Ottawa’s hidden treasures

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 larger local maple producers like Wheelers and Fulton’s, and within an easy hour’s drive.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

We had THE BEST time! It was a decent day for a ramble in the countryside, not quite spring warm (so not muddy) but not as windy or unpleasant as it has been the past few weeks. (Sidebar: has anyone seen spring? Please release it to the wild so we can all enjoy it!) We were immediately greeted by a friendly woman who engaged us right away, taking us on a tour of the maple condenser and extractor, and the reverse osmosis unit they use to further concentrate and purify the sap.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

I think she said they had a couple thousand trees tapped in a sugar bush that has been producing maple syrup since the early 1800s. (You’ll forgive me for any errors in fact or egregious speculation. I wasn’t taking notes!) Most Canadians can tell you that sap becomes syrup by boiling it until most of the water evaporates, but I thought it was pretty cool that they can use a condenser to remove up to 2/3 of the water before the boiling process even begins.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

The tour itself was fascinating – turns I don’t know half as much about maple syrup production as I thought I did. And it seems like being a maple farmer is a LOT of work – she said on days when the sap is running, they get started around 10 am (when it warms up enough for the sap to start flowing) and often don’t finish until after midnight or later. Oliver’s is definitely a family operation, and our visit felt warm and friendly like a family-run business, too.

After our tour, we sampled maple syrup, maple butter and my favourite, maple sugar. Did you know that they’re all basically the same thing, just with increasing amounts of water removed? And further, we learned that all maple syrup has a sugar content of 67%. The variations in colour from light to dark come from the sap itself and can change based on the time in the season when it’s drawn.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

After raising our own blood sugar levels to what felt like 67%, and after a delicious lunch of maple sausages with maple mustard on a bun and, I kid you not, maple coffee, we had a fun wagon ride with the owner and proprietor of the farm, Dave Oliver, who further educated and entertained us.

Portraits of your family at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

But what’s a farm visit without animals? There were miniature ponies, goats, and bunnies to greet.

Portraits of your family at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Oh, and did I mention the free range chickens and five day old peeping chicks?

Portraits of your family at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

This was seriously one of my favourite family outings this year. The Olivers and their employees and helpers were charming and welcoming, and answered my endless questions patiently. (Yes, I am still that curious nine year old with my hand in the air. Some things never change.) There are more than a dozen maple producers open to the public in Lanark County alone, but I’d have a hard time imagining any of them putting on a better family day out than Oliver’s Maple Works. It looks from their website that they’re open for visits but “please contact us by phone or email if you are planning to visit us so that we can make arrangements to greet you.” It’s a drive we’ll definitely make again!

If you go:
Oliver’s Maple Works
158 Lakewood Lane, Perth, Ontario K7H 3C7
Phone: 613-264-8612
Email: tree.mapleworks@gmail.com


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Hi! Remember me? I used to post stuff on this blog. I’m back!

If nothing else, sharing photos of my favourite Ottawa places keeps drawing me back to the blog. You know how much I love the Manotick Mill, right? But I almost forget sometimes that Manotick has another gem of a location hiding in plain sight, the Long Island Locks. I spent a blissful couple of hours poking around this morning in peaceful solitude of a late-winter snow flurry.

Lockmaster's house at Long Island Locks, Manotick

There’s a lot of history in this shot. The house you see is the lockmaster’s house, built in 1915 and currently occupied by Parks Canada. The arch dam you see sweeping toward you in the lower right corner is the stone arch dam, built and virtually unchanged since 1830, during the construction of the Rideau Canal. The locks themselves were also built around that time, under the supervision of Colonel By. At one time, a small village called Long Island Village flourished here, but it disappeared in the late 1860s and 1870s when Moss Kent Dickinson built his grist mill up river and began buying up lots on the west channel of the Rideau, establishing the village of Manotick. Andrew King wrote a great blog post last year about the lost village of Long Island.

The locks are still cranked manually - Long Island Locks, Manotick

Like all the locks in the Rideau Canal system, the giant wooden doors that manage the water flow through the locks are still cranked by hand. As I crept around and down the locks on this snowy morning, I held one thought clearly in my head: “Do NOT fall in. Whatever you do – do NOT fall in!”

It’s a long way down.

Big door, Long Island Locks, Manotick

I took about 30 variations on these photos picture. I loved the ladders, the cranks, and the big-ass doors, to say nothing of the various textures. These two are keepers, I think. (Wouldn’t some of these make nice wall art? That’s what I was setting out to make as I was looking around.)

Locks and textures, Manotick

Long Island Locks, Manotick

I like how this one is sort of abstract. It could be a macro shot a couple inches across, or it could be the ice shelf off Greenland. I like how the snowflakes sort of hint at stars, giving it an otherworldly vibe.

At the water's edge

So while I don’t love snow in March, and I am pretty much done with winter, it is still lovely to know that a little fresh snow can turn something familiar into something quite beautiful. And I didn’t even get a good photo of the 115 year old swing bridge, or the weir that attaches Nicholl’s Island to Long Island.

It also reminded me what an awesome location this would be for family portraits. The snow won’t last forever – I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking ahead. Who wants to do outdoor portraits at the Locks this year? You know where to find me!


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I think the paths along Hogsback Falls in Ottawa are truly one of the city’s overlooked treasures. I see photographers crawling all over the Arboretum but am surprised that I rarely see family photos being taken at Hogsback – there’s a stunning variety of backdrops and perfect places for posing and playing. It’s been a few too many years since we’ve been there, though I drive past it on my commute every single day and think about stopping. We took advantage of the incredible weekend weather to go out for a wander.

Taking photos of the boys is more of an adventure than it used to be. I told them to “go over there so I can take your picture.” The posing and art direction was left up to them.

fun family photos in Ottawa

I call it “Album Cover, Autumn 2017 edition.” šŸ˜‰

I think this would be an acceptable alternate cover.

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

Some of them are more willing to pose for me than others. It depends on the day which kid is in which category!

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

(Oh my heart!)

fun family photos in Ottawa

autumn wander at hogsback simon

(Yes, that’s my camera. Good thing I carry a spare in my pocket!)

Did I mention it’s been a FEW years since we were up on the lookout?

fun family photos in Ottawa

We have a few favourite spots we go to year after year. I’m making sure that Hogsback Falls is put back into rotation from now on!


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Did you know that there’s a 10,000 year old sand dune hiding in a pine forest in suburban Ottawa?

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Neat, right?

dune_2008map The sand dune in the Pinhey Forest is an ancient remnant of the last ice age, when what we now know as Ottawa was submerged under the great Champlain Sea. Even 100 years ago, the dune system was up to 10 times larger than it is today, stretching from Woodroffe across Slack to Merivale Road, but suburban homes, businesses and well-intentioned tree planting by the National Capital Commission in the 1950s have reduced it to a fraction of its former size. This graphic from the Biodiversity Conservancy shows the dune size as shown in 1925 aerial images outlined against the current dune inside the yellow dotted line.

I have been hearing about the sand dune hidden in a pine forest in the Greenbelt for years. Finally, one day toward the end of summer, two of the three boys and I set off on a little adventure to check it out.

I’ve driven down Slack Road countless times, and had no clue about the unique and fascinating ecosystem hiding behind behind the pine trees, but it’s certainly accessible when you set out to look for it. Park on the street near the mailboxes on Pineland Ave near Vaan Drive and you’ll see the entrance to the dunes. It’s truly hidden in plain sight.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Parts of the dunes are roped off, but there is plenty of room to walk around and explore. When the boys noticed some of the posts had been knocked down, they stopped to prop them back up again.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

We poked around the edges of the dunes, noting the towering pines in one area, and the oak and maples flourishing in another. Be careful, we noticed a few places where poison ivy was also flourishing. You can see how leaves and pine needles would fall and decompose, creating a mulch that would allow plants that wouldn’t ordinarily thrive in sand to take hold and encroach on the dunes.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Not only is the dune an interesting geological artifact, but it’s home to plants and insects that don’t live anywhere else in the city. Conservationists are working to protect the dunes against the constant encroachment of native and invasive plant species. We originally thought these tables were part of an archaeological dig, but on reflection I’m betting they are used to filter the sand of other bio material.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Like most National Capital Commission trails, you’ll find a few picnic tables and even a washroom on the site. Exploring the dunes was a quick excursion – I’d be surprised if we were there more than an hour, even with a bit of poking around the walking paths through the surrounding forests. It made for an interesting set of conversations about the geological history of Ottawa, though, and about how people and nature leave their footprints on ecosystems. The boys were intrigued by the idea of a desert hiding in plain sight in a neighbourhood we drive past regularly.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

There’s more information about efforts to preserve the dunes and some of the unique plants and insects on the Biodiversity Conservancy website. It would be interesting to go back in the heart of winter to see the dunes in various seasons.

Did you know about the secret sand dunes hiding in the Greenbelt? Have you visited? What did you think?


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I have been watching the progress of Manotick’s new Remembrance Park over the last few months. It’s a beautiful project in the town square beside Watson’s Mill, designed with six gardens to honour the branches of the Canadian military and those who support them.

I had no idea there would be a life-sized bronze sculpture in the park until I was commissioned by the sculptor himself to come out and take a few photos of him and his art the day after it was unveiled. Nathan Scott, a Canadian sculptor based in British Columbia, is perhaps best known for his sculpture of Terry Fox at Mile 0. He has pieces installed across Canada, and now, we have one of our very own right here in Manotick.

Manotick's new memorial garden

I can’t imagine a more beautiful, perfect addition to our community.

Manotick's new memorial garden

You know what’s especially cool? The figures are based on Nathan Scott’s own daughter and father. They are truly lovely, evocative and warm.

Manotick's new memorial garden

The sculpture, placed in the middle of a square without a visible base (it’s below the bricks), invite you to come closer to admire the details in the bronze work, or to interact with the figures.

Manotick's new memorial garden

Chatting with Nathan, an obvious family man with five (or was it six?) kids, made it easy to see where the warmth and love come from in the sculpture. I could have chatted with him about his inspiration and his processes all day!

I’m so pleased to have this amazing new gathering place at the heart of Manotick, where it can be seen and touched and admired. The sculpture is a loving tribute to both the aging veteran and all he stands for, and the power of family ties. I hope it provokes memories and conversations about the importance of remembering for generations to come.

Manotick's new memorial garden


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An old bloggy friend reached out recently and said he and his family were thinking of visiting Ottawa for the first time this summer, and asked if I had any recommendations for things to see and do. Yes, I might know a thing or two about family activities in Canada’s capital! While I’ve got oodles of blog posts about ideas for family adventures for those who live in Ottawa, I don’t think I’ve ever written a tourist’s guide for families that visit Ottawa.

Ottawa is a beautiful city to visit in any season, but this summer promises to be especially full of fun with the Canada 150 celebrations, and the Ottawa 2017 agenda.

ottawa2017-footer-logo

There are a few things I’d recommend for anyone and everyone who visits Ottawa. There are obvious choices, like the Parliament Buildings (take the free tour and don’t miss the Parliamentary Library!) and the Peace Tower. The Byward Market is always good for a wander, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who would say no to a Beavertail, or a visit to Sugar Mountain. I also think the Diefenbunker, Canada’s quirky cold war museum and living time capsule should be at the top of any visitor’s must-see list.

Diefenbunker-14

If you like the Diefenbunker, you’ll also be intrigued by Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum. In fact, we have no shortage of excellent museums in Ottawa, and each will appeal to different visitors. Families with young children should make time for the always intriguing Museum of Nature and the Children’s Museum in the Museum of History, formerly known as the Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada is exactly as amazing as you’d expect it to be, but we were surprised by how accessible and fun their Artissimo children’s programming is. Don’t forget to visit our famous Maman, the 10m (30 ft) bronze spider sculpture who guards the National Gallery courtyard.

Ottawa Family Fun: Artissimo at the National Gallery

If you like history, I’d highly recommend Parks Canada’s excellent (and affordable) Voyageur Canoe tours on the Rideau Canal. You’ll choose between one and two hour guided tours and learn about the history of Ottawa and Canada as they are tied to the building of our iconic Rideau Canal, all while paddling along in a huge voyageur-style canoe. While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the Bytown Museum at the lock station beside the Chateau Laurier for a little bit more history of Ottawa, formerly known as Bytown, and the Canal. Speaking of the Canal, it’s worth a visit to one of the city’s lock stations to see the Parks Canada employees turning the cranks to open and close the locks by hand, just like they’re been doing for the past 170+ years. If paddling isn’t your style, another Ottawa activity that’s been on our bucket list for a while is the Haunted Walks. I hear they are quirky, entertaining and generally awesome.

Voyageur canoe tour

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures during your stay in Canada’s Capital, I hear that the zip-lining park at Camp Fortune is amazing. (It’s on our to-do list for this year!) Waterpark lovers will not be disappointed by the waterslides at Mont Cascades (on the Quebec side) or Calypso water park. Based on our experiences, I’d probably recommend the more expensive and slightly further from downtown Calypso for families with very young children, but we have preferred the smaller and less busy Mont Cascades the past few years.

Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy Canada’s flora and fauna at Parc Omega, about 45 minutes from downtown. During the drive-through tour you can see many animals native to Canada, including deer and elk, foxes and coyotes, wolves, bison, bears and many more, all in natural habitats. For something more domestic in the heart of the city, the animal barns at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum are always a hit with the littlest animal lovers. A little further out in the suburbs is Valleyview Animal Farm, also great for the youngest kiddies.

The grey wolves of Parc Omega

Through the summer there are two excellent FREE daily spectacles on Parliament Hill. Every morning (late June through late August) at 10 am, you can see the Changing of the Guard, immediately preceded by a short march up Elgin Street from the Cartier Drill Hall. Every evening through the summer, you can also see the Northern Lights sound and light show on Parliament Hill. I’ve heard it is excellent. And free, did I mention free?! Also free on Parliament Hill, every Wednesday at noon there is a huge yoga class on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings. Just bring your yoga mat and show up to claim your space, weather permitting.

Yoga on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Speaking of free and quirky, the unusual and beautiful rock scupltures by John Ceprano on the Ottawa River are worth a visit, too. If the weather is warm, wade out onto the limestone flats in the shallow water and make your own!

rocks

Oh my goodness, there is so much more! History buffs will also enjoy Rideau Hall, home to the Governor General, and its extensive grounds perfect for picnics and wandering. Of course there is my neighbour and muse, the stately Watson’s Mill in Manotick. And don’t forget the Cumberland Heritage Museum and its throwback to life in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, with dozens of true-to-the-era reproduction buildings ā€“ including a working sawmill and blacksmith forge ā€“ heritage breed farm animals, people in costume, vintage tractor-pulled wagon rides, and more.

Watson's Mill

Phew, that’s a long list. Ottawa is a great place to visit with families! If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my archives where I’ve been blogging for years about Ottawa’s hidden treasures and fun family activities. There’s so much more to say – this may have to become a series. Consider me your bloggy ambassador to Ottawa!

Peace Tower tour

Ottawa friends, how did I do with this list? Did I miss anything important? What’s at the top of your list of recommendations for tourists to our beautiful city?


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Ho- Ho- Hooray for Holiday Parades 2016

11 November 2016 Happy holidays

Edited to add: Click this link for the 2017 Santa Claus and holiday parade info! Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions! Welcome to the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. Can you believe we’ve been doing this […]

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Photos of the day: Piano in the Park at Watson’s Mill

25 September 2016 Lucas

I had heard about Pianos in the Park, but didn’t realize until this week that they had installed a piano right around the corner from us at our favourite place. The Ottawa version of Pianos in the Park (apparently it’s an international movement) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing pianos to local parks. They’ve […]

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Our summer 2016 bucket list for Ottawa family fun

6 July 2016 Ottawa Family Fun

Yay, it’s officially summer! I’ve got a short list of five great activities I’d like to do this summer with the boys, and I thought I’d share in case you needed a little inspiration for planning your Ottawa family fun in the next couple of weeks. It’s a sort of a Bucket List of Ottawa […]

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Photo(s) of the day: An overdue visit to Lansdowne Park

4 July 2016 Ottawa Family Fun

I‘m trying to remember when they opened the new and improved Landsdowne Park. Was it summer 2015? Maybe summer 2014? Regardless, we haven’t had the chance to make our way down there until this past weekend. I have to say, we were impressed. It’s a beautiful, bright and spacious area, and we felt like tourists […]

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