Cruising in My Neighbours’ Amphicar

I’m confused. “What?” I repeat a second time, hearing Orlaith and Steve’s words but drawing a blank.

We’re drinking coffee and chatting, our first conversation, and I see their vintage baby blue convertible double-parked out front of the house. I’m thinking why, living just up the street, would they drive rather than walk and I’m not grasping how come they call it an Amphicar.

Turns out they hadn’t driven here so much as they had swum up the river in their car, a car that doubles as a boat.

Yes, you read that right.

A Car That Swims

And because it’s perfectly normal to go on spontaneous adventures with people you’ve known for less than an hour, we finished up our coffee and headed out to cruise the Rideau Canal.

According to, Amphicars were manufactured in Germany between 1961 and 1967 with a total production of less than 4,000 units. They are capable of over 70mph on road and 8 knots on water.

Owner David H. Neverth spent so much time answering questions from curious spectators that he wrote this 1965 booklet 60 Reasons Why I Love the Amphicar. His reasons included:

  • Road clearance, 2 inches greater than a Jeep, make it an ideal off-road vehicle; a low first gear also contributes to its off-road capabilities
  • Rear engined traction for “go” in mud and snow
  • The car is truly fabulous in the water and remarkably stable even in 58mph winds on large waters
  • It takes 18 steps to have a day of boating the conventional way but only 3 steps the Amphicar way
  • Unlicensed children can drive the Amphicar – in water that is!
  • Road salt will have a hard time rusting the double-heavy steel body through. The smooth fender wells and underside have no pockets where salt can accumulate
  • The car is like one big bumper guard so it offers maximum safety in a collision
  • A high capacity bilge pump, bilge blower, navigation lights and marine horn are standard.
  • Triumph Herald Engine. An overly durable engine which was used in the Triumph Sedan. Made by Standard Triumph of England, makers of engines for European industrial and automotive use. A Triumph engine to be used in Swedish SAAB soon. Standard Triumph sells more sports cars than an other company in the world.
  • The Amphicar Corporation is a sound company. It owns much of Mercedes Benz, even Mercedes Benz hub caps fit the Amphicar perfectly

I am enchanted by the simplicity of the undertaking. We lock an extra handle on each door to create a watertight seal. Steve starts the engine and drives into the water at the boat launch. He slips the land transmission’s stick shift into neutral to prevent the wheels from spinning but they will act as rudders, controlled by the steering wheel.

With a short stick on the floor he engages the dual propellers of the water drive, with its three positions of forward, neutral and reverse. The propellers kick in, the wake appears and we make our way down river towards the lock station and circle back, dry as a bone.

The Amphicar makes me feel all James Bond and it’s possible I covet this vehicle even more than the Citröen Deux Chevaux I’ve had my eye on for years.

A Zibi Kind of Day

Sunshine. Twenty degrees. Light breeze. Birdsong out-gunning any human distractions. Views to the Ottawa river. And wildflowers, vines, bushes and trees in bloom everywhere.

It was just another perfect day shooting the Domtar lands as part of the Workers History Museum cataloguing project.

While the industrial buildings remain the focus, Mother Nature with her natural green roofs, biodiverse ‘gardens’ and window boxes have taken over, distracting me to no end.


Joyce Frances Devlin: Spring Show 2015

This afternoon I dragged my nose away from the grindstone long enough to bathe, swap my grubby work clothes for something more civilized and walk the short distance to Joyce Frances Devlin‘s home and studio.

After the success of last year’s show, Joyce has been exhibiting her gorgeous new work over these past two weekends and the show remains up, by appointment, through June.

While her paintings are meant to take centre stage it’s hard not to be enchanted by her house, which I wrote about here, and, at this time of year, her gardens. Look in any direction and notice the views, colours, plant and object arrangements, rocks, sculpture and painting installations. Nothing has been left to chance and, with these kinds of results, why would you want it to be?

Please contact Joyce directly at (613) 269-4458 to view, purchase or commission work at her studio in Burritt’s Rapids, Ontario.

Walk for Reconciliation

Until last Sunday I’d never done this kind of thing before.

By 3:45am I was driving through rainy blackness heading to the Sunrise Ceremony on Victoria Island, in the middle of the Ottawa river. The ceremony would mark the beginning of the close for the six-year-long Truth and Reconciliation Commission examining the effects of Indian residential schools on Aboriginal peoples and culture.

I stood amongst 200 or so souls, shivering under unsettled skies, feeling awkward. I wondered about my right to be at such an important event, wondering if I was taking up someone else’s space, mildly terrified I would do or say the wrong thing, feeling the weight of my ignorance. I needn’t have worried. Almost immediately a woman gathered me under her red umbrella, included. I watched and listened as the lighting of the sacred fire unfolded, but my role wasn’t an entirely passive one. As I would learn over the following days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, through my presence and attention I was being called as a witness to the past and a bearer of knowledge into the future. Because we can never un-know what we know, we must move forward.

A few hours later I caught the shuttle from Ottawa’s City Hall to Gatineau to join in the Walk for Reconciliation. The walk was:

…designed to transform and renew the very essence of relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. It sounds so simple, but just the act of gathering and walking and sharing our stories can join us all in a shared commitment to creating a new way forward in our relationships with each other. Our future depends on being able to simply get along, respecting each other for the unique gifts we bring.”1

I didn’t expect the walk to be magically transformative and it wasn’t. My goal was to show up, stand up, and begin to wake up to the legacy of Indian residential schools and the Canadian government’s assimilation policies. I’m tired of my own ignorance and of feeling useless in the face of the inevitable racist cloud that forms whenever the “Indian subject” arises. I don’t wish to pontificate, but it’s important to be able to explain my point of view and separate fact from fiction.

So last week I walked knowing it marked the beginning of a journey and not the end. It was a small, tangible action I could take in the face of such massive devastation.

Watch TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson speak about the purpose of the Commission and why it’s about Canadian history and not Aboriginal history.



There is human time and there is wild time. When I was a child in the north woods, before I learned there were four seasons to a year, I thought there were dozens: the time of nighttime thunderstorm, heat lightning time, bonfires-in-the-woods time, blood-on-the-snow time, the times of ice trees, bowing trees, crying trees, shimmering trees, breaded trees, waving-at-the-tops-only trees, and trees-drop-their babies time. I loved the seasons of diamond snow, steaming snow, squeaking snow, and even dirty snow and stone snow, for these meant the time of flower blossoms on the river was coming.

These seasons were like important and holy visitors and each sent its harbingers: pinecones open, pinecones closed, the smell of leaf rot, the smell of rain coming, crackling hair, lank hair, bushy hair, doors loose, doors tight, doors that won’t shut at all, windowpanes covered with ice-hair, windowpanes covered with wet petals, windowpanes covered with yellow pollen, windowpanes pecked with sap gum. And our own skin had its cycles too: parched sweaty, gritty, sunburned, soft.

~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

Exploring the intersection of people, their homes, and communities