Turbulent waters: Ottawa Valley business navigates search for new owners

owl RAFTING

A unique adventure business in the Ottawa Valley is up for sale, but there’s a caveat.  

Ottawa Whitewater Leaders Rafting, or OWL Rafting, as it’s affectionately known, is for sale to the right buyer — one with a passion for paddling, who’ll keep developing the business.

“We’re in no rush,” says Claudia Kirchhoff-Van Wijk, co-owner of OWL. “This is paradise and paradise is an opportunity for someone. We want to find the right people that will continue this business, it doesn’t have to be the way we’re doing it, but it will continue.”

complete view

Located on the Ottawa River at Rocher Fendu Lake in the heart of the Canadian Shield about 30 minutes from Renfrew, OWL Rafting is both a resort and a whitewater paddling adventure experience that the Van Wijks have been developing over the past four decades.  

County officials also have an interest in seeing the property sold to the right buyer. Since its opening in 1982, OWL has had a huge impact on the local economy.

“The rafting business brings thousands of paddlers into the area every year,” says Melissa Marquardt, manager of economic development for Renfrew County. While seasonal, the business employs around 100 people each year. Wilderness Tours, a similar operation, is located next to the OWL property, creating a hub for adventure tourism along the river.

The idea for the business originated with Kirchhoff-Van Wijk’s parents, Hermann and Christa. The German immigrants fell in love with the sport of whitewater paddling in Canada. In 1968, they became Canadian slalom champions. In 1972, Hermann competed in the Olympics. In 1974, when Claudia was 14 years old, she and her father made the first kayak descent of the Ottawa River. 

“We couldn’t believe what we’d discovered; that there’s this gem (Rocher-Fendu rapids), right on the Ottawa,” says Kirchhoff-Van Wijk, herself a 10-time Canadian women’s whitewater kayaking champion, gold medalist at the 1976 Pan American Games, and bronze medalist at the 1982 World Championships.

Van Wijk
Three generations of the Van Wijk family stand in the beloved waters surrounding the OWL resort. Photo provided.

As much as the Van Wijks have developed the property, there’s still room for growth.

“There's so much potential still in this business,” says Kirchhoff-Van Wijk.  

Appreciative of the land’s history with the Algonquin people and its value as a wilderness resort, the Van Wijks have tried to preserve the resort’s environment, using commercial composting toilets, solar heating and reusing as much waste as possible.

The property is being sold in two connected parts; the land at an asking price of $1 million and the business for an asking price of $6.5 million. OWL Rafting has been on the market since June 2022.