Postcards from Manotick

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.


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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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I have been a fan of Ottawa’s Andrew King for a long time. He’s a talented painter with a delightful whimsical streak, but he also loves Ottawa’s quirky side as much – if not more! – than I do. His Twitter feed and Ottawa Rewind blog (and book!) are a constant source of delight. I was aware that he’d moved to Manotick a few years back, and it’s clear he loves living here as much as I do.

Earlier this week, I literally gasped in amazement when I saw some of his latest paintings on Twitter: he’s been doing a wonderful series of some of Manotick’s most iconic buildings, but in a way I’ve never before seen them captured. Here’s a few of them:

Original artwork by Andrew King

Original artwork by Andrew King

Original artwork by Andrew King

Original artwork by Andrew King

Are they not exquisite? They fill my heart with joy looking at them. I love how they’re iconic Manotick and yet utterly unique. I especially love this one because he’s sought out and captured the former home and studio of Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson. Did you know he used to live in Manotick? One of my favourite parks for family photos is named for him!

Original artwork by Andrew King

We are, in fact, on an island here, but I’m pretty sure I’ve walked just about everywhere you can on the island without finding a lighthouse. This reminds me of my other happy place, PEI, though, so I’m okay with it. 😉

Original artwork by Andrew King

Extraordinary, right? I was so taken with them that I reached out and introduced myself (we’ve been following each other on Twitter for years, but never had reason to make contact) and asked if I could share some of the images on the blog. Andrew, who used to live in Westboro, moved to Manotick three years ago. He told me that for him, over time Westboro had lost the small-town neighbourhood vibe that he had loved to infill, traffic noise and corporate greed. In Manotick, he found what I’ve loved for the 10+ years we’ve lived here: a close-knit community where everyone smiles and says hello.

When I asked him about the inspiration for these paintings, he said, “Being a late 1800s mill town, [Manotick] has done a remarkable job of preserving that original character, which I wanted to capture in my paintings. That is this show, Views Of A Village, a place I know proudly call home and hope to for a long time. The historic buildings inspire me as does the laid back river lifestyle that the town is built on. With all these great elements it provides me with a relaxing and inspiring painting environment at my home studio…and if it’s good enough for Group Of Seven artist AY Jackson to build his studio, then I guess I picked a good spot!”

My camera and I agree wholeheartedly. 😉

Even more delightfully, he’s exhibiting his work at Manotick’s newest cozy spot to gather, the wonderful new Cafe 692 on Manotick Main Street. Here’s some bonus art with all the details you need if you want to come see the paintings in person:

Andrew King at 692 Cafe

If you can’t make it for the opening on Thursday, Andrew assures me that the art will be on display for a few weeks at least.

If you go:
Views of a Village at the 692 Café
5546 Manotick Main St
Opens February 20, 7 to 9 pm


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This was the third year in a row that I met up with this fun family for a “day in the life” candid documentary photo session. The first two were so much fun that they ended up being among my favourites of the year, and I was worried that we couldn’t possibly have as much fun for the third year in a row.

I needn’t have worried.

It was a bright, sunny late spring morning, and we had a lovely time exploring the historic locks at Long Island on the Rideau Canal.

Family fun at the locks

Family fun at the locks

I love the setting for the wide variety of backgrounds – grassy hills with trees, giant stone locks with wooden doors and bridges to clamber across, concrete steps and big wooden docks in the open sunshine. It’s a photographer’s paradise!

Playful family photography in Ottawa

Family fun at the locks

Family fun at the locks

Of course, it certainly helps that this family is content to just hang out and have fun while I follow them around with my camera. And it also helps that the kids (and of course, the parents!) are super adorable and easy going.

Family fun at the locks

Family fun at the locks

Family fun at the locks

Family fun at the locks

Playful family photography in Ottawa

I really love this quiet little moment between mom and daughter. My favourite photos from a session are always the ones I wish I had of me and my kids, and this is definitely a keeper. No posing, no looking at the camera, so stress – just mom and daughter, being together.

Family fun at the locks

And how can you not love a kid who spontaneously dances like this?

Family fun at the locks

Seriously? Adorable.

Candid Manotick family photography

Documentary-style candid family photography sessions are my favourites. Invite me to come along on your family’s favourite summertime adventures: a day at the beach, a picnic at the park, family game night or a trip to the farm. If you love to do it, you should preserve those memories – I promise that those are the photos you’ll treasure in years to come, when you see your family’s quirky personalities caught forever.

I’m now booking for late summer and autumn sessions, and spaces are limited, so get in touch today!


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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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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 got them downtown, in Carp, Barrhaven, Riverside South, and about a dozen other location, including one right here in Manotick. This is in the gazebo at AY Jackson park.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

As soon as Tristan heard about it, he wanted to check it out. He’s been teaching himself to play piano from YouTube videos using Synthesia (not unlike Rock Band or Guitar Hero) on our electronic keyboard, but he doesn’t get a chance to play on a real piano very often.

Safe to say, he quite enjoyed it!

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

And so did Lucas, though he was more inclined to discordant banging than any actual harmonies.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

I was intrigued, so I did a little digging to find out more about the project. Founder Nicholas Pope launched Ottawa’s Pianos in the Park in 2014, modeling it on Play Me, I’m Yours, a project started in Britain that now has more than 1,300 pianos in 45 cities around the world. In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Pope said all the local pianos will be painted with Ottawa-specific themes, and that they take anywhere from 40 to 80 hours to finish. So the Manotick piano is in place but not yet painted – although I did notice it smells of fresh varnish.

Amazing, right? I love this so much that I joined the Pianos in the Park group on Facebook, and found out about THIS amazing project being cooked up as a tribute to Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, a traveling piano set to go on tour across Canada this October.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

Have you been to any of the other pianos in Ottawa parks? I’m thinking it would make a fun adventure to tour them all before they’re packed away until next spring.


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Photo(s) of the day: Christmas parades and tree hunting

6 December 2015 Happy holidays

For weeks, I’d kept an eye on the forecast, hoping for just a wee crust of snow to be on the ground for this weekend. Alas, with sunshine and temperatures well above zero, there was not a flake in sight (heh, except maybe the one behind the camera) as we launched our family Christmas season […]

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Watson’s Mill reflected, and a history lesson

28 October 2015 Photo of the Day

There’s been a lot of coverage in the media this week of 24 Sussex Drive, the Prime Minister’s official residence. Did you know that the history of 24 Sussex Drive is linked directly with Watson’s Mill here in Manotick? The mill was built in 1860 by partners Moss Kent Dickinson and Joseph Currier. Shortly after […]

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Photo of the day: Watson’s Mill in autumn splendor

14 October 2015 Photo of the Day

I have a lot of photos of Watson’s Mill in Manotick. No really – a LOT! And yet, this might be my favouritest one yet: Bright autumn colours, brilliant cyan sky, calm reflections on the Rideau River, and all those converging diagonal lines drawing your eye right back to the beautiful mill. I don’t think […]

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Photos of the day: The secret sunflower dilemma (with a bonus conversation with the Universe)

8 August 2015 Ottawa's hidden treasures

It went something like this: **ring ring** Hello? DaniGirl! It’s the Universe calling. Long time, no chat! Universe! Hey old friend, what are you doing in a photo of the day blog post? There was a disturbance in the force and I had to check it out. You were radiating happy when you were out […]

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