Big Cities, Big Locks

We spend time in Montreal and Ottawa, two fabulous cities that are a destination in and of themselves.  Between them we pass through a few really big locks and a couple of charming towns. 

Click the Google Map button below to open the map  in a separate window.  There you can zoom in/out, and click on the icons to see pictures and more info on the various places along our route.

Montreal, QC Canada

July 8-10, 2022

We slipped out from  Contrecoeur early and rejoined the main St. Lawrence River channel.    We were leading our little group, with Inconceivable and Happy Daze following.  This was suburban Montreal, with some industrial areas (mainly shipping related) but increasingly residential, though never the density of homes that we’ve seen on the East Coast of the US. 

We had to contend with the infamous St. Lawrence River current, which increased noticeably as we approached Montreal.  Dave had to keep increasing power just to maintain a slow cruising speed of 6 knots.  The last couple of miles the current was running 4-5 knots against us and our speed had dropped to only 4 knots (about 5 mph).   It was a little tricky to get into the Yacht Club Montreal basin, fighting the current until behind the protection of the breakwater where the current abruptly stopped and Dave had to throttle down quickly to make the tight turns into the marina.  Whew! What a wild ride!

Once we were tied up and our breathing had normalized, I had time to assess our surroundings there in the Yacht Club.  It was mostly big boats and the dock we were on seemed to be party central. Happy Daze was just a couple slips down, but the rest of the boats seemed to be locals there for the weekend.  The wine was flowing at lunchtime, in real wine glasses and with white tablecloths on their cockpit tables.  Most of the boats were sleek and newer.  Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, but I still felt we were out of our league.  French was still the primary language but everyone spoke English to us, and wanted to know about our boat as well as the Loop.  After two years, they were happy to see Loopers coming back. 

The marina couldn’t have been in a better location for foot access to the city.  We were right in the Old Port – the main tourist area – with all its history, restaurants, and parks/plazas.  At night we had a great view of the skyline all lit up from the cockpit, or we could look out over the bow to see the artistry of the dynamic lights on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  It was not the most conducive to Roxy walks, but she did fine.  The Memorial Clock Tower was across the marina inlet just yards away, with Clock Tower Beach’s sand and umbrellas and beach chairs but no water access, which seemed a little weird.

View of the Jacques Cartier Bridge from the bow of See Level.
Stern view of the downtown Montreal skyline.
Clock Tower Beach. Everything you'd want in a beach except water access.
See Level at Yacht Club Montreal.

Montreal is one happening city!  Every weekend there is one of more festivals going on in the summer – maybe because the season is so short so they have to cram all the good stuff into about two months.  The really cool thing is that they make sure everyone has access, so besides paid performances there are also free outdoor mini-performances.  The weekend we were there, the jazz festival was finishing up and it was the first weekend of their circus festival (‘circus’ as in artistic acrobatics, not trick elephants and clowns). They had three different half-hour Cirque de Soleil-type shows.  We saw two of them. 

All performances used this Giant Man as the scaffolding for various acrobatics, hence the name 3 Giants.
A packed park for the performance.

Other things we did included:

  • Chateau Ramezay Museum – Housed in one of the oldest residences remaining in Montreal that was built by the first Governor of Montreal in 1705,  this museum was a great lesson in Canadian national history.  Not surprisingly, the early United States was not always painted in the best light.  We actually enjoyed hearing a different perspective on our own history.  This house was even briefly occupied by American Revolutionary forces in 1775 (see below).
Chateau Ramezay
One of many beuatiful stained glass panels in Notre Dame de Bon Secours. Note the model-ship-votive-holder hanging down on the left.
  • The French Catholic historical and present influence is well represented, with Notre Dame Baslica as well as Notre Dame de Bon Secours.  The latter paid tribute to Marguerite de Bourgeoy and her foundational work as a nurse.
  • Saturday night fireworks – who knew competitive fireworks was a thing? Every Wed and Sat, Canada goes head-to-head with another country with fireworks over the Cartier Bridge.  We had a front-row seat from the boat, and had the crews of Inconceivable and Happy Daze over to watch.  The marina was party central, with boats packed with friends and family.  Clock Tower Beach had a professional DJ blasting music, as did many of the boats around us.  When the fireworks started, they all tuned  in to the station doing the simulcast.  Only problem was that somehow the DJ and the boats were out of synch, so it was more of a cacophony than a symphony.  When the show was over, all the boats blasted their horns in approval. 
  • Walking, walking, and more walking of the city. The diversity of architecture was amazing, as was the diversity of people. 
  • We noticed people dressed up as superheroes and villains and all kinds of funky costumes one evening. Turns out there was also a Comicon going on.  Made for some very colorful people watching.
  • Laundry, grocery shopping, and washed the boat.  Hey – don’t want everyone to think this is a carefree life of leisure.  

Historical tidbit:  Did you know that American forces invaded Canada during the Revolutionary War?  Of course, Canada was British at the time and hence they were sort of fair game.  They occupied Montreal without firing a shot, but only for about year, and led to resentment among the locals.  They unsuccessfully tried to take Quebec City as well, led in part by Benedict Arnold (before he turned traitor), but then retreated from both cities and went back to NY.  The Americans thought they’d be able to recruit Canadians to their cause, but were wrong.  Of course, Britain wisely padded their bet in the couple years leading up to the war by decreeing that Quebec could continue to speak French and promote their French culture – quite contrary to other British colonial doctrine – and thus garnering more of an apathy toward the American cause than true support for the King. But the end result was that very few locals were willing to risk life and property and join the American Rebels, and Quebec still speaks French over 200 years later. 

St. Anne de Bellevue, QC

July 11-12

We had two Big Boy locks to go through today, as in the same ones the big commercial vessels (the Big Boys)  use so they are huge, especially compared to the tight quarters in the Chambly locks.  You must ‘reserve’ a spot, but it’s not a specific time; it just lets the lock poohbahs know you want to go through that day. The big ships get priority, and pleasure craft wait.  As the lock came into view, we knew there would be a wait. There was one boat already there, and the three of us squeezed onto what was left of the waiting dock.  Within the hour two more Canadian boats arrived and rafted to two of us already there by the ‘rules of lock waiting’ convention.  We watched as a Big Boy pulled out of the lock going in the opposite direction.  A seventh and eighth small boat arrived, rafting now three deep on the dock (we must have looked scary, because no one seemed to want to raft off us even though we had fenders rigged on the outboard side of the boat).  A ninth boat – a Looper — arrived as a second Big Boy was in the lock.   Finally we were  given the signal to start moving in after almost three hours of waiting.  As the biggest boat, we had to go in first but we were boxed in by the dual rafts so would be the last one off the dock.  It was actually an impressive choreography of undocking and procession of the nine boats moving off into the basin and into the lock without a word being exchanged.  This was Boat Ballet at its best.

One of the Big Boys exits the lock as Inconceivable waits at the dock with us for our turn.

Entering the lock felt like going into a steep-walled canyon, and there was plenty of room and then some for all of us.  Lock workers way up on the wall waved and gestured to guide us to where they waited with lines to drop down, and when we were in position I heard a shout in French above me.  I looked up and straight into the sun, blinded!  Next thing I knew the line was whacking me in the head.  My pride was injured, but I was not. We exited the lock first, and as I looked back a few minutes later we looked like an armada in Flying V Formation.  The. Flight of the Valkyries music ran through my head.  The second lock was the same procedure, same size, except we went straight in as they knew all nine of us were coming.   

Ha., Inconceivable in the middle, and a Canadian couple on the outside in the St. Catherine Lock
Exiting the lock in Flying V formation.

After the second lock, we enjoyed an easy cruise to St. Anne de Bellevue.  We Three Loopers tied up on the wall just before the lock there.   It was a very charming little town, but we were beset by the Curse of Mondays and most shops and restaurants were closed.  But that was okay, because predicted thunderstorms the following day kept us there Tuesday as well.    Montreal had been so busy with tourist activity that it was nice to just hang out with the others, relax on the boat, and walk around town between rainstorms. 

Once again, I was impressed with how well the town used flower arrangements and plantings to create an inviting canal front.
Downtown St. Anne
The town had the requisite Catholic church with silver bell tower, but this tower had real bells. They chimed at 6 pm every night and sounded beautiful.
Canadians love their ice cream. We loved their ice cream also.

One thing we have learned is that with the locks not opening until 9 am,  if you want to get an early start in the morning you have to stay on the other side.  So later in the day on Tuesday we went through the lock and tied up for the night just after the lock on the Parks Canada wall.  We’re learning how to strategize our lock transits.

Montebello, QC

July 13

Crossing Lac du Due Montagnes, we were now in the Ottawa River.  Still seeing the silver church steeples visible from miles away marking the small towns, mostly residential, some agriculture. 

Only one lock today, but it was a doozie with a 60’ lift – the Carillon Lock, part of a big hydroelectric plant with a very long spillway.   There were a few boats already waiting and the doors were opening as we drew close.  The Lockmaster was on the VHF radio, asking peoples size so he could jigsaw puzzle eight of us in at once.  Four lockhands tied the three largest boats up to a floating dock on the right, then the other boats rafted off them.  We were the last one tied to the dock, then Inconceivable tied to our port side.  The chamber was wall-to-wall with boats, and once the back door lowered down like a garage we were completely surrounded by four story cement walls.  It felt a bit like something out of Squid Games and we were all going to be fighting to be the lone boat coming out of the lock. 

Approaching the Carillon lock. That's the dam and spillway to the left, and extends several hundred yards.
Looking forward with everyone in the lock.
Looking rearwards in the lock after the door had closed.

While we were rising our 60 ft, the lockhands stayed on the floating dock chatting, and it was from one of them that I learned that all the weird winged bugs stuck all over the boat are shad flies, and we were experiencing the 2022 Shad Fly Invasion.  Seems these critter eggs mature on the bottom of the river for two years, then emerge en masse as a survival strategy to mate as their sole purpose in life.  They don’t have mouths, so they die in a couple .  They then become the fish version of Golden Corral, but that’s a posthumous purpose so hardly motivation to survive.  They’re annoying because they make a mess on the boat, they stink when you step on them, but the invasion is only a couple weeks long and they signal a healthy lake ecosystem. 

After the lock we continued along the Ottawa River to Montebello, with the province of Quebec on our right and Ontario on our left.  Montebello City Marina was our destination for the night, recently renovated by the city so with very nice docks.  We walked the block to the main drag of this small town, finding a Fromagerie and a Chocolatier, both of which allowed us to contribute to the local economy.   It also is home to the largest log cabin lodge in North America, now a Fairmont Resort, the grounds of which we walked through successfully as posers.

Apparently Montebello is known for its sundial.
I nominate this for Best Reuse of an Old Piano to Keep It Out Of A Landfill. It's an art piece and a container garden.
The National Historic Site Papideau House.

Gatineau, QC

July 14-15

It was a short and uneventful trip to Hull Marina, except for a major ferry crossing with four active ferries crisscrossing the river.  Felt like we were playing a game of Frogger.  The last hour we were racing against a pop-up storm cell we could see approaching, but just made it.  It was tricky maneuvering into the slip as the winds picked up, only to find once we were tied up that I had goofed and we were supposed to be in the slip on the other side.  So we waited a couple hours for the storm to pass and then moved over to the correct slip.  My bad.

Gatineau is really kind of the business/tech district to Ottawa’s Government and cultural center role, with the two being just across the river from each other (although one is in Quebec, the other in Ontario).  We could see the iconic Parliament Building from the marina, as well as the Ottawa flight of locks that we would be ascending as we start the Rideau.  They had a fantastic system of bike paths, and we took a two-plus hour booter ride.  But other than that the stop served its main purpose of avoiding being out in the weekend boating craziness. 

View of the Ottawa Flight of Locks from across the Ottawa River. Parliament is to the right of the locks.
One of the oldest houses in Gatineau dating from the 1830s sits beneath a modern highrise.

Ottawa, ON

July 16

It was less than a mile across the river to Ottawa, and we were now in the Provine of Ontario.  We could have bootered over the bridge that connects them.  But by boat, we had to ascend the ‘Ottawa flight’ of locks.  This is actually where the Rideau Canal starts, and so I’m going to save the story of traveling the locks for the next blog when I cover the Rideau.  But I do want to talk about our time in Ottawa.

Ottawa goes on my list (along with Montreal) of favorite big cities.  It is smaller than Montreal, as the capital of Canada it is the site of the famed and iconic Parliament Building.  But it is also a hub of arts and culture concentrated in a small area.  It is a bilingual city, but we did notice that now all the placards and signage was Englsih first, then French.   In Quebec, it was the other say around. 

We only had an afternoon and the following morning, but we were able to see the highlights on foot because the Parks Canada lock wall where we stayed was right in the heart of Ottawa, directly beneath the current Senate Building.  Probably easier to rely on pictures with explanations in the captions for all we packed in.

Maman, a large sculpture on the grounds of the art museum, which happens to be across the street from the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. Note the silver bell towers on the cathedral.
The Rideau Canal starts right in the heart of the city. We are the second boat in, with the hint of blue canvas visible.
There were several murals painted on staircases. I can't imagine what it took to do this.
The iconic Parliament Building, which sits on a hill overlooking the Ottawa River. It's undergoing some long term renovations and stabilization of the historic building, hence the cranes.
Byward Market, a huge outdoor market filled with produce stands, food, souvenirs, and imported goods from all over.
Just a weird piece of art. We decided to call it Blue Man Group With Farm Animals.
Roxy doing her flop-drop-and-roll in front of a Parliament building.
This sculpture is a tribute to hockey's famous Stanley Cup, and Mr. Stanley was from Ottawa.
Beavertails, a local confection. Kind of a cross between a donut and a pancake.

Our next major leg is the historic Rideau Canal – a section of the trip we have really been looking forward to.  There will be no big cities along the way.  Built in the 1830s and sized for boats being pulled by teams of livestock, the locks will also be small – which means at 49’ we will be one of the Big Boys.

Pops’ Stats Corner*

This blog

  • No of Days: 9
  • Travel Days: 4
  • Miles Traveled: 136.3 (118.5 nm)
  • Locks: 4
  • New States Visited: 0

Cumulative Great Loop

  • Started March 17, 2022 in St. Augustine, FL
  • Travel Days: 46
  • Miles Traveled: 1930.2 (1678.2 nm)
  • Locks: 27
  • States Visited: 11
  • Provinces Visited:  1

*Pops is what the family affectionately called Dave’s dad.  He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked.  This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.