Saturday, April 30, 2011

Beaver and bat

I want to record our first sighting this summer of a beaver swimming in the Rideau River, as we were walking home through the parks at sunset this evening. It was quite a bulky animal, busy chewing the juicy twig tips or buds of a large tree that had fallen into the water in the course of last week's gale. (Beside Stanley Avenue we'd found another large tree, a Manitoba maple, uprooted and felled by the wind.) Having heard us, perhaps, the beaver was distracted and lost hold of the twigs, at which point the current of the river swept it backwards. Or perhaps it just let itself be carried along; anyhow that's the first time I've seen a beaver fail to swim in the way it was pointing. After a moment we observed the head and sleek body moving diagonally and purposefully across the river to the opposite bank, a characteristic V of ripples in its wake.

Further along the path by the poplar trees opposite Maple Island as we stopped to talk to a couple of friends a bat flitted around above our heads, which means the mosquitoes and moths must be out now, in the calm evening sky.

Spring clean

A beautiful day with a cloudless sky and 18ºC in the shade. We had a spring clean at the Rockcliffe Flying Club and some of the 100 members of the Rockcliffe Yacht Club, just down the hill from the airport (the access road doubling as a floatplane ramp at times) were scrubbing the decks of their premises, too.

From the wikipedia entry for the RYC ...
The club originally was part of CFB Rockcliffe but changed to a private club when the base transferred the ramp and river bank to the National Capital Commission in 1984. The club is centred on a concrete ramp originally used to launch sea planes. The ramp extends 50ft into the water, as when the ramp was built, in the 1930s, the level of the Ottawa river was much lower. In 1964, a dam was put across the Ottawa River for the Carillon Generating Station which raised the water level by 9 ft. As a result, the Rockcliffe Yacht Club has one of the best launching ramps on the Ottawa river.

From the old photo, above, presumably taken from a Rockcliffe based aircraft in 1936, the old floatplane mooring station can clearly be seen. Nowadays it's used for people's private yachts, and floatplanes must be tied down in the water a hundred metres or so upstream from the ramp.

The old buildings in the picture have gone and new ones have sprung up in their place. My friends and I beautified a couple of flower beds along the walls of our new maintenance hangar today.

Once the docks are in place (stored on shore for the duration of the winter) the next job at the Yacht Club, in May, is to launch the boats, after which the sailors can finally do what they must have been longing to do all winter.

Yacht on the river, August 2009

Friday, April 29, 2011

Our own tornado alley

There are horrific reports from the USA in the wake of this week's tornados. Occasionally we have tornados, too. When they come, they sweep down the Ottawa River valley from Pembroke. Riverside areas are therefore vulnerable.

April 27th this year wasn't quite as bad as forecast, but here's a picture of some of the damage done at Rockcliffe airport in April 2009, while club members were gathered in the Aviation Museum at the other side of the field, blithely unaware of the storm, enjoying their annual Wings Dinner to celebrate newly qualified pilots and other achievers:

Photo taken on April 26th, 2009

There was a very similar catastrophe here in June 1985, as well.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Running through the park

Green grass, at last ...
I got mixed up with a line of schoolboys on their afternoon run along the trail through the Bordeleau Park, while I was coming home from taking a picture of the trees across the river, now crowned with opening leaf-buds. The wind is still whistling out there and bringing branches down.

... and green in the trees

Wild weather

The Ottawa River in springtime
Risk of tornados yesterday, part of the same deadly weather system that hit the USA; in the end we had no more than a standard thunderstorm or two. There's storm watch again, for today, the wind (gusting >80kph at times) blowing heavy showers in and out of Ottawa. I hear that we have had a record month of rainfall in Ottawa, which means a risk of flooding too. The rivers look restless and dramatic.

I attach an aerial photo of Ottawa-Gatineau, taken in 2007 at about this time of year, which shows the swirls of foam engendered by the Rideau Falls in full spate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Glowing water

Lots on our mind at present, but our riverside walk in the evenings allows us to talk things through and keep all the fuss in perspective. The night before last the reflection of the orange-red sky at sunset was superb, with black silhouettes of trees in the reflection too and the Gatineau hills in the distance a sort of dark purple. We're very lucky to have this calming influence in our lives.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Upper Duck Island

In the Ottawa River near Rockcliffe airport are three islands: Kettle Island—the possible, controversial site of a future interprovincial bridge, which might be the subject of another blogpost—and the Upper and Lower Duck Islands, swampy wooded areas which are likely to remain untouched.

We always overfly these islands in the circuit for Runway 27 at the airport, crossing Upper Duck Island on the base leg, as a rule.
Upper Duck Island as seen on the final approach to Runway 27 at CYRO
Upper Duck Island from ground level
Once we'd landed today after a flight back from Mont Laurier, we stretched our legs with another walk on the Ottawa River trail, going east this time, which gave us a lovely view of the tip of Upper Duck Island from ground level as well. The red smudges in the picture are the twigs of dogwood bushes growing by the shore.

Note the blue sky for Easter Sunday!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring walk by the Ottawa

We had a pleasant stroll this afternoon down the hill from the Rockcliffe Flying Club to the Ottawa River and then on the cycle path (also good for walkers) along its south bank. This land all used to belong to the Rockcliffe Air Base; the National Capital Commission now owns it for the purpose of public recreation.

Shortcut to the river trail from the RFC...
... through the sumac bushes
Evidence of woodpeckers!

Puddle on the trail. Some cyclists rode straight through it.

The trail near the RCMP stables (up the hill to the right)

Poplars with catkins

Football in the sun

Two international African teams (a few men short of the correct number) were playing amateur football under the trees in the park by the Rideau, this lunch time. I think they must be people living at the Catholic Reception House for government sponsored refugees and refugee claimants, on nearby Botelier street, and delighting in their Canadian freedom, I'm sure. Many of these people have undergone unspeakable hardships and trauma in their native countries and in transit camps before reaching this country.

My husband points out that football is an international language and that regardless of words in common, everyone would know the same rules. Isn't that great?

It's also great that the weather's fine enough for outdoor games today, at the start of the Easter holiday weekend.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The ever changing colour of the river

One evening last week we saw a summery sunset glow in the river beyond the Minto Bridges, although the ambient temperature wasn't at all summery. The river looked red again after nightfall last night, heavy clouds hanging so low in the sky that they reflected the light from the city. As the clouds began to lift, the water became more silvery. By daylight, the river has looked greyish brown all week from the rainwater.  It looks blue again this afternoon, the weather clearing up for the start of the Easter weekend.

I must admit that I haven't given much thought to our local rivers these past few days because I have been imagining one much further east, the Qiantang River that flows through Hangzhou where we're arranging to stay for four weeks in May and June. Our hotel room, apparently, boasts a "river view" which is going to be very different from our view from the Bordeleau Park in Ottawa; that's certain: "Escape to the Club Lounge on the 16th floor of the hotel," says the blurb, "where you can enjoy new levels in personal service. Marvel at panoramic views of the river while enjoying a delicious cup of tea or an exotic cocktail."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Variable weather

Wikipedia image of mergansers
Rain again today, and wind. Last time, the river was edged with scummy foam all the way along its banks, after the storm. Today's bout includes ice pellets and freezing rain. It "feels like" minus 8 this morning, although yesterday afternoon I was able to take a jacket-free walk along the riverside trail to Cummings Bridge, thinking that the weather had finally calmed down. Ducks were pairing off; I saw two pairs of hooded mergansers, the males displaying to the females.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Barrack Hill

The weather has deteriorated. We're in the throes of a depression with blustery winds this morning, rain this afternoon. The Ottawa River is greyish brown and so full that it's drowning the smaller islands. The water's churned up by the wind; white caps are breaking on it.

Yesterday I noticed that flood water has submerged the jetty from which the pleasure boats will soon pick up passengers on the Ontario side, below Parliament Hill.

In Major's Hill Park I found a (reproduction) picture of the view as it looked two hundred years ago, probably painted around the time when the British were considering where the Rideau Canal locks should go. Same curve, fewer buildings. The limestone outcrop on which the Parliament of Canada now stands was known Barrack Hill in those days.

The hundred foot line

There's a new, extraordinary landmark by the Ottawa River on Nepean Point, part of the National Gallery's collection, a sculpture entitled Hundred Foot Line. I was at the gallery yesterday and had a good view of it from the cafeteria. The sculptor is Roxy Paine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Within about half an hour's drive of where we live, on a bend in the River Gatineau, is a haven of restfulness called Wakefield, a town that's only ever crowded when the daily steam train drops carriages full of tourists for a few hours during the warmer months of the year.

Wakefield mill
We went for a relaxing stroll (short hike) around the edge of Wakefield last weekend, noticing the powerful sound of the present melt water in the Gatineau's tributary river, Rivière La Pêche, which flows through the hills past the former Wakefield Mill (once owned by the MacLarens, now an upmarket spa and guesthouse) and whose mouth is in the middle of the town. Standing there you can also see the covered bridge across the Gatineau, rebuilt by local volunteers not long ago after the previous one burned down.

Rivière Lapeche below the mill
Covered bridge, Wakefield
I must confess that Wakefield is one of our favourite places, especially in the off-season.

I guarantee, if you lean on the bridge by the mill to watch the water tumble by, it cannot fail to relax you.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ottawa's three rivers

Last Friday I managed to get a picture from the air that captures all of Ottawa's main rivers. Although there are three of them, Ottawa is not to be confused with Trois Rivières just west of Quebec, a town whose citizens are known as Trifluviens, the rivers in their neighbourhood being the St. Laurent, the St. Maurice and the Bécancour.
Here are the Rideau, the Gatineau and the Ottawa:

It's striking to see how close is the Rideau-Ottawa confluence to the Gatineau-Ottawa confluence. Interestingly enough the sources of the Gatineau and the Ottawa Rivers are also fairly close together (in the lake system north of the Baskatong reservoir), although they meander for hundreds of kilometres in different directions beyond that point.


We have had a couple of unnaturally warm days for early April. Ottawa was woken up early by flashes of lightning and the crash of thunder; the storms seemed to last from 4 until nearly 6 a.m. The river of course is fuller than ever now and a rather ugly, milky brown colour under the night sky and artificial lights. Not its usual appearance, more like the Assiniboine in Winnipeg than the Rideau in Ottawa at present.

Only yesterday I was thinking how low the river level seemed as we drove beyond Mooney's Bay in the southern part of the city. We had lunch at a big house near the Hunt Club bridge, whose garden sloped steeply down towards the river, ending in what our hostess called a "swamp" at the bottom. I'll bet it's swampier than ever tonight.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

River Cleanup Day

The disappearance of our snow and ice unfortunately reveals a season's worth of litter on the riverbanks. However, something can be done about it. I have just found out that on the day before Mother's Day—Saturday, May 7th—the banks of the Rideau River in our neighbourhood will be cleaned up by a team of volunteers. Anyone may join in: the meeting point is the Fieldhouse at 193 Stanley Avenue (where the annual Crichton Community Council plant sale will also be taking place). Work will begin at 10 a.m. on that day and finish at 1 p.m., the noble volunteers armed with "garbage and recycle bags" and wearing thick work gloves, a very necessary protection from the discarded drug-needles which are often found during these endeavours. The event is being organised by the New Edinburgh Community Association whose representatives will be on hand with coffee, juice and snacks to keep the cleanup teams "energized." These people also publish the free paper, the New Edinburgh News, my source of information for this blogpost.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Welcome home

The swallows are back from their trip to Florida or Mexico, flitting around Rockcliffe airport on the banks of the Ottawa, and finding the nesting boxes they had left behind at the end of last summer. There's a row of these boxes against the fence on the airport road.

Other signs that the seasons are changing were the sight of a couple of boats on the river and a lone floatplane in a dock on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, this morning (seen from overhead).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Crescent moon

A waxing moon, two days old, hangs in the west over the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers tonight. On such a clear night that it's also possible to see the rest of the disc that's in shadow. Geese are squawking in the moonlight. It still feels bitterly cold outside when we head into the northwest wind, but most of the pavements on our evening walk have been swept clear of grit, which must mean that the city deems it to be spring now. The next thing that will happen is that the huts, re-used Christmas trees and other accoutrements left on the Rideau Canal bed after the skating will be hoisted up and carried away and the canal sluiced out and flooded to a proper depth of water (last year that happened on April 20th, although Parks Canada hasn't updated its information page yet for this year). At this point the level of water in the Rideau River (from which that water comes) will noticeably drop.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

14 billion logs

Yesterday evening we stopped at the New Edinburgh Pub again, where the old photos are hung on the wall; this time we sat near a picture of the Rideau Falls with the mills in the background and, below the Falls, a boom of logs floating.

J.R. Booth's timber raft on the Ottawa River
"It’s estimated that over 14 billion logs floated down the Ottawa River over the course of the log drive era." ( helped along by working men of a somewhat romantic reputation!  Do you know The Log Driver's Waltz?
For he goes birling down, a-down the white water;
That's where the log driver learns to step lightly.
It's birling down, a-down white water;
A log driver's waltz pleases girls completely.
Logs going over the Chaudière Falls
The Canadian lumber industry began to flourish at the beginning of the nineteenth century and the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers continued to be used for this purpose right to the end of the 1980s. Philemon Wright of Wrightsville (now Hull, part of Gatineau) was the first of the local lumber barons and one of the richest men of his day and a couple of generations later John Booth was the "emperor of the woods" whose small saw mill at the Chaudière Falls eventually became the largest in Canada. E.B. Eddy owned the mills on the Quebec side. These timber empires are what made the national capital region rich.

When he died at the age of 95, Booth's estate was worth $44 million. He had come to Ottawa carrying $9 in his pocket.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Blowing in the wind

Vorfrühling, by Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929)
Es läuft der Frühlingswind
Durch kahle Alleen,
Seltsame Dinge sind
In seinem Wehn. [...]
(The spring wind rushes through bare alley-ways, strange things are in its blowing ...)

Red winged blackbird (Wikipedia)
Today's temperature was up to double figures (above, not below zero) in a gusty west wind, with skeins of geese flying overhead, honking at one another. On a horizontal dead tree which has drifted downstream with the flood water and is now floating beside Green Island, a pair of ducks had perched to take a rest. The crowns of the maples growing in the parks are showing red blossom; the sun is still high and bright at 7 p.m. Walking towards the Minto Bridges from New Edinburgh we were dazzled by its reflection in the river. I was sorry not to have had my camera with me when we noticed, from a distance, the spray blowing back from the Falls, backlit by that sunshine. I spotted another portent of spring, a newly arrived red-winged blackbird (hearing it before I saw it, as is usually the case; they're noisy creatures).