New company offers boat tours of Rideau River

New company offers boat tours of Rideau River

Thu., Jul 28, 2016 | By Kelly McCarthy

Tour the Rideau

Tour the Rideau | Kelly McCarthy/Metroland

There’s a new way to see the sights of Ottawa this summer: from the deck of the Brass Toucan, a one-of-a-kind boat captained by a woman and her dog.

Offering intimate boat tours of the Rideau River, the Brass Toucan offers locals, newcomers and tourists alike a chance to see the area from a new perspective.

“It reframes Ottawa for you when you start working with the waterways,” said Jenny Bruce, creator and captain of the Brass Toucan. “It’s absolutely gorgeous out here.”

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Bruce and her first mate – a six-year-old Goldendoodle named Finn – can accommodate small groups of up to four people aboard the Brass Toucan, which was brought to life from the shell of an old sailboat. She offers a variety of tour options, from leisurely day excursions to longer, three- or four-day trips.

Part of the draw of the Brass Toucan is the opportunity to navigate lock stations, Bruce said. Depending on the tour’s destination, groups could experience up to four lock systems – lending a helping hand and learning the ropes as they go.

“It’s a great experience,” said Bruce of navigating the locks. “It’s not something that everyone has a chance to do.”


Bruce has always been drawn to water.

Growing up in Kingston, Bruce was around boats and waterways for much of her childhood. However, as a registered massage therapist currently living in Ottawa’s Centretown, Bruce had put her dreams of spending her days navigating the river system on hold.

Things changed when Bruce spotted an old, weather-worn boat on Kijiji. She considered the purchase for months before finally making the decision to travel to Newboro, Ont. to check it out.

The 24-foot vessel immediately charmed Bruce and her friend Dez Fitzgerald, owner of Dez’s Paint Shop in Greely. It was not river-worthy by any standard, but Bruce said she saw it as a blank slate.

“This was not a lemon,” she said of the boat, “and so began a long journey of hitting walls and doors on our way to creating the finished Brass Toucan.”

The boat that would eventually become the Brass Toucan had been sitting outside, unsheltered, since 2008. Transforming it into a motorized, river-cruising tour boat was a long process that involved applying new fibreglass, sealing, painting, upholstery and a lot of trial and error.

“It was a learning curve,” Bruce joked. “But now I know how to use a drill like nobody’s business.”

Today, the Brass Toucan – named for a literal brass toucan that was Bruce’s first antique – is a colourful, cozy space complete with hand-upholstered benches and a wood grain finish courtesy of Dez’s Paint Shop. Bruce said her dream is to cater to the city’s explorers and sight seekers looking for something unique.


The Brass Toucan and Bruce herself are fully licensed to operate commercial tours, starting at the Rideau Canoe Club (804 Hog’s Back Rd.) near the Hog’s Back lock station.

Bruce is willing and able to offer a variety of tour options, depending on the aim of the booking group. The Brass Toucan can take groups to the Black Rapids lock station or further south to the Long Island lock station near Manotick.

If the group so desires, the Brass Toucan can dock in Manotick for a rest, allowing guests to dine at one of the area’s many restaurants before heading back into the city.

A longer, three-day offering can take you to Merrickville, camping along the shoreline overnight. An on-board barbecue is at the ready for groups to cook up their own lunch.

“Whatever you want, I’m sure I can make it happen,” Bruce said. “I’m here for hire – you ask, and I’ll try to deliver.”

Bruce’s dream, she said, is to cater to couples looking for a romantic outing or new Canadians looking to learn more about the nation’s capital.


The Brass Toucan is open for business while the weather is agreeable, Bruce said, likely until September. Information about the vessel, what it offers and pricing can be found at


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