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Memories of the Rideau

Many years ago, when I was a student at Linklater Public School in Gananoque, I used to participate in the local Royal Canadian Legion’s annual public speaking competition. One year, Grade Five I believe, the topic of my speech was “The Rideau Canal”. It was a pretty good talk, as I recall, presenting the listeners with all of the requisite historical facts and figures, explaining the strategic importance of the canal from a military and commercial perspective, and highlighting the significant engineering feats that went into the construction of the waterway. What made this particular experience even more rewarding was the fact that the presentation was inspired by my real life love of the area.

One of the favourite family outings when I was a young boy was a car trip to either Chaffey’s Locks or Jones Falls to watch the boats go through the locks or, if it was a special occasion, to also have lunch at The Opinicon or Hotel Kenney. At the peak of the summer months the Rideau Canal was a very busy waterway and there was always a wide variety of boats to see travelling in both directions. It was great fun to watch the lock attendants work the big winches to open and close the heavy, wooden gates and to raise and lower the water level in the locks. If things weren’t too busy I was even allowed to help crank the handle for a couple of minutes.

Our visits to the Rideau weren’t just confined to the summer months either – the region takes on a whole new appearance in the winter and you could actually walk into the bottom of some of the locks that had been drained and left with their gates open to explore them up close. These early memories of the Rideau will always be special to me as they helped to instill the love of the water that I treasure to this day.

Fast forward several years and it was time to introduce our own kids to the splendours of the Rideau. In the late 90’s we camped at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, located just outside Perth, Ontario. Situated on Big Rideau Lake, this particular park offered beautiful campsites and lots of recreational opportunities for the whole family. Of course, fishing and watersports were major interests for us and this location was perfect for both. A few years later we rented a cottage on Opinicon Lake which gave us a chance to explore (i.e. fish) a whole new portion of the Rideau system.

Aside from all of the typical fond memories of the family fun that we had during our summer vacations on the Rideau there are a couple of incidents that occurred during these years that have become almost legendary in our family.

The first of these “events” occurred while we were travelling back from Chaffey’s Locks to Murphy’s Point after having lunch at the Opinicon. It was a lovely, warm summer day and everyone was enjoying the boat trip after a great meal. Of course, to get to Big Rideau Lake from Opinicon Lake meant passing through a few sets of locks and our crew was getting pretty good at the “locking” routine by now. I’m not sure who was the first to spot “it”, but as we got settled into the locks at Newboro, waiting to be lifted to the next elevation, it became very apparent that we had some unwanted company in the lock with us. Clinging to the wall several feet above our heads was the biggest, nastiest dock spider that I have ever seen in my life! Without a word of a lie, this creature would have covered a good portion of our paddle blade. As the water began to rush into the lock and our boat slowly began to rise, the level of “uneasiness” in the boat became very palpable as everyone (including the captain) staked out a piece of territory on that boat that was, theoretically at least, the furthest away from the approaching arachnid.

Trying to maintain a sense of calmness I was running through the various response scenarios in my mind that I would have to choose from if our “friend” decided to hop aboard for a visit. Would I just end up screaming like a little girl and jumping overboard, or would I be the brave father, protecting his brood from impending peril, and pick up the wayward creature and toss it out of harm’s way. Thankfully, I wasn’t faced with having to make that difficult choice as the gigantic spider decided to wander away from our approaching craft, sparing us from the absolute pandemonium that surely would have ensued had it chosen the alternative option. To this day, whenever we are talking about spiders, someone invariably will say, “do you remember that giant spider from the locks…?”

The second indelible memory that I have from our time on the Rideau relates to the thrill of a fishing experience that I have not been able to surpass since. It was getting late in the afternoon and we were heading back to the campground from a fishing trip on Upper Rideau Lake. After passing through the locks at the Narrows we decided to try one last location that looked promising. There was a marshy area just around the corner from the locks called Narrows Bay and it looked like the perfect spot for bass. I had tried using my “Hula Popper” floating lure several times over the years without any luck but something told me to try it here. Sure enough, on my third cast into the reeds, a beautiful largemouth bass exploded from the water and grabbed onto my bait. During the ensuing battle to land the big fish he must have jumped at least half a dozen times. This is the stuff that fishermen’s dreams are made of and to say that my adrenalin was pumping just a bit as I battled this impressive bass would be a major understatement. After releasing the big fella back into the water to fight another day, and having high fives all around, I sat quietly to briefly savour the moment knowing that it may never happen in such a picture perfect way again.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the Rideau Canal, or are interested in visiting this beautiful area, I highly recommend that you take a look at the excellent article written by Tad Clark called, “Going up the Rideau”. It can be found under the “Excursions” tab, second from the right, on the header bar at the top of the page. The book, “The Rideau Canal – A Historical Guide” by Paul Schliesmann is also an excellent source of information on this “other” magnificent waterway that is in our backyard.

By Tom King

Tom King and his wife Marion, have lived in Milton, Ontario for the past twenty-five years, where they both worked and raised their family of three children; Kris, Mike and Becca. Tom still has a strong attachment to the Thousand Islands, having grown up in Gananoque and being a “river rat” from a very early age. The family tries to return to the islands every summer and for the past few years have been renting a cottage on Sampson (a.k.a. Heritage) Island, just out from Gananoque.  In 2011 Tom began sharing his father’s photographs.  J.W. King took marvelous photographs of the region and “TI Life” is honored to share them with our readers.  Click here to see all of photographs and Tom’s articles.

Posted in: Nature, Sports
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Brian Johnson
Comment by: Brian Johnson ( )
Left at: 11:20 AM Sunday, March 17, 2013
Always a pleasure to read and 'see' pics of your articles, Tom. I well remember camping at Chaffey's Locks so many years ago and fascinated by the boats going through. the area is still 'as it was' and just beautiful. Hope it is always so.
brian johnson
Paul Harding
Comment by: Paul Harding ( )
Left at: 12:19 PM Monday, April 1, 2013
Planning to traverse the Rideau this summer. Always beautiful and peaceful. Even got our permit at the 2012 rates :-)
Ted Bradford
Comment by: Ted Bradford ( )
Left at: 4:27 PM Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Brings back many memories of one of my favorite places. Locked up and down many summers in a row. Chaffey's and Brewer's Mills were favorite spots. Although I haven't boated on the Rideau in years we still on occasion take a drive to Jones Falls to have lunch at the Hotel Kenney. Another great article Tom. Thank you.