Gatineau lies across the Ottawa River from the capital of Canada, Ottawa. The city is the result of the 2002 merger of five Quebec cities—Hull, Aylmer, Buckingham, Masson-Angers and Gatineau.
Historically, Gatineau’s culture and identity have been shaped by Ottawa, and until 2002, Hull was the oldest and best-known city in this region of Quebec. Its amalgam of a predominantly French-speaking population, fine French cuisine and internationally recognised tourist attractions give Gatineau a distinctly cultured vibe.
The first Gatineau attraction on any visitor's list should be the mammoth Canadian Museum of Civilization. It is Canada’s most-visited museum, attracting 1.3 million visitors each year. Located today in an ultramodern building in the old borough of Hull, alongside the Ottawa River, the museum actually dates back to 1856.
Originally charged with "investigation of the province’s geology, mineralogy and natural history," the museum has since grown into a multifaceted nature, history, art and cultural centre. Its Canada Hall is among its most popular permanent exhibits, presenting a panorama of 1,000 years of Canadian civilisation. Serious history buffs will also enjoy the Outaouais Regional Archive Centre, located in downtown Gatineau, which offers exhibits specific to this region of Canada.
The building also encompasses an IMAX theater and the Canadian Children's Museum. Kids are given a passport at the entrance to this part of the museum, on which they collect “visas” for visiting certain exhibits.
Parc de la Gatineau actually occupies part of the adjoining city of Chelsea, on the other side of the Gatineau River. The wildlife sanctuary consists of almost 4,000 hectares of forest, lakes and hills. Within Gatineau Park, the Mackenzie King Estate is one of the top attractions in Gatineau. It is the former home of William Lyon Mackenzie King, who served as prime minister for 22 years—the longest term in Canadian history. The estate encompasses restored cottages, hiking trails, gardens and a tea room for visitors.
Nearby is Camp Fortune, which has three areas for winter skiing and snowboarding, with a total of 23 runs. In the summer, it offers 32 kilometres of biking trails as well as the Aerial Experience, a treetop course consisting of ziplines and suspension bridges.
One of the key nightlife attractions in Gatineau, Casino du Lac-Leamy was launched by the provincial government in Quebec in 1996 as a source of revenue. Visitors to Gatineau can gamble around the clock at its 1,800 slot machines and 65 tables for roulette, blackjack, baccarat, craps and poker. The casino site also includes a 1,100-seat theatre and a Hilton hotel.
Gatineau visitors who enjoy the outdoors will also like Mont Cascades, located about 32 kilometres north in Cantley. It offers skiing and snowboarding runs in winter and a busy waterpark in summer months. Speaking of summer, Quebec's biggest festival of the year takes place annually on June 24, the festival of St. John the Baptist. It dates to 1636. Festivities traditionally include music, bonfires and folk dances, which, combined with the pleasant weather of early summer, make this a great time of year to visit Gatineau.