Rideau Falls was the other waterfall we visited while touring the capital city of Ottawa. What made this waterfall (actually a pair of waterfalls) stand out in our minds was the view of downtown Ottawa’s high rises while looking across the wide dual drop of the 9m high falls. The falls represented the dramatic final stage of the Rideau River’s journey before joining with the Ottawa River. The Rideau River itself was constrained and channeled by the canals and dams upstream of the falls while surrounded by a large urban park (called New Edinborough Park) situated near some important-looking government buildings (one of which might be the residence of the Prime Minister of Canada).
Our Waterfalls of Ontario book had some pretty harsh things to say concerning those urban developments by suggesting that they pretty much rendering the waterfalls “stale”. The book noted that the city seemed to have made a concerted effort to engineer away all that was left of the once-naturesque pair of curtain-like walls that early European explorers paddling the Ottawa River must have seen prior to the concrete jungle. It was even speculated that the name of the falls was given by Samuel de Champlain, where le rideau meant “the curtain” in French.
I guess those descriptions kind of lowered our expectations of this waterfall experience. However, we were mildly pleasantly surprised with our visit, and I guess this exemplified how sometimes our feelings about a particular experience was really an exercise in managing expectations. But admittedly, we did have to overlook the canal and dam infrastructure as well as the smell of possible pollution in the urban waterway. But once we got past the parking drama (another urban headache in and of itself), it was an enjoyable experience despite its shortcomings.
Once I got out of the car, I walked briefly on a wide sidewalk passing by a few monuments and plaques. Barely a couple of minutes later, I then approached a sheltered viewing area with the profile view of Rideau Falls that you see at the top of this page. Then, I was able to cross the bridge spanning the canal and waterway giving rise to this segment of the falls before I got onto an “island” with some benches and a viewing platform area taking in the views across the Ottawa River as well as profile views of the just-seen segment of the falls from the other side.
Continuing further, I then encountered a second bridge going above the second waterfall where I wasn’t able to get views of its front until I was across that bridge and looking sideways back at it. That profile view of the second waterfall came from a car park for some other buildings where it seemed like work was being done. It didn’t seem like there was a sanctioned lookout for this second waterfall other than to look over its top from the bridge so perhaps that was why I never really saw any photos in the literature of the Rideau Falls’ other half.
The visit took me less than 30 minutes though it was a little bit rushed considering how parking was so limited that we had to figure out a way to take turns by parking illegally then letting someone stay in the car while the other person would quickly tour the falls. In hindsight, perhaps this might have been a case where taking the bus from downtown Ottawa to this waterfall would’ve been the way to go to avoid the parking hassles.
From the intersection of Wellington St / Rideau St and MacKenzie Ave (just east of Parliament Hill) in downtown Ottawa, we turned left onto MacKenzie Ave and drove 2km north (becoming Sussex Dr along the way) towards the New Edinborough Park just on the other side of the Rideau River. After crossing over the river, that was the time to look for parking, which was very limited in the lots for the park on both sides of Sussex Drive. The Waterfalls of Ontario book suggested trying the residential streets in the surrounding area if the obvious lot and street parking spots were unavailable (which we didn’t do).
Time (and energy) permitting, Rideau Falls was within walking distance from Parliament Hill, the ByWard Markets, and the other obvious downtown Ottawa areas (probably requiring a minimum of 4km round trip for this option to not drive).
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