With a fierce beauty in its fast-flowing waters, the Ottawa River begs exploration. A watery highway for First Nations and fur traders, the mighty river helped make the fortunes of lumber barons and 19th-century industrialists who harnessed it. And the legendary river still drives power-generating stations today. In fact, more water flows through its nearly 1,300-kilometre length than all the rivers of England combined.
But its power is also tempered with a wild beauty. Morning mists part to reveal wooded islands and nesting birds. Sandy beaches draw legions of loyal summer visitors to its banks and enthusiastic fishermen ply its waters for muskie, walleye, gar and even sturgeon.
ST. LAWRENCE CRUISE LINES
From its ornate ceilings and brass handrails to its shuffleboard on the sun deck, the 33-metre-long replica steamboat, Canadian Empress, evokes Edwardian era grace, but with modern amenities. Whether you are starting or ending the Canada’s Capital Cruise in Ottawa, the six-day voyage between Kingston and Ottawa offers spectacular views from its open top deck as you sail past the Prime Minister’s residence, Rideau Falls and the verdant banks of the Ottawa River.
Explore attractions on both shores, and traverse the Carillon Lock Station where a 20-metre change in elevations leads down-river to the St. Lawrence. According to St. Lawrence Cruise Lines president Robert Clark, this cruise “along the eastern 145 kilometres of the Ottawa River between the nation’s capital and Montreal is the most comfortable way to explore,” and learn about the major role the river played in the region’s history and economy. “It is a must-do thing.”
BALANCED ROCK SCULPTURE PROJECT
Seen in silhouette at sunset, the dozens of stone statues in the water almost look like a parade of people emerging from the Ottawa River. Yet these river rock sculptures are works of art, created by artist John Felice Ceprano who has been carefully arranging stones since the mid 1980s.
Balanced naturally without adhesives or bolts, the rocks can be knocked over by the force of moving ice during the spring thaw. But come summer, they are designed in a new display.
Ceprano, who recently represented Canada at the first international balanced rock art symposium in Ancona, Italy, has already built the first of this summer’s statues. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy the artistry as well as spectacular river views at Remic Rapids Park, located east of the Champlain Bridge, off the Ottawa River Parkway. Music, dance and theatre performances will be scheduled for Sunday evenings at the site.
Surging through the 12-kilometre stretch of rapids known as Rocher Fondu, the Ottawa River is at its wildest. Owl Rafting’s guided whitewater treks offer you a full six-hour adventure in the craft best suited to your skills and thrills. Choose from 12- or 13-person inflatable rafts, nimbler sports rafts holding just seven or eight paddlers, or inflatable sports yaks that you can ride solo or with a partner. However you choose to travel down river, you’ll be expected to paddle through foaming whitewaters. Thankfully helmets and lifejackets are provided for the adrenaline-pumping journey. Family rafting excursions take a gentler route down the rapids. You’ll skirt the big stuff and simply hang tight instead of paddling, ensuring everyone stays in the nine-person raft steered by a guide. As a reward, everyone ends the day with a delicious buffet meal served on a pontoon boat cruise in the fresh outdoors.
Since the late 1800s, when horsepower meant two horses clopping in a turnstile that drove a ferry’s paddle wheels, boats have ferried passengers across the Ottawa River between the village of Fitzroy Harbour, west of Ottawa, and Quyon, Quebec. Gasoline power replaced the horses in 1916. Today the drive-on vessel takes just five to ten minutes to make the crossing, but offers a great way to enjoy the river scenery during warm weather months.
Thirty-five kilometres downstream from Ottawa, a fleet of ferries maintains year-round service between Cumberland and Masson. Owned and operated by the Bourbonnais family since 1947, it is the first crossing point east of the capital.
Connected to the mainland by bridge, this island’s sandy beaches are hugely popular with picnickers, swimmers and sunbathers. The island wetlands are also a sanctuary for turtles, frogs and ducks. Some five kilometres of walking trails make for interesting explorations. Herons, rare black terns and marsh wrens inhabit the island, along with warblers, chimney swifts and sandpipers. Look for painted, snapping and even map turtles sunning themselves. If you are lucky you may even see newly hatched snappers emerging from the sand in late summer. www.petrieisland.org
TAKE THE PLUNGE
As if running the raging rapids of the Ottawa River wasn’t thrilling enough, Wilderness Tours, famed for its whitewater rafting trips, offers a bungee jump at its riverside base camp. A crane-like structure serves as a platform 150 feet above the river. Jumpers are tied at the ankles, before plunging headfirst toward the water then retrieved by a pontoon boat. New this summer, the Wilderness Family Zone offers children’s entertainment and its own beach so families can enjoy weekend rafting trips with family-friendly fun.
CLICK HERE to read more on how you can Explore Ontario