Ah, our nation’s capital! As a learning holiday, our small family (plus a special guest!) ventured to Ottawa for five days in October. It was right on that glorious cusp for fall creeping into early winter, where the daytime sunshine was welcome over the brisk windy evenings. Join us!
Ottawa is, by all measures, one of the best places to live in Canada. It’s the smartest, highest earning city in the land. In addition to housing our federal government, Ottawa contains many of Canada’s national museums, galleries and monuments. It’s an easy place to get around on foot, and eerily tidy in the metropolitan core.
For this adventure, we had a tag-along. Lori’s Dad, Nelson joined us for the sightseeing, good food and long marches. We set up shop in the AirBnB house in Byward, the original settlement of the city. This neighbourhood put us within striking distance of many places of interest, as well as myriad shops and restaurants. There’s a lot of gentrification in the area, so the blocks are well mixed.
Since the focus of the trip was filling the kiddo’s head with knowledge, I didn’t get out much with photography as my main goal. Sometimes it’s nice to just be tourist and take it all in.
A favourite for all of us was the Royal Canadian Mint, which offers a fine guided tour that lasts about an hour. Sadly, they don’t make circulation currency at this location anymore but there was a huge array of commemorative and collectible products.
The whole area surrounding the parliament buildings is very well manicured, laid out and secured. There are a great many unsmiling members of the RCMP present at all times. For a city so full of activity, there are also places to easily find a quiet moment without other people around. Green spaces are many, with monuments in most.
The Rideau Canal winds through the city, but roadways have snaked over and around it wherever necessary. There is a walking path beside the whole length through the city, and of course is open to skating in the winter.
It was a sombre visit to the National War Memorial. There is a heavy MP presence since the shootings on Parliament Hill in 2014. The War memorial is where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed while standing guard at the cenotaph.
After striking out for a free tour of the Centre Block due to our late arrival, we were sure to be early the next day. There are no reservations for the tours, it’s all first-come, first-to-be-served. After a security check similar to what you’d find at the airport, we fell into a group of about 20 people with an enthusiastic guide. The building is quite a beauty inside and out; austere but soaring high above the hill, it’s home to Canada’s House of Commons and Senate.
The business of a nation goes on here, albeit slowly. The tour was very informative, with tidbits and history thrown in wherever possible. We were all struck with the beauty and quiet of the Library of Parliament, the only remaining portion of the original building to have survived the fire that consumed the remainder in 1916. While the rebuilt portion is mostly concrete and stone, the library is a glowing chamber of warm, carved hardwood. It felt like the living heart of the facility.
After the library, it was up the Peace Tower for a sweeping view of the Hill, Gatineau and the rest of the city. I was disgusted with all the people taking selfies in the Memorial Chamber, but that’s just me being old fashioned, I guess.
A highlight of the trip for me was the Museum of History, which focuses on the story of Canada told from many different viewpoints. Indigenous history is front and centre through most of the exhibits, and there are scores of artefacts and opportunities to learn. I especially like the Totems and dugout boats. The art of the west-coast indigenous peoples is beautiful and rich.
A highlight for me was the full-scale plaster of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii. If you take a step in any direction, new details pop out at you. There’s a awful lot going on and I’ve wanted to see the real thing in DC (or Vancouver) since it was featured on the back of our $20 note from 2004-2012.
The story behind this sculpture is interesting, with every occupant in the canoe representing a part of the natural world. They are all struggling, fighting each other and working to move the canoe through life, with Raven the Trickster at the helm.
The grounds at the Museum of History are lovely, offering a nice view of parliament across the river. The building itself is a spectacular work of architecture by Douglas Cardinal who also designed the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.
Nelson was a real trooper for this trip, putting on serious miles and not once complaining. We tried to keep him well fed, and he was a joy to have along. Nelson’s an avid photographer and I enjoyed shooting with him, trading ideas all the while.
We were also fortunate enough to visit the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, though I spent much more time learning than photographing. Plus, I got to visit another Lockheed Electra, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it home with me. Sadly, the Canada Museum of Science and Technology was closed for renovations. Next time!
After a nice, greasy breakfast at Zak’s Diner, we Übered to YOW and made haste once more for the coast.