Montreal to Jones Falls
Montreal was suffering a heat wave. There were 33 deaths from the heat in the city during the few days we were visiting. Dick managed to do some exploring, and even rode his bike as far as the Lachine Canal on the hottest day. Me, I pretty much stayed on the boat, only venturing out in the evenings for dinner, and once to visit Bonsecours Market. There were several other Looper boats in the marina, but nobody had energy for introductions or docktails.
Montreal’s history began with a fur trading station set up by Samuel de Champlain in 1605. The local Iroquois were not best pleased and were successful in driving the French away. In 1642 the town of Ville Marie was established and a fort was built the following year as a mission to convert the Iroquois to Christianity. Settlers arrived, but the mission went into bankruptcy and the town came under direct control of the French King. After 1763 New France became a British colony. Over time Montreal became the premier city in Canada, a centre for finance, manufacturing, and commerce. Today it is the largest city in the province of Quebec, and the second largest city in Canada. Port operations moved away from the Old City, and today historic Old Montreal is a major tourist destination.
Unfortunately, it is also very much a work in progress. Many of the beautiful old buildings are empty and under reconstruction, and streets that had been paved are now being restored to cobblestones. The main pedestrianized street is not particularly salubrious, too many t-shirt and souvenir shops interspersed with fast food chains. Perhaps as the restoration works continue there will be more space for European style cafes and small shops. I had high hopes for Bonsecours Market, described in fulsome terms in the tourist brochures as a historic indoor market full of boutiques and restaurants. Sadly, the reality is only one of the 3 floors occupied, yet more souvenir shops, and only one café slash ice cream stop.
We did find two nice restaurants in the Old Town, although the first one had an extremely limited and overly avant garde menu. We had an outstanding meal at the second, the enjoyment slightly reduced by a somewhat snooty waiter, who clearly felt we were not quite the right sort of people to frequent his establishment.
It is more than 50 years since I last visited Montreal. That was during the 1967 Worlds Fair, much of the city was under construction, and there was a heat wave. I guess it just is not my city.
We enjoyed an unexpected visit from Dick’s Uncle Hans and his wife Cathy. They volunteer at Ministry to Seafarers, a mission that provides a home away from home and assistance for seamen from all over the world when their ships are in port. They happened to be there when we were, so it was great to welcome them onto the boat for coffee and chat. We may get a chance to see them again later, as they have a boat on the Trent Severn.
We left Montreal before 9am, hoping for a swift passage through the two locks on the St Lawrence Seaway before our route took us north on the Ottawa River. This was not to be. On arrival at the first lock, we were told it would be 11am, as a large freighter was coming through and commercial traffic has priority. As the freighter was being locked through, another Looper boat arrived, we had last met them at Half Moon Bay on the Hudson River. They were told “after lunch”, as we would all have to wait for a “special” boat to come through. After a certain amount of grumbling, Dick got out his laptop and was just settling in for some internet surfing when we were suddenly called to get ready and go into the lock with the just arrived Canada Coast Guard Vessel. The Seaway locks are huge, and it is quite difficult to hold the boat in place with the thin nylon ropes that are dropped down the sides of the locks for pleasure boats. The second lock was easier when we hit on the idea of Dick staying out holding one of the ropes, the second was tied off, and I took the helm and kept the engine running to maneuver the boat back and forth against the inrushing water (much as I do on narrowboats in locks in UK).
The next excitement was created by weather. We were out in 20 knot winds and had to cross shallow Lac St Louis with the high wind and strong current. The course zigzags, and is surprisingly narrow, so at some points the swells were inevitably on our beam and we were rocking and rolling a lot more than is comfortable. It was not a particularly long journey, fortunately, and we found space below the lock at the village of Sainte Anne de Bellevue. This is a historic town, now a suburb of Montreal. We did not see much of the village, only the street along the canal, lined with restaurants. Consulting TripAdvisor, we selected one of the more highly rated establishments, which happened to be an Irish Pub. Go figure. Little of the menu resembled Irish pub fare, but Dick managed to find a lamb shank that he enjoyed very much. I decided to be adventurous and try one of the signature Quebec dishes, poutine. This is French fries, smothered in beef gravy, and topped with cheese curds. I didn’t say it was good for you! Anyway, clearly, I need to try it again, because while the dish was tasty enough, the French fries were seriously soggy, so it was not a success.
After passing through the lock and officially entering the Ottawa River the next morning, we enjoyed a pleasantly calm day crossing Lac des Deux-Montagnes and on to Carillon Lock. The Ottawa River is very wide at its lower end, in many cases more of a series of connected lakes than what one expects of a river. The scenery is pretty, although the shore is often quite a distance away.
Carillon lock is the highest in Canada, with a 66 foot lift. It is controlled by huge guillotine doors that lift and lower instead of the more usual swing gates. It is also the site of a large hydroelectric dam and tours are available, but Dick was disappointed to find that English tours must be booked a few days in advance. He didn’t feel his command of French was quite up to a tour of a hydroelectric facility!
We found a place on the wall below the lock, and enjoyed watching the boats entering and exiting. It is an enormous lock, used almost exclusively by pleasure boats, with as many as 12 locking through at one time. The largest boats go in first, and take the lines dropped down by the lock staff. Then smaller boats are added, including a row down the middle. Those middle boats tie to the boats they are beside. It makes it a bit tricky for the boaters on the wall, because they are not only holding their own boat, but also the one that has tied to them! There is also no restriction on who can use the lock, so lots of wave runners swarm in as well. We were lucky when it was our turn the next morning, just three other smaller boats, and all on the wall with their own lines to hold.
Normally it is quiet and peaceful overnight at this location, but our stop coincided with a huge 3-day festival of electronic music, including 32 hours of non-stop sound. As in all night, thumpa thumpa thumpa.
Our next stop was the beautiful Chateau Montebello. It is one of the Grand Old Ladies built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company. (others include the Empress in Victoria, Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City) Now part of the Fairmont Hotel group, it is billed as the largest log structure in the world. It was built in 1930 to be a Sportsmens Club for CPR, and over the years it has hosted a fascinating list of political figures, royalty, and events. We enjoyed looking at the old photographs on the wall! In the 1970’s it was turned into a hotel, and still operates as a destination resort in beautiful surroundings. We stayed one night in the marina and indulged ourselves with dinner in the hotel, as well as their breakfast buffet the next morning.
It was a relatively short run the next day to Ottawa, but on arrival we had the challenge of the staircase flight of 8 locks that connect the Ottawa River with the Rideau Canal. The guides suggested that “thousands” would watch us locking up, and I had been practising my royal wave, but we started with an audience of just one or two! As we moved up the flight, the audience grew, and included several tourists who took video of the entire process. By the last lock we were watched by at least 30 people. A fellow Looper who locked up with us said afterwards he was glad we were there and got all the attention, he felt he had enough stress trying to execute the enter and exit maneuvers without the additional pressure of amateur critics!
Ottawa is at the confluence of 3 major rivers, and was an important trading place for First Nations. It was visited by Europeans as early as 1610, but it was not until 1800 that the first settlement in the area was established across the Ottawa River in Hull. In 1826, land speculators arrived on the south side of the river when the construction of the Rideau Canal was announced. The town of Bytown was founded, and the canal was built to provide a secure route between Montreal and Kingston, bypassing the St Lawrence River and the threat of enemy fire on supply ships as happened during the War of 1812. Bytown was renamed Ottawa and incorporated as a city in 1855, after a turbulent early history that included labour unrest and political dissension that degenerated into rioting and violence on multiple occasions. In 1857 Ottawa was declared the capital of the Province of Canada by Queen Victoria, who was asked to make the choice after local politicians had failed to agree.
We docked on the canal wall in the centre of town. It was an easy walk to ByWard Market, where we were delighted to find a wonderful choice of fresh produce at the stalls, as well as excellent small shops selling international cheeses and pates, a butcher, and a nice Italian food store. Once again it was very hot, so we decided to have lunch in a restaurant and then relax on board for the evenings. We tried another Irish pub, and the next day had a great meal in an Italian Trattoria. On our second day we rode our bikes, stopping to watch the daily Changing of the Guard. Dick had scouted the previous day, so I knew exactly where to stand to get the best pictures and not be at the back of the big crowd. The ceremony was first performed in 1959, by a Ceremonial Guard that is made up of members from all branches of the Canadian military. After the ceremony we rode to the Garden of the Provinces and Territories. This was described in lyrical terms in the tourist brochure, and perhaps it was once beautiful, but it was a sad disappointment due to years of neglect and lack of renewal of the plantings.
The other takeaway from Ottawa was how much construction there was. Roads were torn up everywhere, and the air was full of grit and dust. A major boat cleaning was required both inside and out to get rid of it. We last visited Ottawa a few years ago, and the roads downtown were all torn up with construction then too. I guess nothing changes.
After Ottawa we went west and south on the Rideau Canal. It is in a beautiful part of Southern Ontario, made up of a series of lakes connected by canal cuts and lots of locks. This is “cottage country” and we are starting to get into the Canadian Shield. You can google it for more detail, but basically it is the igneous rock with a thin cover of soil that covers half of Canada, from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. Much of the scenery is rocks and pine trees, with deep lakes and lots of rivers. At the same time, there are a few very shallow lakes that must be traversed in a zigzag pattern, paying careful attention to the red and green markers to avoid getting out of the channel. Canadian Shield is very unforgiving if you touch bottom. In Ontario we have always referred to electric power as “hydro,” because most of the electricity is provided by hydroelectric dams. I remember having to learn to say “power”, or “electricity” instead of hydro, when we first moved to the US or people did not know what you were talking about!
We stopped for two nights in Smiths Falls. The basin between the Smiths Falls locks was lined with boats of all sizes, and the marina/campground manager told us they had never had so many big boats in all at the same time. The French boat rental company Le Boat has just started operations this year, with a base at Smiths Falls, so a lot of previously available slips are now taken up by their fleet of houseboats. The boats do look very modern and attractive, comparing very favourably with the much older rentals available from long established companies. There seemed to be a fair number of rentals going out, considering it is their first year of operation. We were amused to see the large amount of rubber, in two rows, that completely surrounds each boat. I am sure they are typically going to be referred to as “bumper boats”, given their size and the very minimal instruction (and no previous experience) requirements for renters!
We were not the only Loopers present, and enjoyed a very convivial evening of docktails with new friends from five different boats. A highlight of the stop was a lunchtime visit from Mike and Sylvianne Foley. Mike worked at Ingersoll-Rand and was part of the hiring process when Dick joined the company more than 40 years ago. They live just outside Montreal, but were out of town when we were there, so they decided to make an excursion so we could have a reunion. We had a convivial lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a bottle of wine on the boat, accompanied by lots of reminiscing.
After a surprisingly long wait for the lock to open the next morning we were on our way across Rideau Lakes to the pretty village of Westport. The dockmaster is very efficient, calling boats on the radio when they see them on the lake so they can give good approach and docking instructions. Usually we have to make the call, and we have found that in Canada it is very hit and miss whether a marina even answers the hail! The village is clearly a destination for day-trippers arriving by boat and car, and is full of small boutiques selling everything from jewellery to clothing and souvenirs. We also found a wonderful sandwich shop, beautiful fresh bread and just the right amount of filling so you could eat it without it all falling apart.
We stopped for two nights at Westport, and then headed out towards our destination for the day, Hotel Kenny at Jones Falls. We expected a fairly short day with a 3 lock staircase to finish. Today was our day for a bit of excitement. Shortly after we set off, I noticed a cloud of white smoke coming from the starboard engine. Dick went below and decided the ticky ticky noise meant shutting down immediately. So, we now know that Nine Lives travels very nicely on just one engine! We were able to stop at the next lock so Dick could take a look and see whether he could sort out the problem. It turned out to be weed. Lots and lots of weed! The engines are cooled by water that comes from outside, and there are special baskets to catch any fish or plant life that gets sucked through the hose. Dick took off the strainer and emptied a salad bowl full of weed that had packed into it. Then he took off the hose that leads to the strainer, and pulled out a whole lot more weed! On the assumption that the problem was likely to be the same for the other engine, he took a look, and sure enough, yet more plant life! We were very fortunate that both of the engines did not overheat. I suspect that trying to paddle Nine Lives would have been a pointless exercise.
The lock was very pretty, and while Dick sorted out the engines I watched a group of summer campers prepare and launch their canoes for an overnight outing.
The last exercise of the day was a staircase of 3 locks, preceeded by a single lock, for a total of 4 in quick succession. We gathered quite an audience, some of them very chatty, asking where we had come from and where we were going. Tonight, a well deserved dinner out at the hotel dining room, and then on to Kingston tomorrow.