Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ottawa and the start of the Rideau Canal

June 23-24, 2012

Our very first experience in Canada’s lovely capital was travelling up the 8 stairstep locks below the Parliament building.  These locks are an amazing engineering feat and quite the tourist attraction in their own right. They are also officially the beginning of the Rideau Canal. We entered at the bottom and exited each lock right into the next.  It’s exhausting, frankly, entering and exiting, handling the lines, holding on against the rushing water and constantly adjusting the fenders that protect the boat from the lock walls.  By lock #5, I was sure we had been through seven already. It has to be more exhausting for the lock workers, who as on the Chambly Canal, still operate the locks by hand. It took us about 2 1/2  hours to go through the eight locks. There are hundreds of people who gather to watch the process and because they are standing right next to you as you and your boat move along, there are lots of questions asked and answered.  Some people wanted to know where we are from and where we’re going, others had technical questions about how the locks work.  One lady didn’t understand the lock concept at all and thought we were all tied up in a multi-level marina for the night. We had an incident in the 8th lock when my line got caught and we had to quickly cut the line free.  All in all, locking through in Ottawa was at once fascinating and tedious, and one of the classic Loop experiences we had read about and had now experienced ourselves.

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At the top of lock #8, we were able to tie up at one of the last remaining lock wall sites, a beautiful location right in the heart of Ottawa.  There were a few other Looper boats there, Serenity Now, Seaquel and Paddy Wagon.  We got reacquainted and enjoyed a glass of wine on Serenity with John and Kathy, who are doing a mini-loop in the Canada canals and St. Lawrence River with their 14-year-old granddaughter Lily. On their recommendation, we walked a few blocks to Ribfest, a huge street affair taking place that weekend, along with the Ottawa Jazz Festival, which was being held just across the water from us.


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The views from our boat that night:

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The next morning, John and Bruce (Paddy Wagon) helped Craig lower our radar mast to accommodate the several 22 foot bridges on the Rideau Canal. We will leave the mast down for the next few weeks, as there are also some low bridges on the Trent Severn Waterway further along.  We just have to hope we don’t run into fog, because we have no radar with the mast down.

After that project, we walked to the By Ward market, a terrific outdoor food market.  We bought fresh fruits and vegetables and some local cheeses. 

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Next, we followed the sound of a brass band playing “O Canada” to the war memorial, where a commemoration of the 59th anniversary of the Korean War armistice was taking place.  There were both Canadian and Korean veterans in attendance.


When we returned to the boat, we quickly made ready to take off and begin our much-anticipated trip up the Rideau Canal.  This canal system was completed in 1832 and is the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America. It was built as a defensive waterway, an alternative to the St. Lawrence River in the event of an American attack in the tense years after the War of 1812.  And while we’re on that subject, we’ve been surprised in the various historic sites we’ve visited in Canada at the many references we’ve seen to the American aggression against Canada in the early 1800s.  I have to say I don’t remember learning it that way in school!  I guess every country teaches history with its own slant.  But even the Canadians we’ve talked to have agreed that the issues were between the British and the Americans, and Canada was sort of caught in the middle.


Anyway, although the Rideau was built for military purposes, it was never used as such and today is the most beautiful and peaceful waterway you can imagine.  Shortly after leaving Ottawa, we went through a lock where the lock master handed us a set of instructions about the dragon boat races we were going to encounter further up.  These are long boats with a dragon head at the front, propelled by canoe paddles by a crew of many.  There is a person who sits at the front of the boat beating a drum to set the rhythm and another person at the back shouting instructions.  This race was a charity event and there was much excitement in the boats and on the shore.  The race took up most of the channel, forcing us quite close to the shore, but we had no problems.  It was fun to watch.



As we locked through the lock at a quiet place called Long Island, it began to look like a storm might blow in.  We opted to tie up for the night at a deep water wall just past the lock, where we enjoyed a peacefully quiet night (it never did storm).  There was a large grassy park where the dogs could run, and we had the place to ourselves.

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Some of you have asked how our dogs get on and off the boat.  We have a wonderful expandable ramp that connects to the boat at midships and allows them to get up and down quite easily.  Even skeptical Bailey has taken to it like a mountain goat!  Depending on the width of the dock, sometimes we have to play backstop so they don’t go straight into the water.  Here they are getting off at Long Island.

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Next, further into the Rideau Canal.

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