Often, when I cycle through Ottawa, I wonder how people from elsewhere figure out where to cycle. A paper map is one source, Google maps another one, but that is about it. The NCC has put out signs to point to side streets or to show the name and direction of a path, and the City of Ottawa has put up some signs here and there, but there is little else. If you have never been to Ottawa before, and you plan to cycle, it can be daunting.
It is probably part of the growing pains of a ‘bike friendly’ city, where we are building the infrastructure, struggle with sharrows and miss a lot of safe links between otherwise nice paths. I am a strong believer in developing Ottawa as a cycling destination. The potential is there with lots of destinations within cycling distance, an increasing number of bike lanes, quiet neighbourhoods and the NCC’s multi-use pathways. But, on the ground it is hard to figure out where to go.
It is a problem that Maria Rasouli decided to do something about. But not by putting up signs. She decided to set up a company called Escape Bicycle Tours to tour people around, so they won’t have to take a look on a map at every corner and every fork in the road. Customers also know they will be cycling a safe route. Bonus: Maria takes you past the Governor General’s visitor’s centre and passes the Museum of History in Quebec, so that visitors can come back on their own.
But if you want to go strawberry picking in the countryside with Maria that can be arranged too. Or a multi-day tour to Kingston for example.
I met Maria for a tour through Urban Green Ottawa on mostly separated bike infrastructure. On a sunny day mid-June, we met in front of the Westin. Normally, people pick up their bikes at Rentabike underneath the old railway station, but I brought my own bike. (a penny saved is a penny earned).
We cycled to the Byward market, and then crossed King Edward to find our way via the Minto bridges to the Governor General’s house. There, Maria gives you some time off to visit the info centre and check out the fountain and rose beds just north of MacKay St. (Maria told me people just like to cycle along and are not actually asking many questions, so don’t expect to stop for much explanation on what you see. Mostly people appear content with Maria showing the way). After the GG we got to the Rideau River and cycled southbound on the east side, with nice vistas on the Rideau River part of the way.
Further south, the path goes through a treed area to end up at the Bank Street intersection (careful here, highest accident rate in Ottawa). After a few hundred meters, we entered Vincent Massey Park. If you are interested in architecture, you should ask Maria to show you the mid century modern buildings in the park that were recently renovated as well as the new washroom buildings, with roofs that collect water for the washroom. The water runs down the roof into a riverstone patch and from there in storage tanks.
Now we are approaching Hog’s Back Falls. In the past people used to dive off the rocks there. You can see that in the old clip of the National Film board (11 minutes) . Talking about innocent post war Ottawa….
Maria gives you as much time as you need to admire the falls. The park is a great place for a picnic or a quick bite and there is a small mid century modern outlet for ice cream and the like (not always open).
This is also the place where the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal (A world heritage site) come together, or better, split, as the water flows north.
You can cross the falls and at the other end you’ll be cycling back north along the canal’s busy bike paths.
Eventually you’ll see the tower of Carleton U and that is also where the Hartwell Locks are. This is where Maria crosses the canal to get to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden off Prince of Wales. What a gem. I had never been there, even though I had been passing it on my way to work for years.
Then, after lingering in the garden and visiting the info centre, we descended towards the bottom part of the Arboretum and cycled towards Preston Street along the canal again.
In the future, this path will directly connect to the Trillium Pathway (aka the O-train pathway), with cross rides (as supposed to cross walks or nothing) on Prince of Wales and Carling Ave. We, however, had to do a bit of maneuvering to get to the Trillium pathway.
The desserts at Simply Biscotti on Preston are irresistible so we decided to stop there for a well deserved break. We actually approached it from the Trillium pathway via George St. W.
We continued along the Trillium Path towards the Ottawa River where we set goodbye as it was a bit shorter for me to head home from here then going back to the Westin. Had we finished the tour we would have crossed the Ottawa River, passed the Museum of History (the museum formerly known as the Museum of Civilization formerly known as the Museum of Mankind) and cross the river again past the National Art Gallery back to our starting point.
Initiatives such as Escape Bicycle Tours are a great addition to Ottawa. Maria told me she has had interest from as far as Norway and the US. Clearly, there is a demand out there to cycle in Ottawa, a city that put ‘complete streets’ policy in their Strategic Initiatives) . This is only one of the tours Maria organises. She specialises in somewhat less standard cycling tours. My guided tour of course is one that many people can do.
If you are visitng Ottawa and want to spend a day cycling, Maria is your woman. It is also great to send your visiting mother-in-law away for a day.
You may want to check out her website for many more options: www.escapebicycletours.com