Sunday, July 24, 2011


We've made it up the Rideau Canal to Ottawa.  I'm sorry not to have posted during the trip but we are on very limited bandwidth rations up here and I can only post when we are in a marina that offers WiFi with its dockage. Our Verizon Canada data plan just barely gives us enough bandwidth to pick up and respond to email.

Water boils in as the lock fills
We have now made it through nearly half of our 99 locks.  This is a picture of what a lock looks like when you are going up in the lock.  You can see the water boiling in from the bottom of the lock.  That water will fill the lock, then the gates will open and let the boats move through.
Exiting after going down

This picture is of a boat that has gone down in a lock and is getting ready to leave the lock.  You can see the wet wall of the lock next to the boat; in this case the lock probably lowered the boat 8-10 feet.  With only one exception, most of the Rideau Canal locks don't raise or lower a boat more than 8-10 feet because these locks were all built using hand tools 180 years ago, making them larger wasn't really an option.  but there are places where the water levels change more than 8-10 feet.  To accommodate the larger changes, the lock builders built "flights" of locks, or a series of locks attached to each other.

Ottawa flight
The longest flight is here in Ottawa.  There are eight locks in succession.  It can take was long as 2 1/2 hours to transit from one end to the other.

Packing in the boats
One of the legendary seasons of summer in this part of Canada is known as the invasion of the French Canadian navy.  The building trades in Quebec all take the same two weeks off every summer.  And many other Quebecois take the same time off.  Apparently many Quebecois have boats and they all like to visit either the 1000 Islands or the Rideau Canal.  Non-Quebecois transients are warned that the Canal gets very congested during this two week period.  We got our first taste of what this means yesterday, the first Saturday of the holiday.  the first locking through at the Ottawa flight Saturday found 13 boats waiting to come up into the city.  There were so many waiting, the Parks staff actually had some boats tying off to each other in the lock because there wasn't enough wall space for each boat to tie to the wall.  They also filled three of the eight locks in the flight in a single transit.  That all meant that the boats waiting to go down had a nearly four hour wait for the upcoming boats to clear the lock.

This morning there were only eight boats waiting, but that still required filling two of the locks and a wait of nearly three hours for the down-bound boats.  We asked the Parks staff if they think it will be as busy on Monday, but they can't predict.  Fortunately, we've planned for this.  We're only going across the Ottawa River to Hull tomorrow.  It won't take us more than a hour once we clear the locks, so if we have to wait until 11:00 AM to go and it takes us 2 hours to get through, we'll still get where we're going by mid-afternoon.

Docking the plane
Not eveyone who lives on the Rideau Canal gets to their home by boat.  We saw several houses where the boat was sharing dock space with the plane.

Mountie band
We've enjoyed Ottawa.  The Mounties do a changing of the guard ceremony at the Parliament building every morning.  The RCMP band and the incoming guard unit march from their barracks to Parliament Hill every morning at 9:45 AM.  The barracks is directly across the Canal from where we are docked, so we went over one morning and walked through downtown Ottawa with them.  You've got to understand, in the time we've been here Ottawa has set an all time record for heat (heat index of 46 degrees Centigrade or 115 Farenheit). these guys (and gals) are wearing wool uniforms and bear skin hats.  It was only a 15 minute walk through town, but it was then followed by a 30 minute ceremony on the Parliament grounds.  It was a wonder someone didn't pass out from the heat.

Canada's Parliament buildings
Clock tower gargoyles
Parliament is a typical old mid-18th century Victorian set of buildings.  The coolest feature is the great gargoyles on the clock tower, during the day time.  But at night the city does a free light and sound laser show of the history of Canada, projected on the Parliament buildings.  It is an amazing event.  They light the building with colors.  They use it as a canvas to show projections of waterfalls, beavers building dams, moose and elk wandering in the mountains, Canada geese flying.  They even project some snippets of TV shows on the building.  The show covers Canadian history from the first people (natives) to the modern day.

Ottawa also has the oldest outdoor market in Canada.  It has been operating since the 1840s.  And, since the entire city was built around the canal, the market is convenient for boat re-provisioning.  So, fully stocked, we'll take our chances with the flight tomorrow morning, then on to Montreal.  We'll post again when bandwidth is available.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kingston, Ontario

We spent the weekend in Kingston, Ontario, a city of 150,000 people at the confluence of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the Cataraqui River/Rideau Canal.  Because of its location on three navigable waterways, Kingston has been an important port from the days when the French ran Canada.  Now it is home to the Canadian Military Academy (think West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy all rolled into one), Queens College (one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country), a big military base, and ten prisons (only six of which are actively being used).  Kingston is also very interested in promoting tourism.  They have built a nice city marina and made a commitment to retaining all of their historic houses and commercial buildings.

There was a lot happening the weekend we were here.  We took the trolley historic tour through town, shopped at the farmer's market, had lunch at the Taste of Kingston restaurant celebration in the park next to the marina, caught the new Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts movie (light summer fluff, not great film-making), re-stocked our groceries and liquor, and visited the historic fort built after the War of 1812.  While on our trolley tour we learned that the bridge across the Cataraqui River was designed by the same man who designed the Golden Gate.  With no offense intended to our Canadian hosts, I think he did his better work in San Francisco.

I don't think citizens of the U.S. understand how fraught the relationship with our Canadian neighbors has been over the years.  Fort Henry, which is a very nice fort compared to U.S. facilities of the same age, was built to protect Canada from invasion by the U.S.  Not only was there concern about invasion during the War of 1812, but there was some kerfuffle in the 1840s when people in Oregon thought that the U.S. northern border should reach all the way to the North Pole.  Although no invasion occurred either time, the Canadians were ready for us. As you can tell from this picture taken at the fort, they would definitely have seen the U.S. Navy coming.

Throughout the coastal areas of Kingston there are also numerous historic markers commemorating the landing spots of Loyalists (people fleeing the U.S. after the American Revolution) in 1783.  Today they are happy to be invaded, as long as the tourists are spending money.

Hand cranks let the water out
From here we start up the Rideau Canal, which is actually another monument to concern about the evil U.S.  After the War of 1812, the British and Canadians decided they needed a way to get from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean that was not subject to interference by the U.S.  They embarked on building a canal from Kingston to Ottawa, making use of existing rivers and lakes where possible.  By the time the canal opened in 1832, tensions had eased a bit and the canal was never used for commercial traffic.  But it remains a favorite vacation destination for Canadians and in 2007 was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Unlike the Erie Canal, the Rideau was never updated as new technologies were developed in the 19th century.  All of the locks are still operated by hand which is what UNESCO and Canada are preserving by naming it a World Heritage Site.  That means that every lock has a four or five staff to help position boats and operate the locks.
Hand cranks to open the gates

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Houses of the 1000 Islands

Many of the islands in the 1000 islands have houses on them, ranging from simple fishing shacks to quite impressive domiciles.  We took pictures of a few just to give you some idea of life in the islands.  Some of the islands are quite large, in fact the largest Canadian island, Wolfe Island, is large enough to have an 86 windmill  wind farm in addition to all of the houses.  Some islands are so small they can barely support a single house, others are too small for even one house.  The official definition of an island is a body of land that remains at least 3 feet out of the water year round and has at least one tree and one additional form of vegetation on it.

The only house on a small island

Hanging off the edge of an island

Modern architecture goes island

Big island cottage

Even bigger island cottage

As you might notice from some of the pictures above, these houses frequently have garages, just like their mainland counter parts, but the garages are boat garages on the water, not car garages.  Like the houses the boat garages come in a wide range of styles, from a "carport" type to a multi-boat storage facility.  These garages are a necessary piece of domestic architecture because the only way to get to your island home for most homeowners is by your own boat.  In fact many of the real estate listings for island properties saw "boat included."

Boat "car port" with party deck on top

Single boat garage with "driveway" dock for outside parking

Three boat garage
We spent our time in the 1000 Islands at Park Canada docks on Canadian park islands that are only accessible by boat.  This a a picture of one of those docks at one of the islands.  Some docks are only big enough for a single boat, others can hold 4-6 boats depending on the size of the boats.  All of the islands have  walking trails that let you circumnavigate the islands, picnic benches on the docks and sometimes grills and fire pits inland from the docks.  The park rangers will even sell you fire wood if you want to have a campfire at night.

We discovered that the Canadians use these parks to go camping in their boats.  When they arrive at a park, they unload a camp stove, tablecloths, beach chairs and an umbrella or two and set up life on the dock.  Many cook all their meals on the camp stove rather than in their boats.  I found this a bit strange until on of the women I talked with told me her boat didn't have a stove.

This last picture is just for fun.  We were heading up the Bateau Channel from our last park dock heading to the town of Kingston, Ontario when we came across these "bath toys" in the channel.  I'm not sure you can appreciate it from the picture, but these things were big, 3 to 5 feet each I would guess.  I have no idea what they were doing hanging out in the channel but they provided a bright spot in our day.