Pic­nic Spots

Ottawa Magazine - - THIS CITY - BY RON COR­BETT

IT IS OF­TEN SAID that no mat­ter where you are in Ot­tawa, you can drive 10 min­utes in any di­rec­tion and find your­self sur­rounded by na­ture. You can feel as though you’re in the mid­dle of north­ern On­tario — deep in a for­est or tucked away on the edge of a small bay. You’ll ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle shiver of sur­prise as you hear the chimes of the Peace Tower some­where in the dis­tance.

Ten min­utes. That’s all you need in Ot­tawa to find a per­fect lit­tle piece of na­ture. You’ll need about five more to find the per­fect pic­nic spot. West to east, north to south — it doesn’t mat­ter where you are, that per­fect, idyl­lic pic­nic spot is never far from reach. Some of this city’s finest al fresco lo­ca­tions are well known — so pop­u­lar that you’ll have to ar­rive well be­fore noon to claim a patch of grass. Oth­ers are hid­den gems known only to lo­cals and those in­trepid souls who spend their days trav­el­ling off the beaten path. So lay down your blan­ket, open the ham­per, and come ex­plore the city’s top pic­nic spots.

Jock River Land­ing (Bar­rhaven), Long Is­land Locks (River­side South)

The first is a true hid­den gem. Most com­muters go­ing in and out of Bar­rhaven by way of Old High­way 16 have no idea what can be found by tak­ing the poorly marked turnoff to the foot of the Jock River where it emp­ties into the Rideau. It’s of­fi­cially a boat launch — although only for ca­noes and kayaks, since there is no ramp or wharf. As beau­ti­ful and charm­ingly re­mote as this spot can seem, be fore­warned — it is also a pop­u­lar fish­ing spot, and there is not much space to spread out a pic­nic blan­ket. A good backup plan is the Long Is­land Locks, less than a 10-minute drive from the Jock River Land­ing. There’s no short­age of room, with pic­nic ar­eas at both the top and bot­tom of the three locks. Most peo­ple pre­fer the top, which is the size of a good city park, with plenty of ma­ture trees and a nearby lock­mas­ter’s of­fice with re­stroom fa­cil­i­ties. Make sure to check out the nearby stone dam, one of the engi­neer­ing mar­vels of the Rideau Canal.

Petrie Is­land (Or­leans)

This an­cient sand­bar in the Ot­tawa River, left be­hind when the last glaciers re­treated 12,000 years ago, is a nat­u­ral won­der of the re­gion, with more birds and am­phib­ians per square foot than any other place in the city. It also has a large pic­nic area, lo­cated just west of the main beach. Run by the city, the pic­nic area has ta­bles and a large fire pit, which you can use for “Kum­bayah”-type sing-a-longs — af­ter first get­ting a per­mit from the city. All this, and the Ot­tawa River right on your doorstep. Although Petrie Is­land would not be our first choice for a se­cluded pic­nic re­pose, it can be a lot of fun. And it made the list be­cause it’s as­tound­ing what you can do (swim, boat, fish, bird­watch, hike) within a 10-minute walk of your pic­nic blan­ket.

Pink Lake (Gatineau Park)

Peo­ple have been pic­nick­ing on the shores of Pink Lake since the days of Queen Vic­to­ria, when the lake was con­sid­ered the premier spot in the cap­i­tal to spread out a blan­ket and dine al fresco. In those days, you could take a street­car right to the shore, such was the pop­u­lar­ity of this lit­tle lake in Gatineau Park. Named af­ter an early set­tler in west­ern Que­bec, the lake is ac­tu­ally a per­fect turquoise hue. Ringed by steep cliffs, clumps of hard­wood trees, and veins of com­mer­cial-qual­ity mica, it is a kalei­do­scope of nat­u­ral el­e­ments. It is also one of the most en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive lakes in Canada, with no swim­ming or fish­ing al­lowed. Take a cam­era though. You’ll want to use it.

Rideau Falls (New Ed­in­burgh)

This is a pic­nic spot in the heart of the cap­i­tal — within easy walk­ing dis­tance of 24 Sus­sex, the ByWard Mar­ket, and the Hill. Rideau Falls, de­spite its im­por­tance to the city’s his­tory, has al­ways been slightly off the beaten path. There is no park­ing to speak of — not even a hint of the falls un­til you are stand­ing al­most on top of them, and with so many other at­trac­tions in the area, it just gets for­got­ten. Take ad­van­tage of this. If you make the trek, you will find metic­u­lously main­tained lawns and a panoramic view of the Ot­tawa River.

Rock­cliffe Park

Vir­tu­ally any park in the city of Ot­tawa makes a good pic­nic spot. Some of our city parks are even renowned for their week­end pic­nics and bar­be­cues, events that can draw ex­tended fam­i­lies from across the re­gion (think An­drew Hay­don Park, along the Ot­tawa River). Although, it’s hard to beat Rock­cliffe Park. Built high on the cliffs over­look­ing the Ot­tawa River, this park is one of the old­est in the city, with the stone path­ways and band­shell to prove it. You won’t have any trou­ble find­ing a se­cluded spot (some­thing that can be a prob­lem at other city parks), and if it’s ma­ture trees you want to dine un­der, this place is par­adise.

Vic­to­ria Is­land (LeBre­ton Flats area)

Vic­to­ria Is­land was once a fo­cal point for Ot­tawa, lo­cated a stone’s throw from Par­lia­ment Hill, the Chaudière Falls, and a main street­car line. Fam­i­lies lived here. It was a boom­ing in­dus­trial area. To­day Vic­to­ria Is­land is tran­quil. The lit­tle-known Abo­rig­i­nal Ex­pe­ri­ences tourist at­trac­tion is on the far eastern tip of the is­land, a sel­dom-used naval mess on the west­ern tip — the rest of the is­land is pretty much yours, any­time you want. It’s the per­fect place for a se­cluded pic­nic on the shores of the Ot­tawa River. Vic­to­ria Is­land has the added charm of of­fer­ing breath­tak­ing views of both the Par­lia­men­tary Li­brary and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Wat­son’s Mill (Man­otick)

Moss Kent Dickinson didn’t have pic­nick­ing on his mind when he opened his grist and sawmill on the bank of the Rideau River in 1860. Pic­nick­ing has just turned into a spinoff ben­e­fit. Built on the west chan­nel of the Rideau River where the wa­ter cour­ses around Long Is­land (which gave Man­otick its Ojibwa name), Wat­son’s Mill ceased op­er­a­tions in 1972. When the ma­chin­ery fell silent, a per­fect pic­nic spot was left be­hind. While many pic­nic devo­tees are par­tial to nearby Long Is­land Locks, where you can spread your blan­ket and watch the boats pass by, I like the mill be­cause it is slightly off the beaten path and the trees in au­tumn are pic­ture-per­fect. The stone mill isn’t hard to look at ei­ther.

Pink Lake

Wat­son’s Mill

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