a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Aug, 2022

Family camping 2022: Chutes Provincial Park

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

Campsite visit by a red squirrel

I enjoyed camping with the kids when they were small. We built many sandcastles and collected many frogs over the years, but there’s something special about camping with kids when they turn into Young Adults. They are there to lend a hand during a hike, rub your shoulders when they’re sore, and share a beverage and conversation by the fire. These are all new moments that weren’t there before, and it’s nice. And for the parents out there who might be feeling a tug of sadness as they watch their kids grow up, know that it will be just as special, only different.


We’ve gone camping almost every summer since our kids were toddlers. When they were young we favoured campgrounds that got good reviews and were relatively close to Ottawa. At the same time we tried to choose a new place every year, and there’ve been repeat visits of Charleston Lake, Algonquin Park, and Bon Echo, simply because they had everything we wanted out of a campground at that time.

This year, however, we decided to venture a little farther and try out Chutes Provincial Park, which is about an hour west of Sudbury and just north of Manitoulin Island. This translated to a six-plus-hour drive from where we live, not including the drop off of the dog, pit stops, and lunch, which we grabbed in a Mattawa cafe. (Although in hindsight I wish we had brought sandwiches and ate them by the river as it’s quite pretty there.)

So, after quite a long ride in a rented minivan that was packed to the absolute max, we finally made it.

Chutes Provincial Park is located in the town of Massey, Ontario. I will say this, as the distance/time to destination on our GPS got smaller and smaller, my worry about it grew bigger and bigger. We drove through town, turned right, drove past scattered housing, an empty playground and an unused fairground in silence. What is this place? And would we find the peace and wilderness we needed this close to civilization? I had serious doubts and practically held my breath before we finally spotted the Ontario Parks signage and checked in.

Well, I needn’t have worried because as it turns out Chutes is my new favourite campground.

Chutes is a very unique campground within the Ontario Parks network. It’s definitely the closest we’ve ever been to a town, but that’s not a bad thing. Massey has everything you’d need as a camper: groceries, LCBO, a motel in case of a tornado. There’s even a Home Hardware and surprisingly, a Rona. There’s a cute coffee shop called The Little Brew Cafe that had lovely baked goods and, most importantly, fresh hot coffee.

With only 130 sites, Chutes is among the smallest campgrounds we’ve stayed at. There are trailers and RVs on the one side but we never had cause to venture in that direction. Unlike other small campgrounds like Achray, Chutes does have a comfort station with laundry and showers (in addition to the usual pit toilets with sink setups). The tenting half of the campground is radio free, which is a huge bonus in my view. AND, the campground is dog friendly.

We stayed at site 97. Here’s our setup:

Tent set up at site 97, Chutes Provincial Park

We actually didn’t think we’d be able to fit our two tents, but we did. Phew.

Site 97 was very quiet and quite private thanks to its location in a mature forest. There is, however, a walking trail directly behind it. This (mildly) decreased the privacy but it turned out to be a plus because (a) we did this trail twice and it was pretty convenient and (b) it was a direct path to the nicer set of pit toilets in our area. (200 steps, we always count.)

This site is also directly beside the water tap and I felt absolutely spoiled by this.

We were worried about traffic noise from the Trans-Canada Highway, which is only 1km away, but we only heard it night, faintly in the background, depending on which way the wind was blowing. Mostly we heard the waterfalls, which is the best sound to fall asleep to, like, ever.

The Beach at Chutes Provincial Park

Chutes is named after the logging chute that diverted logs around the waterfall on the River aux Sables.

Because of its location on a river, the campground doesn’t have the traditional kind of beach we normally enjoy on our camping trips. A rocky waterfall is the star of the show here and everything else revolves around that, including the swim area, which is tucked in a river bend underneath.

It’s smallish, and while part of it is sandy a good chunk of it is rocky:

Swim area at Chutes

This is not a very accurate representation of the whole scene but will give you an idea.

Partial view of beach at Chutes

Part of the swim area at Chutes Provincial Park

It is a very Canadian landscape, a little bit on the wild side:

A very Canadian landscape at Chutes Provincial Park

You can see the swim area a bit more in the background in the photo below. Yes, there is a sand island in the middle of it! Click here to see a larger version of this photo.

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

The waterfalls are at the top of the swim area (you can see the edge in the photo above), and you can swim right up to them. The water flows downstream past the beach area, creating a “lazy river” effect through very shallow waters. Lots of people rode the river this way in inner tubes, including school-age children. We tried it ourselves and it was very fun. I highly recommend it! (You might want to wear water shoes for this, trust me.)

The trails at Chutes Provincial Park

The trail at Chutes is called the Twin Bridges Trail. (Here’s a full description from AllTrails.) This is a must-do if you’re at Chutes. It’s gorgeous, with quite a few places to pause and take in the scenery. I could NOT stop taking photos. The whole place is a live-action postcard:

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

Exploring Chutes Provincial Park

I think I’d rate this trail as moderate in difficulty. I do recommend wearing sturdy shoes and bringing water.

Here’s a panorama from one of the twin bridges.

The other trail we did was during a day trip to Manitoulin Island. A bit of research led us to the Cup & Saucer Trail so that was our destination. We packed some snacks and hopped in the car. It’s a scenic drive, about an hour away, although a delay with a swing bridge added about 15 minutes to the trip.

We did the “cup” part, because the saucer would have added more time (and distance) for which we were not prepared. It’s not a leisurely walk, this is truly a hike. Let the record show that we got turned around three or four times and had to backtrack, which added a bit to the length (and stress!) of our hike.

Here’s Mark at the beginning, looking and feeling pretty fresh no doubt (read: BEFORE WE GOT LOST):

Mark, at Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island

The trail is rated moderate, but I’d call it “moderate with intense bits” because you’ll find yourself scrambling up and around rocks in many places along the way. We also did the “adventure trail” which was optional but we figured, hey, we’re here, let’s do this so we can say we did it. (Famous last words, am I right?)

The "Adventure" side trail, Cup & Saucer Trail

The Adventure Trail segment along the Cup & Saucer Trail, Manitoulin Island

You can do this part of the trail while going UP to the lookout or DOWN. I recommend taking it DOWN. But do note that this is mostly where we got lost because the trail here is poorly marked and downtrodden areas among the rocks give a false impression of trails where there may not actually be any.

The lookouts are pretty nice, but man, was it hot up there.

Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island

We lived to tell the tale of the trail, but we were exhausted and it was long past lunch. We devoured a mediocre takeaway lunch like a pack of rabid wolves while we hunkered down at a picnic table at Bridal Veil Falls.

It was the perfect place to picnic and cool down, and it’s a popular swimming hole!

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

(Funny story, while I was wading in the water I spotted a water snake. I pointed, screamed, and laughed hysterically as I watched it change direction several times before it paddled away into the rocks lining the swim area. (Do snakes even PADDLE? I guess it did a shimmy swim?) Speaking of which…

The bugs and critters at Chutes Provincial Park

We experienced a wide range of weather, which to me reinforced the idea that it pays to be ready for anything when you’re camping in Canada. During our five night stay we had driving rain AND a short heat wave AND we had to layer up during a cold front at the tail end of it all. (We stopped at the Big Nickel in Sudbury on the way home and as we pulled into the parking lot we laughed at a guy wearing a puffer jacket and the minute we opened the door I found myself wishing I had packed mine.)

I don’t know if it’s the time of year, the amount of rain, or the location, but mosquitos were tolerable around our site and almost non-existent on our hikes and on the beach. There were a few wasps, but no deer flies or horseflies around the water either. One member of our party attracted all the mosquitoes, perhaps drawing them away from the rest of us. ;)

We did have a lot of red squirrels. They are bold little buggers:

Bold red squirrel helped himself to peanuts

The food at Chutes Provincial Park

We follow the same basic menu every year with few tweaks and updates, but some fan favourites in case you’re looking for ideas to bring on your next camping trip:

  • Chicken kebabs with veggies and halloumi cheese from Farm Boy on warmed naan bread (topped with sliced cuke, red onion, tomato, homemade tahini dressing)
  • Chicken Caesar wraps (made with precooked chicken and bagged salad)
  • Camp donuts
  • Banana Boats

It’s worth noting there is a handy convenience store right outside the park gates. (In fact, it was walking distance from our site.) This is where we bought the ice for our coolers but they had a little bit of everything here.

If you’re still wondering if you should book a site at Chutes Provincial Park for your next camping adventure, check out this list of Five reasons to visit Chutes on the Ontario Parks website.

I’m collecting my thoughts and sorting photos from our summer camping trip and wanted to post this bucket list item while the sun is shining!

THIS, is the kind of summer bucket list item anyone can get behind, am I right or am I right? :D

There used to be three Ottawa ice cream shops on our “best ice cream in Ottawa” list but we stopped going to Stella Luna when we learned the owner supported the “Freedom” Convoy group when they occupied our city earlier this year.

Why would we, when there are other amazing places to visit… Ones that scoop up the delicious goods AND are good caring members of our community?

Our two fave ice cream shops are both worth (repeat) visits: Moo Shu and The Merry Dairy. Merry Dairy is where we ended up yesterday, mostly because we were sort of in the neighbourhood (only a minor detour required anyway!) and besides, it was their turn. ;)

What is your fave place to get ice cream in and around Ottawa?

One place we haven’t been to yet is Beachconers in Britannia! I think will have to remedy that very soon.


Ottawa folks might already know that major parts of Parliament Hill are being renovated and this work is expected to take years.

Part of that renovation meant the Senate had to find a temporary home, so the Government Conference Centre was restored for this purpose.

If you’re not sure which building I’m talking about, it’s this one, right on the Rideau Canal:

Old Ottawa train station (now the temporary home of the Senate)

Before the Government Conference Centre was the Government Conference Centre (what an original name, eh?), it was a train station. Ottawa’s Union Station was built between 1909 and 1912 and served as such until 1966. There was actually a plan to demolish it, if you can believe it. The building was converted to the Government Conference Centre in 1968, with work completed in 1973. (You can read more about that here.) It was a bold move: Take one gorgeous building in the historic downtown core that was built for a public purpose, and make it inaccessible to the public, ostensibly foreverrrrrr.

I can imagine how Ottawa folks felt about that at the time. I think it’s a feeling that hasn’t really gone away either.

Anyhoo, construction on the former Government Conference Centre began in late 2014 and the Senate started using it in early 2019. Project cost:$219 million.

I’m not sure when they started offering free public tours of the new Senate/old train station, but the moment I heard about it, I knew we had to visit this Ottawa landmark.

Booking tickets was very easy. I will say, READ THE NOT-SO-FINE-PRINT about your arrival time. They recommend you get there early for security screening and if you are late you are out of luck. There were some very disappointed people in line ahead of us.

Waiting in line for the Senate tour

Security screening is very thorough. They rifled through every item in Mark’s shoulder bag. I haven’t even seen such steadfast attention at airports. That being said, I think I know why they were so vigilant. After scanning our bags, they identified a Potentially Dangerous Item in his bag.

Security guy delivered the bad news.

“Sir, we will be taking your Swiss Card. You can collect it over there after your tour.”

(Insert long pause here, because we had no idea what he was talking about.)

As it turns out, he was referring to THIS multipurpose tool that Mark had totally forgotten about and lost in the depths of his bag. We didn’t even know that’s what it was called. Here is a photo of Mark collecting it after the tour – lol:

Mark collecting his Swiss Card

But I digress.

After you’re screened you walk down a hall and around a corner and voila, you are transported back in time. You can imagine the hustle and bustle of train transportation at the time. Mothers with children in tow. Soldiers leaving for war.

It’s worth going, just to sit here for a minute.


View of the old Ottawa train station/ new temporary home for the Senate

View of the old Ottawa train station/ new temporary home for the Senate

It truly took my breath away.

The tour itself is about 30 minutes long. It’s mostly about the Senate as part of our parliamentary system but our guide also talked about the building itself. (Honestly, I would have preferred a more historical/architectural-type tour, but that’s just me.)

Here’s the Senate Chamber. A short lesson on the Canadian political system happens here so make sure your kids are paying attention. :)

Senate chamber

After it was all over we stopped to pick up Mark’s Swiss Card so we can now continue our goal to vandalize famous historical landmarks. (Just kidding!)

At this point we needed sustenance and hydration so we walked over to the Byward Market and enjoyed margaritas, salt & pepper calamari, and tacos at El Camino. We took the LRT home.

It was a very Ottawa outing and I’m glad we went.

Here is where you book your tickets for the Senate tour: sencanada.ca/en/about/visit-the-senate. Have you been yet? I’d love to hear what you thought of it! :)

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I have kayaked. I am definitely not an expert but it’s something I really enjoy. We rent them when we go camping in the summer, and that’s the extent of my experience. I will say that as long as I’ve lived in Ottawa I’ve wanted to rent a kayak at Dow’s Lake and go for a paddle.

Sidebar: once when the girls were small we rented a peddle boat there. I remember it being a bit challenging as it got stuck in the weeds but it’s probably a good option for people who want to be on the water but have never been in a boating situation before.

A kayak is not a peddle boat. First of all, kayaking is a much more serious water sport. (I’m willing to bet you haven’t watched any competitive peddle boating lately!) It’s a workout too. You’re using your arms/shoulders/core. Second, you have much more control and you can go faster, but that comes with a wee risk of tipping. For what it’s worth I’ve only tipped once, and even then it wasn’t a full tip into deep water as I was in the shallows. It was because I was in a very lightweight kayak designed for speed and I was trying to juggle too many things but that is not part of this story.

Dow’s Lake kayaks are not THOSE kayaks.

Anyway, Mark and I got out early before the heat of the day and motored over there. This was the scene when we arrived.

Kayak rental at Dow's lake

Kayak rental at Dow's lake

It’s all very well organized and we didn’t wait long to be assigned our vessels. You fill out a waiver, hand over some ID for them to keep so you don’t take off with their watercraft, and they mark down your departure time. You pay when you exit in case you go past your allotted time. (We chose to go with the one hour rental and it was sufficient.)

We brought our own life jackets because I hate the idea of wearing a grimy old life jacket that has absorbed the sweaty bodies of a thousand people, but from what I saw, their life jackets seemed to be in good shape. We were given paddles, helped into our kayaks (which is only mildly awkward as you clamour down into the water), and pushed off into the deep.

Kayak selfie, at Dow's Lake, Ottawa

Gosh, it’s hot out there on a summer’s day. It goes without saying that you should sunscreen up and consider your hydration needs beforehand.

It was a very enjoyable activity. And isn’t it cool we can kayak, on a lake, in the city?

We went in a big circle, starting on the Arboretum side, exploring the water’s edge almost all the way to Carleton. We spotted lots of ducks, a turtle sunning itself, and I rescued a frisbee… which I threw AT someone on the shore whereas I was only meaning to throw merely IN THEIR DIRECTION as an offering. (ie. “Hey I found a frisbee! Here ya go!”)

Kayaking at Dow's Lake, Ottawa

Kayaking at Dow's Lake, Ottawa

Kayak under the bridge, Dow's Lake

It is very tranquil… the sound of the water, the sound of the city. We made our way across to what I refer to as “the tulip side” and enjoyed some people watching. It was nice to just sit there and watch the world go by from this vantage point.

Before we knew it we were back where we started. Climbing out is a bit easier than climbing in (just a bit) and it didn’t take long to settle up.

At this point I was thinking ahead to lunch so we hopped back in the car and made our way to the Glebe. We grabbed burritos at Mad Radish and brought them over to the canal for an impromptu picnic by the water. They were absolutely delicious and we congratulated ourselves on a well-executed plan.

Bucket list item: ACCOMPLISHED.

FYI, here’s the link for info about boat rentals on Dow’s Lake: www.dowslake.com/summer_rentals.php.

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10 Jul, 2022

A road trip to Rideau Antiques

By andrea tomkins in Oh! Things!,Ottawa

Back in April we were loaned a Ford Escape PHEV for a week and we were keen to put it to the test here, there, and everywhere. I have more to say about this vehicle and have been mulling over a post but for now I will say: WE BOUGHT IT. (!) But that, my friends, is a story for another day… maybe 7-8 months from now when we get the car? Sigh.

One of the places we went to during our Test Drive Week was Holly’s Hot Chicken. It’s not far from our place so really we went there with the excuse of learning how the vehicle handles in bad weather driving in an urban environment. Of course, we had to take it for a spin somewhere further out. Enter: RIDEAU ANTIQUES. They’re located between Lombardy and Rideau Ferry, 10 km south of Perth, and 10 km southwest of Smiths Falls, in the heart of Rideau Lakes. Their website says: “Please feel free to stop in and browse our large collection of treasures.”

That one statement does not accurately describe what awaits you at Rideau Antiques.

Sidebar: my parents dragged me on Sunday drives when I was a kid, which were incredibly long and boring and always ended up in a dusty old antique shop. I hated it at the time, so I am now quite surprised to find that I enjoy this kind of activity.

I knew we were in store for adventure the moment we pulled up to the place. I think there is parking in the back, but we parked on the road near the front entrance. This is what it looked like:

(By the way you can click on the photos in this post to see larger versions of them.)

Entrance of Rideau Antiques

Here’s a tip, leave your bags in the car, because there is little room to move here. Look how narrow this aisle is! (!!)

Narrow aisle at Rideau Antiques

Here’s a video I took of myself while we were there:

How can I describe Rideau Antiques? It’s a cross between grandma’s house and 50 years of yard sales piled on top of one another. You will undoubtedly feel like a visitor from another planet, another time, exploring what it means to be human. It also reminded me of an archeological dig.

Piles of cutlery, Rideau Valley Antiques

View of Rideau Antiques

Kitchen tins and stuff at Rideau Antiques

At Rideau Antiques >

Collector's heaven at Rideau Antiques

I lost Mark more than a few times…

Spot the person...at Rideau Antiques

It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Mark and I walked around in amazement. Strangers we met in the aisle looked similarly bewildered and we shared knowing looks and OMG CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS PLACE type statements. For some, this would be a paradise, for others a nightmare. (As Google reviews suggest.) My take on this is that you have to see it to believe it. And if you think the inside is full of stuff, you should see the outside.

How does one find anything… Underneath these piles? I think that was my main question as I walked around, but apparently the people who work there have a keen memory of their inventory. So if you go in there looking for a vintage drawer pull or doorknob to match the others in your possession, or special commemorative spoon or whatever, they’re able to find it because somehow, THEY KNOW WHERE IT IS.

Outside at Rideau Antiques

Windows and more windows! At Rideau Antiques

I know you’re thinking: ANDREA, DID YOU BUY ANYTHING?

The answer is yes. I bought something. I paid too much for an ashtray with a dog on it. And no, I don’t smoke. But this is what happens in places like this. You will inevitably find something that charms and delights you.

I saw it in a pile of china figurines. **An actual pile.** I’m not even exaggerating. It was the world’s scariest game of Jenga. I saw the dog’s face peeking out amid china birds and cherubs and wanted to take a look but there was no way I was going to disturb this very fragile and jumbled pyramid. I beckoned to the fellow behind the cash and asked him to extract it on my behalf. He looked at what I was pointing at and said: THIS IS MY LEAST FAVOURITE CORNER OF THE ENTIRE PLACE.

It was a very careful operation but he was successful at (a) removing my new ashtray and (b) not breaking anything in the process. It was a honest to god miracle.

It cleaned up nicely and now it lives with my other knick knacks.

New-to-me ashtray! :D

Was it worth the drive? I say yes, for me it was. We combined it with lunch in Smiths Falls at a place called Harvest Social which we followed up with a visit to ANOTHER antique shop in Franktown, which was more curated and tidy. It was a nice little weekend getaway.


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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


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