Ottawa’s hidden treasures

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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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.” 😉

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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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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Photos of the day: Manotick’s Remembrance Park sculpture by Nathan Scott

5 July 2017 Ottawa's hidden treasures

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 […]

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A Visitor’s Guide to Ottawa 2017 Family Fun

10 February 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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Ho- Ho- Hooray for Holiday Parades 2016

11 November 2016 Happy holidays

Edited to add: Click this link for the 2018 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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