Discovering Deschênes by Bike!

Deschênes is a small community on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, right where the river narrows into the Deschênes rapids after it makes a big swing past Aylmer. The Ottawa River played an important role in the rich history of our community. 

Whenever a big river narrows, it creates a powerful current, especially attractive to capitalist entrepreneurs in the late 1800’s, a procession of which built various mills at this location.

The most noticeable feature while riding along the Voyageurs Pathway through Deschênes are the ruins of some of those old mills still holding their own in the middle of the river. But there is even more to discover in the immediate environs, as I learnt on a Jane’s Walk tour of the communtiy earlier this year.

The Deschênes Residents Association put together this map describing the ruins, along with a number of other interesting spots within the community.

Here is a bike route from Ottawa to Deschênes and back, along with stops at some of the spots described on the Deschênes Residents Association map that are accessible via velo.

This ride begins in Ottawa where the bike lanes along Laurier and Bay meet. I made my way north along Bay to Wellington before crossing over to Quebec along the Portage Bridge bike lane. I then got on the Voyageurs Pathway and followed it all the way to Deschênes. First stop is at Simard Bay below the Deschênes rapids, with a fine view out over the river.

Simard Bay

A short distance up stream one arrives at the rapids with great views of the ruins.

Mill ruins

The area is also good for bird watching. There are interpretive panels with french descriptions of a few fine feathered friends one might spot while visiting as well as why this site is an important bird habitat.

Birds & Rapids

Next stop along the Voyageurs Pathway is the wooden bridge that crosses over the marsh just west of the rapids. It is magical riding through this short section. Definitely worth a pause to take it all in.

The Dupéré bridge and wood duck marsh

I continued along the Voyageurs Pathway and then turned east along the old track bed that runs parallel to Boulevard de Lucerne.

Variegated stone dust/dirt surface along old track bed

In the late 1800’s an electrical generating station was built at the rapids in part to run trams between Ottawa and Aylmer. One of the oldest remaining buildings in Deschênnes is associated with this endeavour. The long stone building at the corner of Lucerne and Vanier was the tram way car barn. I believe this is where they were stored. A fine historical reference photo can be found here.

This is what it looks like now.

Tramway barn as it appears today

After checking out the old tramway barn I rode back to the Voyageurs Pathway along the brand-spanking-new Chemin Vanier bike lane!

Bike lanes along Chemin Vanier

I then rode back to Ottawa via the Voyageurs Pathway, crossing the Ottawa River over the Island park Drive bridge. Once across I followed the Ottawa River Pathway towards downtown.

I’ve described just a thin slice of the many layers that make up the rich history of the Deschênes community. The Jane’s Walk tour of the area given by Howard Powles is definitely worth checking out if he decides to give it again next year.

Et voila!

Author: ottawavelo


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