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Ken W. Watson

Note: This articles first appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Rideau Reflections, the newsletter of Friends of the Rideau.

For many, the Rideau is a place that only exists from mid-May to mid-October. But there is another Rideau, the one that exists after navigation season. It has a beauty and a life all of its own.
Walking on Water - December 31, 2002
For those living year-round on the waterway, the first thing that is noticed when navigation and cottaging season ends is the quiet. Sitting by the water or taking a walk along a country road is a tranquil event, rarely interrupted. As the leaves fall from the trees, a whole new landscape is revealed, one obscured in summer by the proliferation of vegetation. As the ice starts to form on the lakes, huge flocks of Merganser ducks can be seen, the last of the migrating birds on their way south. The first snowfall transforms the Rideau into a winter wonderland, blue skies contrasting with sparkling white snow. Suddenly evidence appears that our quiet forest land is not quite as it seems. Tracks of fox, deer, squirrels, rabbits and even turkeys criss-cross our roads and trails. Birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, downy and hairy woodpeckers start to flock to winter feeders.

GoldfinchWinter on the Rideau can be enjoyed in a number of ways. Those with cottages on the Rideau are finding that coming up for a weekend or three can be a great adventure. Even those with non-winterized cottages find that “roughing it” for a weekend with sleeping bags and a porta-potty can be a lot of fun. Usually by Christmas the lakes have frozen solid enough to support people walking on them, keeping in mind that there is often open water near the locks throughout the winter due to current from the weirs. So, a great time can be had by taking to the lakes on skates, cross-country skis or just in boots. Of course the most famous skating area is the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa. It is the longest maintained skating rink in the world with a total of 7.8 km of the Rideau, from downtown all the way out to Dows Lake, maintained as a skating surface in winter.

There are a number of winter celebrations on the Rideau. Two internationally renown events are Ottawa’s Winterlude and Seeleys Bay’s Frost Fest. Fortunately, since Winterlude spans three weekends and Frost Fest is only one weekend, you don’t have to make that difficult decision about whether to take in the ice sculpture competition at Winterlude or the bed races at Frost Fest. Winterlude in Ottawa takes place on weekends from January 31 to February 16, 2003 and Frost Fest in Seeleys Bay takes place on February 14-16, 2003.

Hiking and skiing winter trails is also a fun pastime. Those into snowshoeing will find excellent opportunities along the Cataraqui Trail and the Rideau Trail. For those interested in cross-country skiing, there are groomed winter trails at places such as Murphys Point Provincial Park (25 km of groomed trails), Foley Mountain Conservation Area (4 km of groomed trails) and the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (13 km of groomed trails). Of course you can also ski along the Cataraqui Trail and on many of our snow-covered back roads.

Starting in late February or early March the sap starts to run in the trees and dozens of places along the Rideau start to make that sweet nectar of spring – maple syrup. There are more places each year that welcome visitors to taste newly made syrup and enjoy various spring activities. The Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation near Kingston celebrates “Maple Madness” throughout March as does the Mill Pond Conservation Area near Portland. Many private operations welcome visitors, such as Gibbon’s Family Farm near Frankville, Leggett’s near Crosby, Oliver’s and Coutts’ near Rideau Ferry, and Wheeler’s near Maberly. And you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted maple syrup cotton candy (available at Gibbon’s). In addition, several communities and organizations host maple syrup festivals, the most famous of which is the Delta Maple Syrup Festival, usually held on the second weekend in April.

Maple syrup season closes as the buds on the trees start to open up. The ice starts to break up on the lakes and rivers usually by early to mid-April. This can be a lovely time to walk around a lock station. The weather is often quite warm, yet with no leaves on the trees many interesting features of the locks, which are often obscured by vegetation in the summer, can be clearly seen. It is just after the ice breaks up that the first haunting calls of the newly arrived loons can be heard, heralding the start of a new boating, cottaging, and summer tourism season, the only Rideau that many people know.

- Ken Watson

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©1996- Ken W. Watson