a peek inside the fishbowl

01 Jun, 2011

A bike ride to la belle province – part 1

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Easy ways to make kids happy|Ottawa

My youngest asked me for some mother-daughter time on Sunday afternoon. And when one of my kids asks if she can spend time with me, just me, I can’t say no. I struggled to think of something special to do that didn’t include (a) hanging out at a mall or (b) spending money, or something (c) food-related. (So many of the special things we do involves money and/or eating, and does mother-daughter time always need to involve those things? I wondered.)

So I offered up a bike ride and floated the idea of biking to Quebec.

Bingo. Sarah was thrilled.

We packed up some supplies and biked towards the Champlain Bridge. First stop, Bate Island, smack dab in the middle of the Ottawa River, right between Ontario and Quebec. Have you ever been there? It falls under NCC jurisdiction, and it’s a very pretty little park… 10 acres, very woody and green, with quite a few residents to make it interesting:


Canada Goose looking for parking

And there are plenty of views. It’s bisected by the bridge, but it is, after all, an island. I think Sarah was impressed that we biked to a REAL ISLAND.

Bike parking

Bate Island is only about 4km from our home in Westboro, so as far as bike rides go, it’s totally manageable.

Bate Island is at the intersection of two very different kinds of streams. (1) the Champlain Bridge, a never ending North-South stream of cars, day in and day out and (2) the Ottawa River below, an East-West stream of water that carries with it some pretty noteworthy history of a young Canada. More about that later.

Bate Island hovers on a plane between those two streams. I might be so bold as to liken it to some kind of quiet oasis:

Bate Island, Ottawa

Sarah and I pulled off the bridge and coasted down to the parking lot. We left behind a throng of noise and concrete and replaced it with shady respite for our eyes and ears.

Bate Island seems to be a launching point for local kayakers. There are plenty of spots to picnic (lots of benches and tables) and there’s a lovely view all around.

I was curious about the history of this little spot, so I did a bit of googling to see what I could find out about it. Here’s the NCC page about Bate Island (often mistakenly referred to as Bates Island). It is indeed a popular place for a canoe and kayak launch, as well as a spot for fly-fishing (although we saw more of that on the Quebec side of the river).

Once upon a time there was a series of different restaurants located here, but the building was eventually torn down and visions for this patch of green were eventually reigned in and it became what it is today. I found a neat little article about it written by Kelly Egan. His describes the demolition of an old restaurant on the site in a most excellent way. Can you picture it?

“Inside every civilized, accomplished male lives a bored, 12-year-old scamp who would dearly love to take the controls of a Case excavator — the kind on tank tracks, with the massive shovel on a powerful, yellow elbow — and, WHAMMO! — absolutely crush some great ugly thing that, for far too long, cried out for a licking!

What a pleasant hour it was on Bate Island, watching the National Capital Commission begin to demolish the eyesore that was Alexander’s On The Island, a once-posh restaurant in the middle of the Ottawa River.

Good riddance, you wreck of a thing.

It looked like a cardiac patient, mid-surgery: big wound in the roof, wires hanging loose, pink and yellow insulation between the studs, pipes all askew.

With the back wall ripped off, I could see the stainless steel backsplash in the old kitchen, the right angle of the bar, the fake stone motif by the washroom door. The ghosts could only be imagined.”

It almost seems wrong to have a restaurant or dance club here. I’m not sure if Bate Island could be improved upon, or if it even needs improving, and what that supposed improvement would look like. Regardless of what might eventually become of this place, I’ve resolved to come back, but this time pack up car with the dog and a picnic lunch and make a date with the family on a sunny Saturday, so we can throw sticks in the water and watch them float down stream.

Bate Island, Ottawa

We’ll quietly observe the kayakers and the other Ottawa wildlife. Maybe we’ll even wait around until the sun sets. I bet it’s pretty when the sun sets.

Coming up next: part two of our bike ride!


8 Responses to "A bike ride to la belle province – part 1"

1 | Ross Brown

June 1st, 2011 at 10:46 am

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I cross the Champlain Bridge almost every day on my trek to work (I live in Ottawa, work in Gatineau). It was only the other week that I finally stopped on Bate Island to photograph some of those kayakers. It really is a great place.

I remember those restaurants and saw them being torn down. It wasn’t that long ago: within the last 5-6 years, I think.

Great post! I think I’ll return to Bate Island with my kids.

2 | binki

June 1st, 2011 at 4:22 pm

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Grrr. Now everyone knows about one of the best kept (family-fun) secrets in the city. ;-)

Our favourite spot for a picnic.

4 | Katy Watts

June 2nd, 2011 at 2:48 pm

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I’ve lived in Ottawa all my life and only just started biking on that route. It’s become one of my favorites and I look forward to going on little excursions with my boyfriend, exploring on our bikes.

6 | Hilary

June 7th, 2011 at 8:28 am

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I vividly remember driving to the island and peeking through the windows of the abandoned restaurant when I was a kid. I actually think it’s a shame they couldn’t make it work there. It was a novelty, and at one point would have been a lovely building.

7 | J. Cutts

November 17th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

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I remember Alexander’s on the Island restaurant on Bate Island, and a restaurant before that. However, El Rancho doesn’t ring a bell: I know they served Chinese food and certainly french fries. It was a famous necking spot in those days/nights, always with several cars with busy teenagers in the dark. Every once in a while a policeman would shine a flashlight in the car window and suggest that we move along. Life was so much simpler back then!! The island was beautiful in the daytime, too, when eventually we’d bring out children there for a drive.

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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 two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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