A Visit to a Land of Mallards and Royal Swans

Clifford Allen Island is the largest island in a tiny archipelago, a couple of kilometers downstream Hog’s Back Falls, in a bend of Rideau River, within the Billings Bridge Neighbourhood of the Capital Ward in the City of Ottawa. The island appears to have been part of the original estate of the Billings family in the 1800s.

These are alluvial islands and as such they have changed in shape and size over the years. In addition, human activity has also contributed to shape their current appearance: the lands bordering this section of the river were frequently flooded due to big ice jams, which in 1930 prompted City Council to undertake the “levelling” of some of these islands. However, Clifford Allen Island seems to have been spared (https://www.oldottawasouth.ca/stories/item/3833-islands-of-work). In an aerial picture taken in April 1947, during one of the worst floods of the region, it can be seen partially submerged together with the “Nordic Circle” development – now a park area – facing its south shore (https://www.oldottawasouth.ca/stories/item/5744-the-years-of-the-great-floods). The island is also seen in other historic aerial pictures (http://www.historynerd.ca/2016/06/30/from-the-nordic-circle-to-the-rideaus-waters-this-flood-was-made-for-you-and-me/). The tip of the island can be seen in a 1922 painting by Robert Wickenden, (1861-1931), “Rideau River, Summer Afternoon”, in the National Gallery of Canada (http://www.bytown.net/billingsbridgesettlement.htm).

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Clifford Allen Island is named in the page in Wikipedia that lists the islands of Ontario (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_of_Ontario#Rideau_River) and its name is showing in Google Maps, though not in the Canadian Hydrographic Chart of the area (CHS 1512). The origin of the name is not readily apparent, but it was likely chosen to honour a prominent person or family from the area. In Ottawa there is also a “Clifford Allen Park” not far from the intersection of Walkley Rd. and Bank St. (http://ottawa.cdncompanies.com/park/clifford-allen-park-ottawa/).

It would also appear that Clifford Allen Island was never laboured or inhabited or in any way used by humans other than the occasional visitor to its shores in a kayak, canoe or paddleboard (http://naturallyottawa.com/tag/canoeing/).

I decided I wanted to give this island a chance to appear in the database of the Canadian Islands Activators (CIA) program (veislandactivators.blogspot.ca). After having to postpone the “qualifying” once due to rainy weather, I had almost dismissed the idea of being able to do it this summer. However, last Saturday, the family planned an afternoon at Brewer Park, a stone-throw away from the island. So, I loaded the radio gear and the inflatable Sevylor Rio in the Jeep, drove to the southeast tip of the park and – with the help and encouragement of my beautiful daughter-in-law, Michelle – we carry the boat and the gear to the water, to a spot where there used to be a little dock no longer in existence. There I inflated the Sevylor, launched it and paddled it to the island. Though the crossing is just above 100 meters, there is a perceptible midstream current as the waters still carry some of the momentum acquired in the jumps along the Hog’s Back fault.

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In spite of the very tall grass that covers the entire island, and its entire shoreline being of very soft mud (almost like quicksands), I did manage to land on the south shore of its western tip. I made my way through the tall grasses and found a cleared spot under a huge Silver Maple presiding over the west tip of the island. There I set up the portable station with the KX3, and hoisted the PAR EndFedZ Tribander up the S9v42 mast leaning again one of the branches of the maple tree. I listen in 40m and 20m but although I heard a few CQ’s I was unable to get a reply (later I found out that a small CME might have been the culprit). So, after one hour of fruitless effort, I decided I was not going to “qualify” the island anytime soon. So, I packed back the radio gear, launched the canoe back into the stream and paddled it back to Brewer’s Park to join the rest of the family at the playground next to Seneca Street.

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I couldn’t say: “I did it…” – as my little grandson often puts it – but I can say “I’ve tried”… However, after this unsuccessful attempt, I doubt I will return to Clifford Allen Island, as I think that it should best be enjoyed from a distance while remaining what it has always been: a pristine, almost forsaken, piece of land in the middle of Canada’s National Capital, better inhabited only by its rightful owners, the mallards and the Royal swans.

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