a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Oct, 2010

Know More Do More: exploring our neighbourhood

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Ottawa

Monday is here again. Aaaaannnd, it’s a doozy. Mark is getting a vasectomy today. And I feel like I have list of a hundred things to take care of, a list which now will not include the painting of a kitchen before a photographer comes over to take our family portrait tomorrow. Gah. (The photo is for an article I wrote for the Citizen which is to be published over Thanksgiving weekend.)

Also, today is the day I get to give away a gift of lovely chocolate from The Candy Store! Yay! If you’re reading this before noon, get thee over there and enter!

There are many many things spinning around my brain that I can hardly believe it. Or maybe it’s just the coffee?

Now, down to business. This was the KMDM activity we had this past week:

Make a picnic and go for a hike – family style. When green spaces in a community are increased, the number of overweight and obese children decline.

I’ve been hankering to go somewhere ever since my post about great places to catch the fall foliage in Ottawa. Sunday became the perfect day for an outing. I wasn’t able to swing the picnic part of this challenge, thanks to a fitness evaluation on Saturday I was too sore to go hiking (!), but with the help of a couple of Advils I was able to participate in nice bike ride. We dressed warmly and rode down to the Ottawa River.

Sidebar: You know what I love about being a parent? It gives us license to do a lot of “non-adult” kinds of things, and no one looks askew because there are children in our company.

  • Whenever we go down to the beach we need to cross a bridge that goes over the transitway (non-Ottawans: it’s a bus-only road) and we often stop there to wave at the buses. If we’re REALLY lucky, the bus driver will honk and wave. THAT IS THE COOLEST.
  • Woo hooing and hoot hooting as we pass under tunnels to hear the echoes IS THE SECOND COOLEST.Could I get away with doing either of these things if there weren’t kids in the vicinity? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, yes, we rode our bikes and had a great time. Much of our conversation on the way there however revolved around bike safety and why fellow cyclists don’t ring their bells while zooming past wobbly children on slow city bikes. But THAT is a whole different post. 

First, we checked out the sculptures at Deschenes Rapids. We’ve had so much rain that the water levels are very high and much of the area was underwater. (Still, a great reason to go.)

inukshuks on the Ottawa River

We spent a lot of time poking around, not doing much.

watch 'em scatter

Then we doubled back to check out Westboro Beach, which was all but abandoned:

Westboro Beach

… and then we checked out the ruins of the old steam mill near Westboro Beach (it’s “Kitchissippi Lookout” if you’re driving and parking.)

Did you know we have our own ancient ruins here in Kitchissippi? (Well, maybe not ancient, although my children like to think they are.)

Skead’s Mill has a rich and interesting history. James Skead was a politician and prominent business man in Ottawa. The sawmill, which was a major employer in this area, was built and destroyed by fire, and rebuilt and destroyed a second time. Financial difficulties eventually forced Skead to close the mill and sell it E.B. Eddy in 1880. The mill (the site used to have sixteen different buildings) was destroyed by a massive fire in 1888.

The Ottawa Evening Journal described it this way:

“In an incredible short space of time the whole structure was in a blaze, the flames leaping like a loosened giant and paralyzing the best efforts of the workmen, some 200 in number. One of the mill hands, in conversation, said that as far as he could see the whole building seemed to take fire in the one instant.”

Wow. Can you imagine?

Part of the stone foundation remains. It’s easy to find. Follow the path from Westboro Beach towards the Kitchissippi Lookout parking lot. You’ll pass by a plaque. An extra 50 paces will bring you to the right spot along the path. The mill is easily seen from the sidewalk now that the trees are losing their leaves.

Move down the hill toward the river’s edge. Tread carefully, the rocks are slippery. This is what you’ll see once you get there:

fall leaves among the ruins at Westboro Beach

If you’re the type of parent who can let go a little bit, it’s essentially a kid’s dream come true. It’s about ruins! And Climbing Dangerous Things!

Sarah climbs the ruins

It’s where you can find many kinds of treasure, both good and bad; giant old nails and other rusted hints of industry past, shards of glass worn smooth by water and time, rotting fish carcasses, mussel shells, and river rocks.

According to Michael Davidson in his History of Westboro, the foundation stones have three curious grooves to accommodate a rotating mill wheel. I’m still trying to find them.

Another interesting bit:

“The occasional white pine boom or raft log along with bits of chain and anchoring spikes may be found on the river bank east and west of the beach. An aerial photograph from the forties show large log booms [barriers designed to collect floating logs] anchored on the river off from the beach. The boom anchor islands are visible from the beach to the north and west with one large boom anchor island being 100 meters out in the water just in front of the ruins. When explored by canoe these islands are found to be held together by cribwork of timbers 40 cm square and have thick iron chain links embedded deep in the rock cribs.”

Skead’s Mill used to be an economic powerhouse in this area. Now it’s only best used for thoughtful contemplation. There’s a wide view of the river, and the dog walkers and fitness buffs normally seen along the path seldom intrude. It’s curious to think this place used to be a busy hub and that people’s livelihoods once depended on it. It is a ghost of what it once used to be, its edges worn down like the green and white beach glass we find washed up on the shores of the Ottawa River.

This post is part of the Know More Do More initiative which was spearheaded by the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network. KMDM is about empowering parents and inspiring them to take charge of their children’s health by taking easy steps to increase activity levels and improve eating habits. I’m one of two champion families who has been asked to take this challenge. You can join too. Check out the official website for more information. If you’re blogging about your participation, please let me know so we can cheer each other on! You can read all of my past weekly challenges here.

3 Responses to "Know More Do More: exploring our neighbourhood"

1 | Binki

October 4th, 2010 at 11:34 am


Skead’s Mill. Very interesting. I had no idea, right there in my back yard. Will check it out!

I experienced the “recreational pathway” during the recent Terry Fox walk in Orleans. I cycle almost exclusively on roads but occasionaly cycle on rec paths. While walking with my 6 year old daughter, approx 75 cyclists whizzed by during the 2 hour walk. At one point a large group of spandex cyclists flew by at high speed without any warning. Only 3 times during the whole 2 hour walk did a cyclist warn us of their approach by ringing their bells. WTH? Three close calls. At least five times, cyclists passed us while other cyclists were coming in opposite direction (we jumped off the path). I cycle a lot and always ring my bell when passing a bike or pedestrian on a bike path. For pedestrians, I slow down and give them a ring when I’m about 10m away. I have read a few letters in the Citizen from irate rec path pedestrians and I thought they were exagerating. They were not. Come on cyclists…if you’re going to use rec paths, use your bell. Failing to do so is very very dangerous. And it makes all cyclists look like idiots.

2 | Embracing winter, and trying our hand at cross-country skiing >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 9th, 2011 at 10:25 pm


[…] We parked at Kirchoffer Ave and skied towards the beach, and then took a right along the pathway (towards the parking lot and the ruins). […]

3 | The Ultimate Ottawa bucket list >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 25th, 2012 at 7:13 am


[…] Cycle the city: pedal over to the inukshuks at Deschenes Rapids (briefly mentioned here) […]

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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.

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