build your own kick sled. Nothing ever came of it, but I never forgot my curiousity, and it was sparked (that’s a pun, by the way) all over again when a friend posted that she had received a kicksled for Christmas and she posted a link to the site in Quebec from which it had been ordered. I had to wait about two weeks for them to come back in stock (coming as they do on a boat from Finland) and another week for my new toy to make its way from the vendor to me.

Last May, I impulsively bought a kayak, slightly worrying that I might try it once or twice and that it would then take up space in the garage forever. It turned out to be my favourite toy ever, and I kayaked happily two and three times a week from May through November. Turns out the same mojo was at play with the kicksled. I was a little concerned buying one without ever having tried it, but from the moment I stepped on to it, I was in love.

kicksled on ottawa trail

So what’s a kick sled, or maybe it’s kicksled, or as they’re called in their native Scandinavian countries, a spark? (See, that’s the pun I made earlier!) It’s the love child of a scooter and cross-country skis, and looks a lot like a dog sled in search of a dog – in fact, you can buy dog harnesses should you wish to skijorn. You stand on one long runner and kick with the other leg a few times, then glide and shift. It’s a terrific workout, and a lot less intimidating than cross-country skis. If the sled is going too fast, or the hill is steep, or you’re worn out and need a break, just step off and walk. What’s interesting is that I have weak knees and complainy ankles and hips, and although I walk at least 30 minutes each day, any more than that and my knees and hips tend to ache. However, I can easily kicksled for 6 or 8 km with nary an issue.

kicksled mini video

This pandemic winter has been, by sheer chance, a great one to learn to kicksled. The trails are often compacted as soon as the snow stops falling. (Ideal conditions for a kicksled are hard packed to icy snow, or a very fine powder. Deep powder slows it down, as does even the tinest bit of road salt or sand.) I tend to go out very early in the morning to miss the crowds, but the kicksled is easily manoueverable to share the trail. Unfortunately, like kayaks and other personal watercraft were in summer 2020, they’re also very hard to come by. There aren’t a lot of kicksled vendors around – buying online from Quebec seemed to be my only option.

So two or three times a week for the three weeks or so that I’ve had it, I’ve been out exploring the amazing wonderland that is Ottawa’s winter trail network. There’s a dearth of information on kicksledding in Ottawa, so I thought I’d share that as I find it, too. People are fascinated by the spark – I’ve yet to go out that I haven’t been stopped at least once, sometimes three or four times, by curious folk who want to know what it is and where to get one. I’m beginning to think I could fund the college educations of all three kids just by dragging a few extra sparks behind me when I go out and selling them to curious onlookers. At the very least, I should probably be getting a commission from goslide.ca for the number of people I send their way. (Not an affiliate link yet, but if you’re from GoSlide, let’s talk! :D) The brand of kicksled I have is the ESLA, made using traditional methods in Finland for generations.

If you’d like to know more, this site has a great deal of information about kick sled history. Kicksleds are very common in Norway, Finland and Sweden, where they are used like we use bicycles – to run errands, to explore, to get out of the house. They’re creeping into North American pop culture, where the Netflix series Home for Christmas featured a woman zipping about on her kicksled, and the movie Kicksled Choir was recently nominated for an Oscar.

So hey, between posting about my summer kayak adventures and winter kicksled adventures, there may be life in this old blog yet! If there’s enough interest, I was thinking about setting up an Ottawa Kicksled group on Facebook or Reddit to share info, trails, resources, etc. If you’re interested, let me know your preferred platform and I’ll set it up. Edited to add: Winter is coming, and I finally did set up that Ottawa Kicksled group on Facebook. All are welcome!


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It’s been a weird summer, hasn’t it? Thanks to COVID, we didn’t do half as many little day trips and family adventures as we usually do, though I am grateful that my pre-teen and teenagers are generally willing to still come along for the occasional day trip. We love small towns and have been to Perth, Almonte, Carleton Place, Prescott, Kemptville, Carp — and somehow, we have up until this summer completely overlooked Brockville. Please allow me to share our rave review of our simple but wonderful day trip to Brockville.

Marina

We started with fish and chips from Don’s take-out window. We’ve been looking for good fish and chips in or near Ottawa for years, and this is easily the best we’ve had since the Black Dog Café closed their take-out window. We took ours a block or so to Hardy Park and sat on benches on the boardwalk, enjoying the river view but not the bees. So! Many! Bees! Definitely worth both the trek and the bee sting on Beloved’s hand, though.

Fish and chips

After that, we wandered over to the Aquatarium for our scheduled tour. I was really impressed with the way they managed everything with respect to COVID. We really haven’t gone out much at all since the pandemic started, and though I was a little twitchy at first being led around in a small group with three other families, the guide was clearly cognizant of social distancing and did a great job of managing the group, and a cleaner trailed behind us wiping surfaces as we passed. Our guide Alex also added a lot of value with her stories and narration. We had a Groupon, so if you can snag one it makes the admission even more reasonable.

Otter!

We loved (LOVED!) the otters, and the beaver (Justin Beaver, natch) and other sea creatures were quite cool, too. Four of us have been playing Animal Crossing rather obsessively this summer, so we were amused to see so many of the critters from the game live in the Aquatarium: welks, sea stars, urchins, sea snails, turtles, sturgeon, pike, and blue gills. If your kids (or you!) love Animal Crossing, it’s worth it for the otters alone!

fish at the aquatarium

Our tour took maybe 75 or 90 minutes, and I genuinely enjoyed all of it. However, the real hit of the afternoon was the Brockville Railway Tunnel. It’s only a block or so walk from the Aquatrium (which itself is only a block from Don’s fish and chips and two blocks from the park – everything is so convenient!) to Canada’s oldest railway tunnel (constructed between 1854 and 1860), which has been converted to a fun tourist attraction. As you walk the 525m tunnel, light shows play around you. My snap-and-insta-loving teen was in selfie heaven, and we took a few shots that will make great cover art when the band drops our first album. I really did not expect them (or me) to be as entertained as we were, and it’s completely free.

Being on the St Lawrence seaway, Brockville is also just a lovely little town. We finished our visit with ice cream on the boardwalk and another little wander along the water. We didn’t even have time to visit the shops of the quaint downtown that reminds of me of the many villages of my southern Ontario childhood. We’ll visit those when we go back, because we all agreed that Brockville is a new family-favourite day trip destination.


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Have you checked out the newly renovated and freshly amazing Canada Science and Technology Museum lately? We went last week on an adventure to celebrate my birthday, including a stop at the special Leonardo da Vinci exhibit and it. was. AWESOME!

Ottawa’s Science and Tech museum has always been one of our favourite places to while away a Sunday morning. You might remember that it closed in 2014 due to mould and structural issues, and somehow we missed getting back into our routine of regular visits after the grand re-opening in 2017. It was great to see old family favourites (Simon in particular spoke with great fondness of the famous Crazy Kitchen) and the locomotives, but the whole museum feels fresh and new and full of things to discover.

You could say Lucas flipped over it!

Photo of a child upside down in a classroom

If you’re looking for something to do in the waning days of your summer vacation, I can’t recommend the special travelling Leonardo da Vinci exhibit highly enough. I thought I knew a lot about da Vinci – I knew he was of course the painter of some of the world’s most highly regarded paintings, like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, and I knew he dabbled in science and math. I understood that he contributed to massive leaps in the understanding of the human form, architecture and technology, and yet I never really understood the scope of his genius until we spent an hour submersed in this exhibit. It’s a wonderfully modern presentation (give yourself time to sit and enjoy the multimedia SENSORY4 immersive experience) that was as fascinating for me (eager to learn but by no means knowledgeable) as it was for Beloved with his degree in fine arts, and all three kids with their very different appetites and attitudes enjoyed it as well.

I’m sure we’re one of the last families in Ottawa to finally return to this amazing local treasure. The kids did admit that they missed the old fibre optic crawling tubes, but that the new permanent exhibits more than made up for it.

Child playing with gears at Canada Science and Technology Museum

Have you been yet? What did you think?

If you go:
Canadian Science and Technology Museum
1867 St Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, ON
Leonardo da Vinci exhibit ends September 2, 2019; additional fees apply.


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Ho! Ho! Hooray for Ottawa, Gatineau and Eastern Ontario Santa Parades, the 2018 edition

12 November 2018 Happy holidays

Dust off your jingle bells, dig out your Santa hat and strap on your reindeer antlers! Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions, the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. Sometimes the parade season sneaks up on me, but […]

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Ottawa Family Fun: Lunch at Tavern on the Falls

27 August 2018 Mothership Photography

If you’re looking for a wonderful little spot to bring the family for lunch and a lovely view of the intersection of Ottawa’s two rivers, we had a really lovely lunch one summer afternoon at Ottawa’s new Tavern on the Falls. It might have been because it was a Monday, or because the sky was […]

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Ottawa family fun: Open House at Oliver’s Mapleworks

9 April 2018 Ottawa Family Fun

Every year on or around the first weekend in April, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers host an open house. I don’t remember how exactly we heard about Oliver’s Mapleworks in particular, but they met my planning criteria of a fun family day out that would likely be a little less crowded than some of the […]

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Ho! Ho! Hooray for Holiday Parades, the 2017 edition!

7 November 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

Edited to add: Click this link for the 2018 Santa Claus and holiday parade info! Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions, the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. It’s been a dozen (!!) years since our first holiday […]

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