Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

Rideau Canal Highlights June 24-30
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Ottawa (6/24):  We have talked a lot about Ottawa already.  But, the Rideau Canal through Ottawa and out to its suburbs is extraordinary -- lined with bike trails, flower beds, and nature preserves.  You have probably seen pictures of the canal here in winter with people skating for miles along its frozen waters.  It is so beautiful this time of year that we decided follow the lead of workers we saw in the park on their lunch hours -- we tied up above one of the locks and had a picnic at a table in the shade of a tree. 
Merrickville (6/25/05):This was the first day of bass fishing season in Canada, and did we see bass boats!  We had to dodge the fishermen (and, with one exception, they were all men) in our narrow channels of deeper water through the shallow river.  Later someone told us that the weather has been so hot that the bass are in the deeper water where it is cooler, and that is why the fishermen were in our way.
As we were coming up the three locks to Merricksville, we learned they were having a Dutch Festival -- men with knickers and wooden shoes were watching us rise in the lock chambers.  We caught the tail end of the festival, which eneded at three pm.  We ate a Dutch sausage with a heaping helping of sauerkraut (obviously the booth tender didn't want to pack up any left-overs), and listened to the final musical act on the stage.  A Canadian accordian player dressed up as a Dutchman was playing songs of America's South -- including Dixie and Camptown Races.  He did perform one Dutch tune as an encore. 

British soldier and Block house

Merricksville was settled before the locks by an enterprising family of Merricks, who built flour and lumber mills here.  When the locks were built, they built a block house here to defend this strategic area.  This interpreter is dressed as one of the British soldiers manning the block house would have looked. 
We enjoyed a self-guided walking tour of this charming town. Its early buildings are made of stone and those from around the Victorian period and later are made of brick, because the growing town had a n active brick works by then.  Today it caters well to the tourist trade, with a great bakery, ice cream shop with home made gelato, a coffee emporium, a well-stocked grocery, several good restaurant choices, and an historic inn.

A quilted batik

Smith's Falls "Chocolate Capital of Ontario"(6/26-7) We tied up along a wall next to Smith's Falls' Centennial Park, which a sign proclaimed was a park of 100,000 blooms.  We don't think the sign exaggerated. Our boat was next to three plashing fountains, with views of expanses of colorful annual beds.  The walls of the park had swim ladders, and lots of locals were using them to swim in the basin above the locks.  We joined them, and thought that looking at our skin in the tannin-tinted water we looked varnished.  No harm done -- it was clear and refreshing and left no lasting stains.
We visited the Rideau Canal Museum, where we learned a lot about the canal, and enjoyed the unexpected treat of an art show of the work of Sarah Hale entitled "A Well-Wrinkled World -- Batik Art Inspired by Eastern Ontario."  Her work captured the spirit of the natural world we have admired in the northern woods, and we have a special appreciation for textile artists.

(Notice the Hershey Kiss light pole)

Before we left on Monday morning, we rode our bikes to the Hershey Chocolate Factory, which emanates a heavenly chocolate aroma, and offers the opportunity to take a self-guided tour above the factory floor, followed by a visit to the Hershey Chocolate Shoppe.  We watched them making Hershey's Almond Bars, Oh Henry bars, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and saw more hand work (and more idle hands) than we expected in the manufacturing process.  We were inspired to buy lots of bulk candy (broken and rejected pieces of candy bars from the line), then to ride quickly back to the boat to get them all in the refrigerator before they melted.  
Colonel By Island on Big Rideau Lake (6/27): Big Rideau Lake is part of a chain of lakes that feel like the Adirondacks without the mountains.  The lakes are peppered with little stone islands just big enough for a hour or two, and vacation cottages line the lakes' rocky shores. 
Colonel By Island has docks with room for about 8 boats, and we got the last space in water deep enough for us.  The temperature was 90 degrees, and we spent the afternoon alternating between slipping into the clear water from our swim platform and reading our books with cool drinks.  The water was a strange patchwork of hot and cold spots -- the hot warm as a hot tub, the cold a freshly melted ice cube.  Together, they made for a most pleasurable swimming sensation beneath the scorching sun.
As the sun got lower, we launched our kayaks and paddled around the island, exploring Lost Lake, some wetlands, and the tree trunk littered shoreline where we could still see evidence of a tornado that passed through twenty years ago.


A common merganser swam by with her eight chicks riding on her back. 
We watched loons out on the lake, and heard their varied calls.  We thought one call sounded like a sharp warning, one like anger or indignation, another like a laugh, and the best one like a romantic song.  Later we read a Globe and Mail columnist quoting the Wall Street Journal about the loon's call:  "The cry of the loon long has fascinated human beings.  To the Cree it was the scream of a warrior denied entrance to heaven . . . Careful human listeners long ago realized that the loon's repertoire has only four songs: the one-syllable hoot, the howl-like wail, the laugh-like tremolo and the spectacular undulating yodel."  We heard them all.

The next morning we took a two mile walk on a trail that traced the perimeter of the island, then we cooled off with a swim and were on our way again.
Newboro Lock (6/28):  This is the highest point in the Rideau Canal system.  From here water flows south to Lake Ontario and north the the Ottawa River. 
Jones Falls Locks (6/28): There are four locks in a row in Jones Falls, with a pool between the first lock and the next three.  After  making our way down all the locks, we tied up at the bottom and hiked up the road beside the locks to see a huge semi-circular stone dam 62 feet tall and 350 feet long, built by hand as part of the original canal construction project.  At the time it was constructed, it was the third highest dam in the world -- the engineering feat boggles the mind.
We also visited the original lockmaster's house, sturdily built at a strategic point high above to allow the lockmaster to shoot upon anyone below who might try to sabotage the locks or dam.
After our hot hike, we joined the locals for a swim in the pool between the locks.  Ferns and flowers grew on the rock walls next to the pool, and we entered the pool by a natural stone step, using a tree toot as a hand rail.  It was a beautiful swimming hole.
After our swim, we got ice cream cones at a little snack bar near the bottom the locks, and headed on our way.


Morton Bay (6/28-29) was our most beautiful anchorage yet.  We entered the bay through a very narrow opening between rocks.   Once inside, we found ourselves in what felt like a little private lake surrounded by high rock cliffs and wooded shores.  There was just one other boat anchored in the protected cove we chose for its beauty and protection from all but north winds.  We swam in the clear cool water and enjoyed dinner with a view on the flybridge.  When night fell, a whip-poor-will began calling urgently from the shore.  We heard him calling intermittently all through the night, including when we woke to high winds at 3:30 am, and checked to be sure our anchor was holding secure.  In the morning, we woke to twittering songbirds and a couple raucus crows.  We took our time leaving, savoring the misty morning in this tranquil spot.

One of many abandoned mills along the Rideau

Upper Brewers Mills Locks (6/29):  We only cruised ten miles today, through a chain of beautiful lakes connected by narrow channels.  Pines, arbor vitae and birch trees grew along the rocky shores, with scarcely enough soil to support their roots, it seemed to us.  We admired the homes perched on the many rocky islands poking up from the lakes -- islands that reminded us of the importance of keeping to the channel to avoid the many rocks lurking just below the water line.  A  deer swam across Little Cranberry Lake just in front of us.
We stopped at the docks just above the Brewers Mills Locks, and rode our bikes six miles into Sunbury, which turned out not to be much of a town. The ride was scenic, though -- past simple Victorian farmhouses, red barns and green fields.  The corn was knee-high, hay was already rolled, and cows (mostly Holsteins) grazed contentedly.  If we weren't so hot and plagued by deer flies, it would have been a perfect ride. 
Fellow Americans Alex and Cindy (from Watertown, NY) brought over a bottle of wine and joined us for a most convivial cocktail hour.  We haven't seen many Americans since we left Sorel.
On to Kingston (6/30):  On our last day in the Rideau Canal, we traveled just 16 miles, and passed through 7 locks taking us down nearly 80 feet.  Much of our way was through shallow weed-choked wetland rivers, including the intriguingly named River Styx.  In Greek mythology the River Styx connected the the worlds of the living and the dead, the mortals with the gods, as it flowed into the Underworld.  We weren't sure what aspect of this particular river inspired the person who named it Styx.
Turning to our worldly experience of the river, we had to stop and back up several times to clear weeds from our running gear.  We also sighted our first Caspian Terns of the trip, as well as plenty of Black Terns, who were new to us a week ago, but have now become familiar friends.
We arrived in Kingston before 2 pm.  Let the Canada Day celebrations begin!