Three years ago, Alex Van Dieren was paddleboarding next to the abandoned paint factory on the banks of the Ottawa River when the idea came to him: a zipline connecting Ottawa and Gatineau.
“I don’t even know why, I’ll be honest with you,” the Interzip Rogers zipline mastermind and co-president of marketing company Orkestra laughs. “I said ‘wow, maybe it’s right here!’”
And, sure enough, three years later under billowing grey skies, there it is: 365 metres of cable, 36 metres high, connecting two provinces. The world’s first interprovincial zipline — a physical manifestation of the link between Ontario and Quebec, according to Jeff Westeinde, president of the Zibi development, the “city within the city” that the zipline is part of.
“It’s part of the bridge that unites Ontario and Quebec,” he says.
And what a way to travel between provinces, swinging across the river at up to 50 kilometres per hour with a killer 360 view of Parliament, the Chaudière Falls and a host of abandoned factory buildings to peer through the window of, like you’re looking back on a chunk of history. It sure beats biking.
“We like to call it the ‘funnest crossing’ of the Ottawa River,” grins President and CEO of Ottawa Tourism — and Royal Canadian Geographical Society Fellow — Michael Crockatt.
It’s a six-minute walk across the Chaudière bridge from the Gatineau side of the river, carrying your harness like a backpack over your shoulders, bright orange helmet in hand.
At the base of the launch tower, before climbing up 140 stairs, the thrillseeker is greeted with Bimitigweyaa: the river flows along. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork by Anishinaabe artist Emily Kewageshig, taking inspiration from the the point where three strands of the Ottawa River meet, where the bridge links Ontario and Quebec. Bimitigweyaa is an acknowledgment of the Algonquin Aninishinaabe land that the zipline is on, and a reminder of the beauty of co-existing with nature.
Staff help you into your harness at the bottom of the stairs, briefing you on what to expect while zooming along the lines. It’s a “full-tension” zipline, meaning that you come in at full speed. Don’t worry, though — there are over 20 springs making up the braking system to catch you at the end, leaving your legs swinging through the air, like a child on a swing. Once you’ve been briefed, it’s up the many stairs.
Catching your breath at the top, one can take in the view from the 12-storey tower while standing still, before having your harness tightened by the folks at the top, who clip you onto the line and put you at your ease with easy banter, and multiple checks.
Because there are two lines going across, you can ride alongside a friend, a sibling, a parent, a stranger, a lover. The first to ride the zipline were Charles-Armand Turpin and his girlfriend Valerie Ducharme, who won the honour after donating $27,000 to local charities in an online auction.
“I actually did a 180 halfway just to look at her, look in her eyes and share the moment,” smiles Turpin, his eyes twinkling.
It was Ducharme’s first zipline experience ever, she exclaims. “The first few seconds I would say I had some butterflies. I was looking into his eyes. I wouldn’t look down,” she pauses to laugh with Turpin. “But then everything went away and — ahh! — I enjoyed my ride so much, the view was beautiful.”
The pair thoroughly recommend the experience, and plan to do it again.
So far, it seems that many plan to join them. Already, Interzip Rogers has sold 25 per cent of all tickets available for the summer, and Crockatt is hopeful that this experience will help breathe some life back into the tourism sector.
“It’s been a terrible year for our industry, and it’s going to be a long road to recovery,” he says. “So whatever we can do to help encourage people to come and see something they haven’t seen before, have an experience they haven’t experienced before, here, and maybe it helps them decide to stay longer with more things to do. All those things are beneficial, helping tourism businesses hopefully get some revenue back.”
It’s hoped that locals will be the first ones to try the zipline and then spread the word to their family and friends across Canada.
“We’ve done the math and if every household in Ottawa invited two family or friends to come and visit them for a long weekend here that would put about half a billion dollars back into our visitor economy in Ottawa,” says Crockatt. “It would support about 15,000 jobs, so there’s lots of really good economic reasons to come and try this and invite your family and friends to come and do it too.”
You can ride the zipline between provinces for $39.99 ($29.99 for kids 14 and under). It’s the “funnest” way to cross the river! If you want to record the experience, purchase a high definition, multi-angle video for $19.99 at the Interzip Rogers base.