Pet Friendly Hog’s Back Park and Falls – Ottawa, Ontario
Some of the gems in our area are well known; Rideau Falls and the Rideau Canal are good examples. The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO world heritage site, so it gets lots of publicity. Rideau Falls is seen by every tourist who takes the Ottawa River boat tour. But there are lesser known areas along the Rideau River that are truly spectacular and worth a little visit if you ever have the time when visiting our Nation’s fair Capital.
One such place is a series of waterfalls constructed to separate the Rideau Canal from the Rideau River. Known officially as the Prince of Wales Falls, locals and the National Capital Commission (NCC) park entrance sign call them Hog’s Back Park and Falls.
Regardless of name, the Falls are a gem of a location! Perfect for a picnic, or a stroll along the river, the area is one of the few places in Ottawa where dogs are allowed near the water’s edge. Be warned though: the current is very strong so never let your dog go off leash. (In fact, the RCMP will fine you if you’re caught with your dog off leash!)
The bipeds and I visited Hog’s Back for the first time on the last weekend of April. What a wonderful walk it was! A newly restored pavilion – so bright and cheerful – provides washrooms, picnic tables and a concession stand. The parking area isn’t large but we found a spot without any waiting time.
The trees are large and mature, the green spaces well-manicured. I saw my first sign of spring there – some tiny little violets! The trails provide opportunities to take in some lovely views, some with the gold and glimmering domed roof of the Greek Orthodox Church winking through.
Retaining walls at the top of a small hill are a hint of the work that was done many years ago to create Hog’s Back. Like much of Ottawa, Hog’s Back’s creation is connected to the construction of the Rideau Canal.
Before the Rideau Canal was constructed, Hog’s Back was the site of a set of rapids known as the Three Rock Rapids. The Rapids were flooded out when Lt. Colonel John By’s design to create the Rideau Canal was realized. By’s design called for a large dam to divert water from the Rideau River to fill the artificially-created section of the canal leading to the Ottawa locks. It was that dam that resulted in the flooding of the Three Island Rapids located upstream.
The building of this dam was one of the greatest challenges faced in constructing the canal. Imagine that the it collapsed 3 times during the construction of the Rideau Canal. But when the dam was finally completed in 1831, it did, indeed, result in flooding the Rideau River at the Three Rock Rapids. The water rose by 12.5 meters (41 feet).
To prevent damage from additional flooding each spring, a large waste water weir was constructed. The water from this flows through a channel that was excavated in the eastern bank of the Rideau River. This created today’s Hog’s Back Falls as well as Mooney’s Bay, up river from the Falls.
Sadly, the head of the original rapids is now buried beneath the canal dam, but the lower section of the rapids can still be seen and is quite a sight. And that is where we were on our visit! I really did enjoy the spray of mist in the air created by all that turbulent water crashing down from the opened dam gates!
But I bet you’re wondering why we call that area Hog’s Back. Admit it! Am I right? Am I right? I thought so. Well, I had to do a little digging (and not of the good kind of doggy digging either) but I found an answer for you, Dear Reader.
Shortly before canal construction, about 1827, a Civil Engineer named John MacTaggart coined the name Hog’s Back. At the time, the rapids were about 600 meters (2 000 feet) in length with a drop of about 1.8 meters (6 feet). They were navigable by canoe, so no portage was required. Our civil engineer recorded his description of the place as “a noted ridge of rocks, resembling a Hog’s Back, from the circumstances of rafts men with their wares [timber rafts] sticking on it in coming down the stream.” I interpret it to mean that when the rafts are on the rapids with timber stinking out it looks like a wild hogs back. Wild hogs have a ridge on their backs.
So there is your answer!
Hog’s Back was and is a lovely place where water rushes in powerful surges. It’s a tiny little piece of wilderness right near Ottawa’s city centre.
You can find lots of university students sunbathing on the flat rocks or fishing along the water’s edge. Dogs roam (on leash) and there is a large green mowed field where, on the day we were visiting, some folks dressed up in medieval gear were mock fighting.
All and all, the location will quickly charm you. I believe it’s the water’s furious energy that lures everyone in. It’s contagious. It’s strong. It’s happy.
Next time we go, we will take time to walk over to the other side of the dam and visit Mooney’s Bay, a place of tranquil waters before that power house of a waterfall. If we time our visit well, the Rideau Canal will be operational and we will get to watch the levies rise and fall with boats in them.
The bipeds noticed we could, in theory anyway, cycle from our home all the way to Mooney’s Bay. If our theory is correct, I sense a fun day in my near future! I am ready for my basket, Doggles on and go!
There is great energy at pet friendly Hog’s Back Park and Falls – Ottawa, Ontario and I can’t wait to go back!