Urban Ottawa River Exploration

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to paddle around on the Ottawa River in between the Champlain Bridge and the Railway bridge near Lemieux Island with river enthusiast, Dan from Champlain Park. Dan is an Australian who has lived in Canada for 10 years now, and he tries to get out paddling on the river as often as he can, year-round. It was my first time on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), but I had a patient teacher who made sure I didn’t fall in once!

The purpose of this adventure was two-fold: to learn more about the urban river and explore the area there, but also to test out our new app prototype, which is just in its early stages of testing.

Oh beautiful Ottawa River!

My passionate river-loving guide first spoke about Remic Beach, our launching pad, which used to be one of Ottawa’s official beaches but is no longer maintained and no longer named on any maps. I remarked on the sandy beaches, but he believes that these beaches aren’t natural. What definitely wasn’t natural was the couch someone had dragged onto the beach. They had covered it with a tarp to keep the rain off. “I bet they brought it down to enjoy the sunset. They probably think they’re doing everyone a favour by having it there, but it’s wooden, so it won’t be long until it rots out”, Dan says.

The funky beach couch
The funky beach couch

 Lowest water levels ever

“I’ve never seen water levels this low,” remarked Dan a few times on this trip, and you could see lots of rocks and deadhead logs stuck up from the bottom. The logs are from when the Ottawa River was used to send logs to the mill to be processed, something that was still happening 30 years ago. In fact, companies continue to make their living pulling up sunken logs from then. We saw lots of water plants sticking up, as well as John Ceprano’s rock sculptures on dry rock. The base they sit on is usually underwater.

Dan admiring the rock sculptures
Dan admiring the rock sculptures

The mysterious bunker

Right near the Ottawa River Pathway was a strange-looking bunker. Dan believed it was a water pumping station, but didn’t know what for. After conducting some more research, we found it was built for a nuclear reactor that used to be at Tunney’s Pasture! The urban river is full of so much history.

Our launch point (and couch location)
Location of the bunker

A great space for kayakers, surfers and SUPs looking for a little thrill

The Ottawa River has lots of little spaces with fast water, white caps, and little swells. In the spring, Kayakers line up by a famous wall on Bates Island, near the Champlain Bridge, to ride the waves, and then paddle back in an eddy. We saw a surfer in a central area called the Dessert Wave, but before we could get close, they were paddling back to the Quebec shores. Apparently a surfer here has gotten in trouble with the police: some concerned citizens thought he was drowning, and police responded a few times now. He may face fines if they call on him again! Dan went through a great little channel with some swells, but I chickened out…  He said it’s 50/50 whether he falls in. Next time, I definitely will be giving it a try! One wave, nicknamed Sewer Wave is caused when sewers overflow. Keep your mouth shut and wash after trying out that wave! It’d be great to do some water testing there.

Just a warning: these waves are best for experienced paddlers, go with a friend, and wear your life jacket.

Making observations

After purchasing a new waterproof case for my iPhone, I was excited to test it out and take some observations. We noticed a Great Blue Heron in a swampy area near another sewer overflow area. I wanted to take note of it, but I soon ran into an issue many of our users will run into: I was trying to take my photo, and submit it, but I was also on my board and drifting dangerously close to some rocks! I got an error, but there was no time for me to correct it. This was actually the kind of feedback that will make our app even better. How do you take quick observations, fill in details and make sure when I get home I can add to it? What a great problem to solve (to be fair, I soon realized that kneeling down so I could put down my paddle and have better balance was a much better way to go).

The app was great at finding me, and is getting close to letting beta users try it out. It’s getting very exciting!


Showing my paddling prowess. Ottawa-Hull downtown peaking out behind me.
Showing my paddling prowess. Ottawa-Hull downtown peaking out behind me.

Until the next time!

Thanks Dan for taking me out to see where you spend your evenings. Like Dan said, it’s a real shame that there’s not more people out here enjoying this space. We were pretty much the only ones out on such a beautiful evening to watch the sunset on the water. The Ottawa River is the reason Ottawa is here and it’s amazing. Looking forward to joining you again, and for a sunset on the rocks!