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Ottawa Parkway Hikers, photo by Mike Keenan

Trans Canada Trail along the Ottawa River Pathway

© by Mike Keenan

Summer in Ottawa, and two great hikes! The first - the Trans Canada Trail along the Ottawa River Pathway, and second - the Pink Lake Trail in nearby Gatineau Park.

The Trans Canada Trail covers 31 km following the Ottawa River and passing such attractions as the Canadian War Museum, Parliament Hill, and the Ottawa Locks at the northern end of the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A statue of Champlain is located at Nepean Point, in Ottawa, behind the National Gallery of Canada.

On Sunday, we park for free at the Library and Archives Canada just past the Supreme Court of Canada where Beverley McLachlin holds sway as our 17th Chief Justice, the first woman to hold this position, and the longest serving Chief Justice in Canadian history.

We saunter down a hill to the river, the pathway busy with hikers and bikers. Across the river on Richmond Landing, I see the Royal Canadian Navy Monument - a peculiarly shaped item, its white form evoking several symbols from sails to a ship's design lines to icebergs to naval attire. A gold sphere represents the sun, moon and stars.

Early on, I see the massive House of Parliament with its beautiful rotund library that I have visited several times as well as the Canadian Museum of Civilization, its name recently changed to the Canadian Museum of History. Soon, we reach the Rideau locks, which never fail to fascinate me as a marvellous engineering system that uses water, gravity, human muscle power, and a basic system of levers and gears to move boats up and down from one water level to another.

One lock lifts 1.3 million litres (280,000 imp. gal.), and the gates are made of Douglas fir at the canal shops in Smiths Falls. Gates last an average of 15 years. There are 45 locks along the Rideau. The Chateau Laurier Hotel adjacent to the locks provides an elegant contrast.

We walk across the first lock and start climbing towards the 1915 statue of Champlain, the explorer, geographer and map-maker who founded Québec City in 1608. In 1613, he explored the Ottawa River. This statue commemorates the 300th anniversary of Champlain's second voyage on the Ottawa River. He knew how to use an astrolabe, an old navigational instrument, but sculptor, Hamilton MacCarthy, did not - as Champlain is depicted holding it upside down!

The ByWard Market, Canada's oldest continuously operating farmers' market and lunch is close by and then, it's a walk back to the car observing two statues along the way, the first, across from Parliament Hill, Terry Fox, created by John Hooper in 1983. At 21, he began his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research, running for 143 days through the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario. Unfortunately, bone cancer that claimed part of his right leg returned, forcing a stop near Thunder Bay. His courage inspires millions yearly to participate in the Terry Fox Run in more than 50 countries raising funds for cancer research. I myself have a significant motor disability and navigate with two canes. Whenever the going gets tough, I always think of young Terry.

Finally, just before the parking lot, I view "The Secret Bench of Knowledge," created in 1993 by Lea Vivot, engraved with close to 100 handwritten messages about the joy and value of reading, contributed by both writers and ordinary folks from across Canada. A nice way to end the hike.

The next day, we drive into Québec's Gatineau Park with 165 kilometres of hiking trails, something for everyone whether a beginner or keen hiker, and I note a constant stream of fit-looking bikers ascending and descending an elongated, steep hill. Québeckers are into serious cycling, and they have developed a worldwide reputation.

ByWard Market tranquil setting, photo by Mike Keenan   Champlain Statue, photo by Mike Keenan   Pink Lake lookout, photo by Mike Keenan    Rideau Locks & Ottawa River, photo by Mike Keenan    Royal Canadian Navy Monument, photo by Mike Keenan    Terry Fox sculpture, photo by Mike Keenan

Pink Lake is Gatineau Park's most unique lake because it is "meromictic" meaning that unlike a normal lake, its upper and lower water levels never mix because it has a small surface and bowl-like shape and is surrounded by steep cliffs that protect it from the wind. There is no oxygen in the deepest seven metres of the lake. Despite its name, acquired from the Pink family which settled the land in 1826, the lake is green, the tint caused by the growth of microscopic algae.

The trail around the lake is only 2.5 km, well within my range, but I soon discover that one must constantly climb and descend 25m ladders all along the way! I take my time and as they pass, I hear English, French, Spanish, German and Dutch spoken by myriad hikers, young and those more mature like me.

Only one organism exists in this lake, an anaerobic, prehistoric pink bacterium that uses sulphur instead of oxygen when it transforms sunlight into energy. Pink Lake is also home to the three-spined stickleback, a salt water fish left behind by the Champlain Sea that once covered the region. Remarkably, it adapted to the lake's gradual desalination and today lives in the fresh water.

Ottawa's National Capital Greenbelt provides 150 km of trails that connect to the Trans Canada Trail, Rideau Trail and Capital Pathway network. In the summer, whether one has half an hour for a short hike or the entire day, the Greenbelt offers wonderful hiking.

Water traffic & Museum of History, photo by Mike Keenan

Rideau Canal Locks - NCC

Pink Lake in Summer

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune, Niagara Falls Review and Seniors Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.
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