Samuel and Benjamin Chaffey arrived in the area of Eastern Ontario in 1816 from their birthplace of Somerset, England and were inspired to set up mills along the Rideau River. In 1820, Samuel decided to settle here and by 1827 he had established a distillery and a grist, saw, carding and fulling mill. Borne out of Samuel’s entrepreneurial spirit was a town called Chaffey’s Mills. Unfortunately, through the building of the Rideau Canal system Chaffey’s Mills was flooded and by 1832 was turned into a shipping route and later, the tourism industry stimulated growth for the area now named Chaffey’s Lock.
The Rideau Canal system comprises of 47 locks located at 22 stations along its 202 kilometer route. The canal was designed by Royal Engineers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John By but constructed using local contractors. The purpose of this remarkable artery was to bring supplies to inland garrisons thus avoiding the direct but exposed route of the St Lawrence River. It is recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site and is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America.
Chaffey’s Lock is now a recreational boating route and destination in the summer months. The Lock allows boaters to navigate around rapids that flow between Newboro Lake and Lake Opinicon within the Rideau River waterway. Other recreational past-times in the area includes cottaging and fishing.
My reasons for visiting this quaint hideaway were for a quick getaway to do some photography, bird watching and to attend a field trip hosted by the Ottawa Field Naturalist Club (OFNC). Chaffey’s Lock is located within the Frontenac Arch an ecologically significant area shaped by glacial retreat and millennia of erosion, which has resulted in the distinctive topography of ridges and valleys with shallow soils. As an ecotone between converging ecoregions, the Frontenac Arch possesses exceptional biodiversity and an extensive list of Species at Risk. The landform is also an important habitat corridor for the migration and dispersal of wildlife. For almost 70 years, Queen’s University has operated a biological station near Chaffey’s Lock for students and research in ecology, conservation, evolution and geography.
I rented a small cottage offered by Eleanor and Raymond Pinsonneault where Eleanor operates the Cedars Art Studio on the property showcasing her paintings. Their beautiful property with huge oak and white pine trees served as a reminder to me of what small town Canada used to be. Large sprawling lawns littered with shade trees to cool the hot summer air. The cottage is located within a 5 minute walk of the Lock and backs onto Lake Opinicon.
My arrival on Friday afternoon gave way to a lazy afternoon to allow my senses to adjust to a pace that could only add years to my life. Peaceful sounds with birds chirping and a soft breeze off the lake was as idyllic a scene as one can imagine. I reached a very easy relaxing feel by dinnertime and decided to stroll down to the Lock to take in some boaters moored at the dock alongside a picturesque setting any photographer would appreciate. Colorful boathouses reflecting off the mirror like waters of the waterway surrounded by trees casting their long shadows upon the world. Throughout my walks I encountered picnickers, boaters, fishermen and people canoe camping all whom have discovered this great little paradise.
Unintentionally, I awoke before the birds on Saturday morning at 4:45am and discovered a beautiful sunrise awaiting me. Sunrises are as special as sunsets with colors of pink, orange and red just to make you feel alive with a sense of awe. Being up so early allowed me to take my time preparing for the OFNC Field trip that started at a meeting point near Queen’s Biological Station at 7:45am. A total of 22 avid naturalists were part of the group led by 2 OFNC leaders. The day included a few stops along Opinicon Road to take in the sounds of nesting birds native to the area as well as finding a significant number of newly born toads hopping across the road. Further on we took to the trail near Skycroft campground and ventured out for about 6 hours into the woods. Sightings of birds were diminished by the leaves on the trees but with keen observation to their unique calls we were able to identify CERULEAN WARBLER, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, RED-EYED VIREO, AND GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER to name a few. In addition to the bird life, we were all introduced to one type of SALAMANDER –the BLUE SPOTTED and a RED EFT or NEWT. These amazing creatures which are usually found under logs or in wet environments have complex survival systems allowing them to live for up to 15 years. We were informed by the guide not to handle these creatures if you had applied bug repellant as the active ingredient called Deet will kill one of these creatures in seconds upon simple contact with your skin. The day continued on with sightings of a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, TURKEY VULTURE and another WARBLER – a COMMON YELLOW-THROAT. A short stop at a swampy area allowed us to spot a BLANDING AND STINK POT TURTLE. These turtles are native to eastern Ontario with quite distinctive features including the shape of their shell and coloring. Throughout the walk we all were introduced to the world of dragon flies, damsel flies, flowering plants along with different varieties of the insect world. The day was educational for any amateur naturalist seeking the full experience of what can be found in the forest or lakes of the area. Our day finished with a review of all life forms that we encountered along with a reminder of having awareness for ticks that may have found their way onto your clothing or body. If ticks aren’t discovered and removed from your body they can cause Lyme disease. Thankfully, I took heed to the warning and discovered a tick after showering. I removed it easily and was relieved to have been reminded of the danger.
The remainder of Saturday was spent relaxing in the serenity of my surroundings. Prior to dinner I noticed a flash of movement run by the cottage and discovered a family of RED FOXES playing in the yard. I had the opportunity to watch and briefly photograph them but was soon discovered so they quickly scattered to places unknown. The day ended with another stroll to the locks and an hour of star gazing into the night sky.
The laws of economics have not been kind to Chaffey’s Lock as their principal summer employer The Opinicon Lodge has shut its doors and been placed on the real estate market. Family run since 1921, the hotel offered restful accommodation and unsurpassed cuisine to boaters and vacationers over the years. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a decline in the number of visitors and the business became unsustainable.
Chaffey’s Lock is a beautiful area to stop at for a short visit. Located off Highway 15 south of Smith’s Falls in Eastern Ontario, I have driven through the area many times wanting to stay and experience it. Simply a great place to visit and slow down the pace of the world around you.