For once, we were looking forward to paddling though a city. Well we should, really, Ottawa being the nation’s capital and all that. But cities have often been more of a hindrance than a help, posing some of the biggest logistical challenges of the trip. Not this time. As we didn’t need to re-supply we could simply enjoy seeing the famous Ottawa architecture from the water, after first dispensing with a few sets of rapids.
The first of these was reached after a two hour paddle, starting in thick fog then developing into gorgeous sunny day, with a tail wind! Remarkable, maybe a good omen. The main stretch of fast water to be negotiated before reaching the city is the Deschênes Rapids. Apart from being serious white water they also contain an old, partially destroyed mill, complete with rebar and other such hidden obstacles waiting for the unwary paddler. They are a playground for local kayakers in the right conditions, but probably no place for a canoe. Eric had warned us of the dangers, and being a fire fighter had a vested interest in us staying well clear. So we knew exactly where to get out and in case we missed it Eric and Nadine (and Nougat) surprised us and came down to wave us in. They also helped with the portage, showed us the put-in, provided hot chocolate and muffins and showed us what poison ivy actually looks like (we’ve definitely waded through a few patches of this in the last few months…).
Waving a sad goodbye, we headed for downtown and the parliament buildings (which look remarkably familiar). After two more small sets of fun rapids we reached the dam at the site of the Chaudière Falls. The take-out is straight on to a cycle path, which is followed all the way to the Canadian Navy Monument and back to the water. We received a few strange looks as we wheeled along the path, and have got used to people’s reactions when we tell them what we’re doing. But we felt a bit bad as some poor guy nearly fell off his bike. We think he survived, and we continued to a rendezvous with Barb (of the cottage and the jam) and Daniel, a friend of hers. Apparently we had provided over an hour of conversation at their Thanksgiving dinner and Daniel had got in touch with us, offering turkey sandwiches and tea! We couldn’t say no and passed a cheerful lunchtime in their company. But we had to leave eventually and floated down under Parliament Hill and resisted the urge to camp in the Prime Ministers garden a little further down. Indeed, with a warm wind behind us we passed all our planned camp spots and found a nice little park and sandy beach almost 20km out of town, where we demolished Nadine’s casserole and started on the cake she somehow snuck in!
At 7.30am the headwind was back. Spirits sank slightly and we headed for the far shore to try and get some shelter. Cas thought she heard a shout, but couldn’t locate it. Then as we approached the bank a man in full camouflage gear stood up from a well concealed hide where he was duck hunting. We turned about rapidly to avoid him as he flung a few expletives in our direction, and he seemed somewhat surprised that we hadn’t seen him….. Hmmm…. Having probably done the local duck population a favour we continued on our way, and after a short time the wind dropped off slightly. We also heard again from Eric: when would we reach Montebello? We’d heard from both him and Daniel that the Chateau there was worth a look, but said we’d be there tomorrow. But after a day spent sneaking along the edges of the river to escape any wind, we arrived at the very impressive hotel and found our way to the bistro for hot chocolate with rum. We knew we could camp at the town marina one km away so after having a good look at this 1930’s wooden building we got back in the boat and continued on our way, with me promising to bring Cas back for our anniversary. Once at the dock we had a phone call, from Eric: “Are you still there? Can you go back? I’ve got something organised…!” Now whether it is because he is a fire fighter, and the Chateau is made almost entirely from wood, we don’t know, but Eric had managed to pull some strings. We couldn’t say no, and paddled rapidly back to the hotel in the almost pitch black. We were met at reception by the duty manager, who delighted in hearing about our trip and extended a very warm welcome. Our room and breakfast…on the house.
After the worlds largest steak the previous night we got back on the water the next morning a little later than usual. We also had a look at the impressive swimming pool, accessed via a tunnel from the hotel. The forecast wind was easterly, in our faces once again, and so it proved. After less than 10km it became too much, with white tops frothing towards us up the widening river. We spotted two figures on a pontoon and made for them, hoping to tie up and put the stove on. Cas’s French was put to the test, and Lise and Roland invited us up to the house whilst we waited for the wind to drop. After coffee we were rejuvenated, and managed a good, solid, 1km before pulling in to shore again on an uninviting stony beach. Two hours later there was enough of a lull to make it another kilometre to a sandy beach, where we stayed. A total of 11km for the day, and two pretty demoralised paddlers. Were we ever going to get down this river? Maybe if we’re still here when it freezes we could bobsleigh to Montreal… The evening was mightily improved by a meal of pasta, meatballs and homemade tomato sauce, provided by Eric’s mother Françoise and sister-in-law Olivia.
Progress was slow the following morning too, but improved by the appearance of André in his boat. We had briefly chatted to him on our way past and declined coffee due to a slight lull in the wind, but he reappeared in his boat half an hour later with two bottles of Perrier! After slogging into the wind for another 20km Cas’s shoulders, and my resolve, were exhausted and a stop was needed. Finding a cleared plot of land (for sale, according to the sign by the road) we pitched the tent around lunchtime and prepared to camp, giving up any hope of reaching our final dam today. However, at 3pm the skies clouded over and the wind dropped. We jumped at the chance and raced to the Carillon Dam, finally crossing out of Ontario and into Quebec. The widest province we have had to cross has presented us with our biggest challenges of this trip, but also with some fantastic memories.
From the dam we have less than 100km to go to reach our intended finish point at the Old Port of Montreal. We wanted to paddle through the Lachine Canal, but have recently discovered that all locks in Canada closed on October 9th and we’re not sure if we can portage them. So we might have to take the river. Either way, with Sunday’s weather looking completely wild and more strong winds early next week we still don’t know when we’ll get there!
- Eric and Nadine, for keeping us entertained and on our toes, and better fed than we’ve been for five months!
- Daniel and Barb for thanksgiving lunch! And more jam!
- The Fairmont Chateau Montebello
- Lise and Roland!