From here it is a short ride through a small park overwhelmed by trees named for an Olympic athlete, Linda Thom, and along leafy Cameron Avenue’s bike lane to Brewer Park, a riverside complex of playing fields, squealing young children at a splash pad, a deserted running track and baseball diamond, and then a patient wait for the traffic light to change at the entrance to Carleton University, then on into the campus, heading upstream along the northern bank of the Rideau River, and energetically up a steep incline up and away from the river before I join the Rideau Canal at Colonel By Drive.
The canal was built by Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers, a number of skilled Scottish stonemasons, and a host of mainly Irish navvies between 1826 and 1832 as part of a safe route from Kingston to Bytown (as Ottawa was then known) through the Rideau Lakes, away from the predations of hostile American forces preying upon British shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway, at a time when American public opinion favoured a “manifest destiny” for the young republic which would see, its proponents mistakenly believed, the eventual absorption of Lower and Upper Canada into the United States. Colonel By retired in disgrace for having, in the British Government’s view, overspent on the project. I have visited his grave in the churchyard of St. Alban’s Church in Frant, in Sussex, where a plaque and a small Canadian flag were then in evidence. The canal is a popular tourist destination and a recognized UNESCO site: partially drained in winter, it is the home of the world’s largest skating rink; today, as I join its accompanying bike path just below the Hartwell Locks, a large American pleasure yacht is inching carefully past a couple in a canoe. It is called Fish and Chicks. One of them, blonde and buxom, bronzed and bikinied, waves cheerfully from the deck. Hostilities with Americans, it is clear, ceased some time ago, but friendly vulgarity persists—at least in some quarters.
On the short ride from this point on to Hog’s Back, I pass the magnificent Ukrainian Catholic Shrine with its gold onion domes shimmering in the sunlight, and then an inlet accessible by canoe or kayak where exclusive homes bask in waterfront seclusion behind a riot of foliage. The bike path is level here and the trip so far has taken half an hour, despite the great heat, in part because so much of the route is blessed with shade. Ottawa is a beautiful city at all times except, perhaps, during the dregs of winter in March, and especially so in summer, even in the older suburbs we enjoy living and playing in, a city where man and nature co-exist in harmony—if you know where to look and studiously avoid the dreary malls and ugly concrete neon fringes that inevitably spoil too many of our cities.
Back home, the bicycle safely garaged, I go out on the deck to drink a long glass of iced tea and pick up the book I had been reading. It is John Mortimer’s Summer’s Lease, a novel whose title is derived from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, in which the line “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” appears. All the more reason, then, to continue to make the most of it. The sun has reached its zenith above my head, the only sounds are those of rustling leaves and a nearby woodpecker’s intermittent drilling at a neighbour’s hydro pole. I settle down to reading more about a summer holiday in Tuscany, grateful that while I have yet to see the glories of its distant golden fields, I have here the bounty of our green ones at home, but all is under the same beneficent life-giving sun. No wonder the Aztecs worshipped it.