A few weeks ago, some friends of mine from high school had a reunion here in town. One of the events was a tour of the Ottawa River on Paul’s Boat Lines.
At first I wasn’t going to bring the kids, because I thought they’d be bored. But when they got wind of the fact that Mommy was going Boating, they were IN. I have no idea what they were picturing, but apparently the concept of a boat ride is romantic and exotic and SUPER FUN – and actually, it turned out to be pretty much just that.
The tour lasts for about an hour and a half, and leaves from the dock right at the tip of the Rideau Canal. Just getting there was half the fun – you have to take the stairs down from the bridge that’s beside the Chateau Laurier, then walk all along the locks to the very tip. If it’s a weekend, you’re likely to see the locks in action, with dozens of pleasure boats travelling through; if you’re not in a rush, you can also check out the Bytown Museum, which is along the path. We were lucky enough to be heading out on the Civic Holiday Weekend, which is the weekend of the Rideau Canal Festival, so the entire path to the boat was paved with musicians, artists, crafts, and activities – bonus!
Once you reach the dock, it’s time to board, and the tour begins right away. There’s an upper and lower level on the boat – the upper level is cooler (it’s shaded), and a better place to sit to see the sights and hear the (charming and funny) tour guide. The lower level has booths, so it’s a good place to relax with a drink (the boat is licensed) or strike up a card game with antsy children.
We sat up top and were dazzled by amazing views and fascinating trivia.
This is just a fraction of the cool places we saw. Did you know that the statue on Nepean Peak by the Art Gallery is of Samuel de Champlain, and that he is holding his astrolabe upside down? Did you know that the Ottawa River used to be called the Mighty Kitchississippi? Did you know that SO MANY foreign ambassadors live in PALACES (OMG). Did you know that Gatineau is the prettiest little town ever?
Our kids actually enjoyed seeing the sights – my middle daughter in particular can’t stop talking about the “big house with five chimneys” (that’s 24 Sussex). They also just loved being out front on the boat, feeling the breeze from the river and comparing all the bridges. It was just a really pleasant, quiet way to spend a hot summer afternoon.
There’s a small tuck shop on the lower level, so warning: there will be pressure to purchase chips. Chips on a boat taste better, don’t you know?
Paul’s isn’t the only boat tour company downtown (there’s a few fancier ones, and there’s also Lady Dive, the bus that turns into a boat), but Paul’s tour of the Ottawa River was the perfect size and duration for our kids. There were several of us on board who were actually from Ottawa, and we all learned stuff we never knew and saw stuff we’d never seen, which boggles my mind.
Paul’s Boat Lines also offers a slightly shorter tour of the Rideau Canal – that one is going on our next year’s Summer of Awesome list.
Tours run from June 28 through September 2; the daily schedule is here. Tickets are $23 adults, $14 for children aged 6-12 (five and under are free), and group rates are available. You can buy tickets at the kiosk downtown which is right across the street from the Chateau Laurier; unless it’s a holiday weekend, you can likely just head downtown on the day-of and get tickets for the next boat.