Messing about in boats

`Nice? It’s the ONLY thing,’ said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

I rented a canoe this afternoon and spent a couple hours paddling up and down the Rideau Canal (for those that know Ottawa, from Dow’s Lake to just above Patterson Creek and back.) Boy, are my arms and ankles sore, but I had a great time, and a couple of things sort of clicked into place.

I haven’t been out in a canoe since the late 80s, when my father and I used to spend a week camping in Bon Echo Provincial Park and canoeing on Mazinaw Lake. Despite almost always being in the bow then and despite having not picked up a paddle for over ten years, it didn’t take me very long to figure things out again today, so I was pretty happy with myself.

That said, the canal probably isn’t the best place to remind oneself how to canoe. Dow’s Lake (which isn’t so much a lake as just a cove along the canal) is pretty open to the wind, so I decided to take advantage of the shelter of the canal, which gets narrow in places and has slow powerboat traffic. Luckily all of the powerboaters were well-behaved today, but even then the behavior of wake bouncing off narrow canal walls made for some hairy moments. There was also the issue of starting off going downstream and not realizing that there was quite a breeze to my back — getting back to Dow’s Lake took about twice as long as the downstream trip. (I was paddling solo in a 14′ boat, so it was sitting pretty high up and doing its best to act like a sail.)

But I had a great time. It was so nice to get out on the water again, even though it was down a reasonably busy canal with a parkway on either side. I also met up with a pair of beavers, and paddled parallel
to a duck and her ducklings for a bit, so it wasn’t all city waterway. I didn’t realize I missed being on the water, but I did.

So I’m sort of annoyed with myself that I waited until the beginning of August to realize that I could start canoeing again, having missed a bunch of opportunities to get out earlier this year and having missed all of the canoeing workshops and courses that are offered in spring. But I’ve got a couple months of weekends, at least. I should see if I can borrow my father’s canoe, which I know is sitting unused. I’m not sure where I’d store it, though.

More importantly, I realized one of the things I like about being in Ottawa instead of Montreal — I really am an Ontario boy at heart. I know Ontario history and stories (and, incidentally, I’m going to see the Tom Thomson exhibit at the National Gallery tomorrow), and my growing-up memories are of Ontario places like Bon Echo and Algonquin and Manitoulin Island and Prince Edward County and the little towns around Belleville and throughout Eastern Ontario, and while I knew Montreal a lot better than I know Ottawa, having that background really does make it feel a little more like home here. Being out in the canoe today sort of reaffirmed that. I need a little more practice and then I need to rent a canoe and spend a day exploring Meech Lake or the Gatineau River at Wakefield, suitably
away from the city.

(My good friend Samantha from Montreal is now my good friend Samantha from Ottawa — she’s taken a job with an Ottawa-based international NGO called Inter Pares. But where I’m quite happy to be an ex-Montrealer come home to Ontario, she’s determined to remain a Montrealer, and has kept an apartment down there to head back every weekend. I’m convinced that little good can come of this, but to each their own. But watching her adapt to being here has made me realize even more that I’ve got too many ties to Ontario to ignore.)