The ruins

Nudists, caterpillars and blisters, oh, my! It’s all in a day’s hike for this columnist

When asked where my favourite place to hike around Ottawa is, I’ll usually lie and say Hogsback.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Hogsback. There’s nothing like leaning on the rails overlooking the falls and losing yourself in the thundering roar of the water below. And although it’s relatively urban, there are still small paths off the beaten track to explore should one feel inclined to have an adventure.

Hogsback is great.  But it’s not my favourite place to go for a hike.

I can’t describe my favourite place without telling the story of the first time I went there, and though this happened before the birth of my son, I’m still forbidden to talk about it. This story also features exploring off the beaten track, unexpected adventures, and some decidedly friendly wildlife. 

When Angela and I first began dating, one of our favourite activities was hiking in Gatineau Park. As we frequented it, we eventually tired of hitting the same trails every other weekend, so we researched more niche trails. We quickly found a new place: the Carbide Ruins. An old fertilizer plant gutted by fire, the Carbide Ruins sits nestled atop a gentle waterfall near Meech Lake. The pictures we found were majestic. When I was a kid, I wanted to be like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom. I wanted to explore ruins, brave gross bugs and have the adventure of a lifetime. It seems silly, but the pictures of the Carbide Ruins conjured up those feelings in me. So off we went. When we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed half a dozen people already on the walking path.

It’s not the Carbide Ruins, but Chris Hunt’s son, Riley, enjoys a hike nonetheless. Photo Credit Angela Jacques


Everyone was inexplicably friendly.  They smiled and waved at us, as though they were expecting us. One impossibly good-looking man kept pace with us while making pleasant small talk. When we stopped for a moment to get rocks out of our shoes, Angela turned to me and said: “Everyone is so nice here!”

“I feel like they may be part of a cult,” I said. “They are way too nice to be normal.”

“Stop it.”
“Just saying, if they offer you a drink, say no.”

By this time, our new friend had disappeared into the foliage ahead of us. A few metres ahead we found two branching paths.  One to the left, one to the right.

We heard voices from the left, so we took that path and found all the people we’d seen in the parking lot. They were completely naked.

They were a nudist group.  I hung back, but Angela walked right into the thick of them. She is very bashful, so imagine my surprise when she got right up in there. She bobbed and weaved between the Bobs and the Eves, greeting everyone like she was trying to sell them something.

Eventually she tells politely excuses herself and we circled back to the correct path where I said, “Well, now I know why they were so nice.  It’s always a good idea to be friendly to people you might see without pants later.”

The path to the ruins was longer than I expected, and by the end of it, I had blisters on my feet. However, I forgot about the pain when we reached the ruins. They stood tall and proud, regal despite their vivid wounds.

We snapped a paltry few thousand pictures before heading back.  We hadn’t been walking too long when Angela looked at me sharply and said: “Do you hear rain?”
And I did. Despite the burning sun, I vividly heard what sounded like heavy raindrops hitting the ground.  Except it wasn’t raining.  Something else was making that sound. And then Angela began to scream.

Caterpillars.  There was a literal storm of caterpillars raining from the canopy above.  We were covered in them.  Angela sprinted down the trail, flailing her hands like a mad woman.  It would have been hilarious if I hadn’t been doing the same thing.

When we were finally out from beneath the canopy, Angela glared at me and said: “We are never coming back here again.” And then she gave an involuntary shiver, which she still does to this day when we reminisce about it.