Post by Jennifer Larocque
An Ottawa entrepreneur realizes his dream: Sharing the National Capital Region’s beautiful outdoors
I love traveling. In 2011-2012, my husband and I traveled through 130 cities in 23 countries. In every country we visited, we were most inspired by small, independent tour operators and local guides who shared their personal stories and introduced us to hidden gems.
On August 10th this year, we lived a unique personalized travelling experience a mere 15 minutes from our own beautiful city.
Last year, my mother’s friend Paul Proulx, left us a creative wedding gift hanging ornamentally in one of the trees where our ceremony was happening. You see, Paul is renowned for organizing outdoor excursions for his family and friends, throughout all seasons. In his card, along with his wishes of love and happiness, was the offer to take us out on an outdoor excursion of our choice in the National Capital Region.
Fast track to a year later and we redeemed his offer for an outdoor expedition. Not having planned it to happen as such, we laughed when we told Paul that we were celebrating our one-year anniversary with him as we embarked in his Toyota Camry in the direction of the Gatineau Park. He smiled and assured us that he’d brought a blanket for us to have a quiet and personal picnic. Thanks Paul, we told him, but we’d prefer to spend lunch with our local guide and learn about the history of the area we are visiting.
We spent all of six hours with Paul. He took us on a hike through two of the most popular destinations in the Gatineau Park. Albeit the King Mountain and Belvédère Champlain trails and lookouts can be trekked without a guide, in Paul’s company, we learned about the history of the Park, like how it was almost lost to the economic activity of cutting and selling wood during the Great Depression, until the Federal Government started purchasing the land, as early as 1938, that was to become what we now know as the Gatineau Park, a gem.
We also got to see birds of prey and views up-close through his father’s retro binoculars. But, most of all, we got to scope our own secret, perfectly half-shaded, half sunny, breezy, flat-surfaced, soft-grassed picnic area. Our own private spot overlooking the convergence of Gatineau, Ottawa and Aylmer was perfect as we were literally invisible to all other hikers! The only company we had were the many turkey vultures flying smoothly across the valley before us. We toasted our delicious picnic, complete with homemade dark chocolate coconut hearts sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and a Vietnamese green tea. At the very end of our second hike we took a detour and stopped at the local micro-brewery, the Chelsea Pub, where our server very graciously performed bits and pieces of the Black Keys’ songs that happened to be playing so Paul could get acquainted with the music.
It was a brilliant experience in our own backyard. It felt good to be a tourist and it made us want to share it with the world:
Look what you can do in Ottawa?
Paul actually retired a little earlier than planned and well, this turned out to be a life-changing move. He turned his long time love and passion for the Ottawa-Gatineau outdoors into a business that sets our National Capital Region apart. He offers 16 expeditions as a starting point – and if you are interested in an activity or trail he hasn’t published on his website, he’ll take you up on your request – around the National Capital Region, mainly centered on canoeing, hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing in the winter (he knows which chalets are the best for dinners, pit stops or sleep overs).
What we loved about it? If we were tourists, we’d be convinced by the personalized experience, the transportation to and from as well as the fact that all basic equipment is taken care of. (Even though we live in Ottawa, we really like that the equipment is included, making the experience accessible and without hassle. We plan on experiencing one of Paul’s canoeing expeditions in the near future because we don’t have a canoe of our own!)
Setting up shop as a business, like any entrepreneurial venture, was not without any hurdles. But, once insurers understood that Paul wasn’t canoeing down Hog’s Back Falls (yes, they actually asked that!), he was ready to go: A Tours Expedition Ottawa sticker discreetly decorates his car, complete with a TEOTTAWA license plate. If you happen to bump into him in town, ask him how it’s been going. He always welcomes an impromptu chat.
For more information on Tours Expedition Ottawa, click here.