Parks Canada Voyageur Canoe on the Rideau Canal

Parks Canada staff Adonaelle, Elisha and Tara in front of 'their' Voyageur canoe.
Parks Canada staff Adonaelle, Elisha and Tara in front of 'their' Voyageur canoe.
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Since my semi retirement, I have more opportunities to bike around during the day instead of my daily commute to work and back. It allows me to see Ottawa during the week and I am learning there is so much happening in Ottawa I had no idea of. Like the Voyageur canoe, operated by Parks Canada.

I am cycling home after a lunch at Kettleman’s on Bank. Home is in the Fisher and Baseline area and a nice route from the Glebe goes via Dow’s Lake, bike through the Arboretum to the Hartwell’s Locks and veer west to cross the Experimental Farm to Fisher Ave and then turn south. I know, Nepean sounds far but it is really only about 6 km from the Glebe, ‘Ottawa’s neighbourhood’.

Hartwell’s Locks

When the weather is nice I often stop at Hartwell’s Locks where I enjoy the world going by. The place is very calm, there is no traffic noise and no cars can get there; it is a very peaceful place. The Rideau canal lock masters open and close locks, there is an occasional yacht or canoe travelling through the lock and hundreds of residents and visitors pass the lock on their bikes every day. I am pretty sure the number of bikes outnumbers the yachts by 1:500 or so. Yet we staff the locks for the odd boat but there is no initiative for a tiny ramp for cyclists to get their bIke on the lock doors.

This time, I noticed a huge 27’ Voyageur Canoe sitting in front of the lock masters building. I had to check it out because it looked like it had the Government of Canada logo on it. Now I know that Prime Minister Trudeau sr had something with canoes, but that is a while ago.

Voyageur Canoe on the canal

It turns out that Parks Canada provides 2 hour tours on the canal in this canoe. I couldn’t find anything on the website, nor did they have brochures available yet (there was a sandwich board though) but one of the Parks people kindle shared with me an 8.5 x 11 sheet with the most useful information.

The Voyageur canoe that early Europeans used to navigate the rivers of Upper and Lower Canada.
The Voyageur canoe that early Europeans used to navigate the rivers of Upper and Lower Canada.

The tour takes you through the actual two stage, manually operated Hartwell’s Locks, part of the Rideau Canal System, a World Heritage site. With some exceptions, departure is at 4 pm Wednesday through Saturday, with an additional offer on 1:30 PM on Saturdays (always bring sun screen, a hat and bug spray). The Parks guides will share sights and stories and show diverse natural landscapes.

Evening experience

There is also an Evening Paddle Experience in the Voyageur canoe which departs at 6:30 pm Wednesday through Saturday, which Parks Canada advertises as ‘ a great opportunity for photographers and nature lovers to experience the city by water’. You won’t go through the locks in the evening though, because the lock folks are gone for the day.

The cost for a trip in a Voyageur Canoe is $14.60 per adult and $7.30 per youth 12 and under. Equipment is provided by Parks Canada. You have to reserve in advance and if you cancel, make sure you do that 24 hours in advance for a full refund. Maximum participants number is 10 + 2 guides. Babies not permitted and you may want to ‘carefully evaluate weather possible restrictions (including pregnancy, health, mobility) prevent you from safely participating in the program’. That is a careful way of saying that it might not be ideal for pregnant women and people with certain mobility issues, although I am sure Parks staff will go out of their way to accommodate as many people as possible. But sometimes they may have to say no.


A side arm of the canal in the Arboretum.
A side arm of the canal in the Arboretum.

Parks Canada even goes as far as -hold your breath- offering chartering (not catering) the Voyageur canoe for a private group or event. Here is your chance to tip the canoe just enough that your boss goes overboard. Of course you rescue the victim and you are the hero of the day (don’t forget to ask for a raise before you toss the floating device). Kidding aside, did you know that nearly 500 people drown in Canada every year? The latest figure is an average of  2009-2013. More recent numbers are not available. Because it is 2017.

This is North America, so you have to sign a waiver ‘prior to undertaking this physical activity”. Under 18? Bring a signature of your parent or guardian to participate.

Canoe on Rideau canal
And off you go on the Rideau canal

Reserve now

Call for reservations with Parks Canada: 613 -283-5170 ext 205

For general info on Parks Canada, visit the website.

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