Going Out

SLIDESHOW! “More than just an ice rink,” Rideau Canal offers accessible adventure for paddlers

BY MATT HARRISON

Claude Galipeau, getting set to embark on a three-day kayaking trip with his brother, Paul, and Ben Welland
Claude Galipeau, getting set to embark on a three-day kayaking trip with his brother, Paul, and Ben Welland Photo: Ben Welland

“It’s more than just an ice rink,” Paul Galipeau says emphatically. Rather, the Rideau Canal water-way can be seen as a natural and historic treasure that’s right in our backyard. And yet, as the photographer and Parks Canada employee points out, most Ottawans have not, and never will, venture out onto its waters — except for a tiny frozen stretch in the heart of the city, while wearing skates, in the dead of winter.

What’s stopping them? Galipeau speculates that perhaps it’s because people think kayaking on the 202-kilometre-long Rideau Canal waterway — also a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is expensive, difficult, and complicated.

Yet Galipeau proved otherwise last summer when he set off with his brother Claude and photographer Ben Welland. All are (or were) novice kayakers. They chose a 40-kilometre stretch — roughly from Kingston to Westport — that was not only doable but unforgettable.

Paddling in 17-foot-long sea kayaks, the trio travelled for three days through various locks, under old bridges, and past historic towns, camping alongside the canal. Since two out of the three are photographers, naturally they documented their trip — at times shooting in 35mm film — capturing what Welland describes as a “local treasure that’s only accessible by boat.”

Having kayaked among the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River the previous year — a difficult and sometimes hair-raising experience — Galipeau says the Rideau Canal trip was easy, not to mention relatively inexpensive. “It’s ridiculous that more people haven’t taken advantage of this park,” he says. Welland agrees that the tour was very relaxed. “Getting picked up by our shuttle was the only deadline.”