Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ottawa and Rideau Canal (Jun 19-28)

Once we arrived in Ottawa we approached the beginning of the Rideau Canal - eight stair step locks. Because we arrived late in the day, we expected to spend the night at the bottom but were told we'd be able to lock up in a short time. The Rideau Canal was built from 1826 to 1832 as an alternate supply route in case the US took control of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The eight locks in Ottawa would raise us 79 feet with no stops between locks.
These locks are still operated as they were when constructed - by manual labor. The good news is that it isn't up to the boater to supply the labor like one onlooker thought. It's a great summer job for the college kids who crank the gates open and closed. We even saw a spectator take a turn on the crank.
We pass our line around the cable hanging on the side and attach it to a boat cleat. The water pours in - thanks again to those kids. Once we reach the top of each lock the doors open and we pull forward into the next lock.
While we were locking people - locals and tourists - were standing on the lock walls watching and talking to us as we went along. There were none of the safety precautions we'd expect in the US - it sure made it a fun experience. The view back down the locks is fantastic. The Parliament building is in the top left of this picture, so you can see how the canal cuts through the city. This was taken from a bridge that crosses over the canal just after the last lock.
It took us about and hour to make it to the top. Once there, we tied up to a wall and later enjoyed the sunset in the clouds over Peace Tower at the Parliament. Our spot on the wall was a great jumping off point for sight seeing, but our first full day in Ottawa was spent catching up on sleep, paperwork, blog, email. Using the laptop all day for navigation makes it unavailable for everything else so we both had a lot to do.
It may be because summer is so short here, but it seems that everyone is out walking, jogging, biking, skating. The Mayor of Ottawa was out walking his dog and stopped to have a chat with Joe. They got into a law enforcement discussion and luckily for the mayor, Joe needed to head out to church. He went to an English service (everything in Canada is bilingual) at the Cathedral of Notre Dame just a couple blocks from where we were docked. The exterior is nice, but the interior was incredible. Of course, pictures don't do it justice.
The hop-on-hop-off tour buses offer a three day pass so we purchased those and just stayed on the bus for the whole tour Sunday afternoon. Our college student guide spoke almost non-stop since he had to say everything in English and also in French. His English was great and since French was his first language, I can only assume it was good too. The tour took us by all the high points that you'd expect but also through some more residential areas along the river and canal.
After the bus tour, we walked over to the Parliament on the off chance that they had some late day tickets available. Our luck held and I had just enough time to run back to the boat to let Rocky relieve himself before the tour began. I don't want to say anything bad about our Capitol building - but their Parliament building! This was taken looking across the rotunda and down a hall. Because it was Sunday, we were allowed to go into the library. The library dates back to the mid 1800's while the rest of the building was re-built in the early 1900's after a fire. We had a good English only tour there after going through airport type security. In one section that had extensive limestone carving there were six heads carved around the room. Two were of some important people - I've forgotten already! The other four, though, were self portraits of the sculptors who were doing the work. Evidently it was done as a joke, but after consideration the powers that be let them stay as an artist's signature.
On our second touring day, we started at the National Gallery to get a better look at the building. We were allowed to go in without paying a fee (I can't get used to paying for museums after growing up in DC!) if we only were going to the cafeteria. To get there you walk through the part of the building I was interested in seeing from the inside. Outside of the building is a sculpture of a spider called Maman(french for mom/mother). The sculptress made it as a tribute to her mother. Gotta wonder how her mother felt about that.
From there we hoped on the bus to go to the War Museum. Here I'd made a tactical error because we had to ride through most of the tour again to get there. We had a different guide, though, so we did hear some new stuff. The War Museum is just that. It starts with fighting between tribes of the First People (nice term for Native Americans!) and continues through any conflict that Canada was involved in. Neither of us know much Canadian history so that part was all new, but the presentation was different than we'd seen even for conflicts the US was involved in. We spent about two hours by just skimming the surface. We had planned to go to the Museum of Civilization but decided to put that off until the next day and instead rode the bus for the rest of the tour with yet another guide. We were able to get a lesson about how the Canadian government works from him while we were stuck in traffic. We did detour over to Byward Market to try a beaver tail. On our tour every guide had mentioned the "Obama" cookies - named after he ate one on a recent visit - and beaver tails. A beaver tail is simply doughnut dough flattened out to beaver tail shape and fried. We got a cinnamon-sugar one and were told to try it with lemon juice on it - yummy!
The next day we toured the Museum of Civilization which is similar to the Native American Museum in DC - but we liked this one better. There is a large section about different tribes and then another that shows the changes in ways of living through time in Canada. Again the exhibits were presented in ways we hadn't seen before.
After riding the tour bus - with yet another guide - back to its starting point, we walked back up to the Parliament building. The day we'd taken our tour there, the elevator in the Peace Tower was broken. No building is allowed to be higher than the tower and the view is great. If you look closely, you can see Carolyn Ann down there.
As we left Ottawa, we went under the Pretoria Avenue lift bridge. We'd been over it several times on our tour bus, but couldn't see how it would lift - all the mechanisms are hidden underneath. Soon after, a swing bridge was manually opened for us. That guy on the bridge is pushing a rod around in a circle to open the bridge.
One thing they're proud of in Ottawa is their extensive hiking/biking trail system. Not only did we see walkers and bikers, there were in-line skaters and cross country skier-skates (?). Along the part of the canal in Ottawa is a lighted, paved path.
We started out with Jack and Pia on Still Busy and shared lock space for a long, ten hour day. The day consisted of 11 locks going up a total of 99' ending with a marina (with a $25 pump out!) because we were having trouble finding space on a wall.
The next day we decided to take it easy - only about five hours - but still 7 locks. At Smiths Falls, our last lock of the day, there used to be three locks. These were replaced by one 26' electrically operated lock. We passed by the old locks which have been attractively preserved. We stayed at a marina - 1/2 price with our mooring pass. The next morning Jack and Pia seemed to be wandering around aimlessly. They were looking in the water for one of the chairs that had been on their back deck. It had been replaced with a for sale sign sometime during the night.
At this point we were all a bit tired of locks, the novelty having worn off after 18 in two days, and we were thinking that maybe the only really good thing about the Rideau was Ottawa. Then the landscape changed! Part of the time we were in lakes dotted with islands or fairly wide rivers lined with granite. Then we'd enter narrow canals that connected them - with blind turns in the especially narrow parts. There were times that Joe was a bit frustrated because he wanted to look around at the scenery, but he was afraid to take his eyes off the "road" for fear of meeting someone head-on. Carolyn Ann does not like to back up and with her beam there didn't seem to be room to pass! The next day was more of the same but it never got boring. Some of the navigational aids were really interesting. Of course, you remember that at this point Joe is working with the latest in navigational equipment on board.
The last set of locks on the Rideau Canal is at Kingston Mills. These are a set of four locks, three of them continuous stair steps. Of course we'd gone up eight at once in Ottawa, but the sight as you go down is a whole different experience.
We entered the harbor area in Kingston and were faced with a bridge that only opened on the hour - of course it was quarter after when we arrived. There was one section of bridge that was higher - but the actual clearance was in dispute. Jack, on Still Busy, approached slowly while we watched to try to see if he'd fit under. No go. Then Joe heard some yelling from a nearby anchorage. There were our friends from the Erie Canal - Bob and Elaine on Claddagh. We gave up on the bridge and rafted with them to share a pot-luck lunch on Carolyn Ann. They had just left a marina and were anchoring for the night before starting up the Rideau - we couldn't have planned it any better!
If you'd like to see more pictures, follow the link to our picasa albums: (it's not always updated at the same time as this one, but I catch up eventually!)

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