Ottawa’s hidden treasures

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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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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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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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.

Ottawa family fun: Tavern on the Falls

It might have been because it was a Monday, or because the sky was threatening rain, or because it was mid afternoon, but we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Ottawa family fun: Tavern on the Falls

It’s a cousin to Tavern on the Hill, in Majors Hill Park. It’s a little tricky to find the first time. It’s tucked behind the Royal Geographic Society building on Sussex Dr, right in between it and the falls where the Rideau river meets the Ottawa river. The menu is simple, with gourmet hot dogs and an assortment of pre-made salads and wraps. We were impressed with the options for the hot dogs.

Ottawa family fun: Tavern on the Falls

Ottawa family fun: Tavern on the Falls

(They are so different in almost every way, and yet every now and then I catch the family resemblance!)

There’s also what looks like a full service bar, but we weren’t there for drinks. We did, however, imbibe in some ice cream after our hot dogs. It was spitting a bit as we finished lunch, but the umbrellas provided enough cover to keep us dry. In fact, it was a little hard to tell the difference between the sprinkles and the spray from the falls.

Ottawa family fun: Tavern on the Falls

It’s a lovely area to wander, not too far from Rideau Hall. We didn’t make it that far, but we did poke around the falls a little bit, talking about how they’re the reason the Rideau Canal was built, and how Ottawa came to be settled because of them. Here’s the view of the restaurant from the other side of the falls.

Ottawa family fun: Tavern on the Falls

You can really see in this photo why they called these falls “Rideau” – which means curtain.

Ottawa family fun: Tavern on the Falls

We spent a lovely, lazy hour or so having hot dogs and ice cream and poking around the falls. I can imagine the sunset views are stunning, and plan to come back when the fall foliage turns colourful – won’t be long now! All in all, a lovely if not inexpensive lunch out with a gorgeous view, even on a rainy afternoon, and highly recommended.

If you go:
Tavern on the Falls is open from early morning (with Bridgehead coffee and Maverick’s doughnuts!) to late night, through the end of October, weather permitting. The street address is 1 John Street, but we found it by looking for the Royal Geographic Society and wandering around behind it.


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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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Photos of the day: Winter at the Long Island Locks

8 March 2018 Ottawa's hidden treasures

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 […]

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Photos of the day: Autumn colours at Hogsback Falls

25 October 2017 Ah, me boys

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 […]

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Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures: Secret suburban sand dunes

29 August 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

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

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