Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, is located on the bank of the Ottawa River and borders Gatineau, Quebec. With a population of close to one million, it is the fourth largest city in Canada and is known as the political center of Canada with all major politicians living and/or working at Parliament Hill. A multi-cultural well educated community and high standard of living has made Ottawa one of the best places to live for high quality of life and low unemployment. The city is well-known for its exquisite architecture and arts and culture. Ottawa hosts many annual events such as the Canada Day Celebration, Winterlude which is the largest festival in Canada, Bluesfest, Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, Jazz Festival and many more. Whatever time of year you travel, there is always something exciting happening in Ottawa as it’s always an interesting place to visit. Take the time to visit the Parliament buildings, Laurier House, the Canadian War Museum and the National Arts Centre, or grab a sweet treat at BeaverTails and enjoy the beautiful Rideau Canal.
1. Visit Parliament Hill
Located on the banks of the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill, also referred to as “The Hill”, is the home of the Parliament of Canada. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the location was originally a military base called Barrack Hill until it was no longer strategically important. The buildings on The Hill are currently under extensive renovations and they are not expected to be completed until around 2020.
The parliament and departmental buildings are arranged in a formal garden fashion forming a quadrangle of buildings. It consists of the Senate and Commons chambers fronted by the Peace Tower, the Library of Parliament as well as ministers’ and senators’ offices and meeting rooms and other office spaces. It serves as a site for Canada Day celebrations and the changing of the guard. On the grounds you will find statues of many significant figures such as Sir John A. Macdonald, Queen Victoria, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and Queen Elizabeth II to name a few, as well as monuments, a gazebo and a reconstruction of the Summer House built for the Speaker of the House of Commons. The rest of the area is left in its natural state creating a beautiful landscape.
2. Enjoy the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal, also known as the Rideau Waterway is 202 kilometres in length and connects the city of Ottawa on the Ottawa River to the city of Kingston on Lake Ontario. Rideau is the French word for “curtain” and is named for the twin waterfalls that give a curtain-like appearance where they join the Ottawa River. It was originally opened in 1832 in case of war with the United States.
The Canal is currently operated by Parks Canada, is used for pleasure boating and is the oldest continuously used canal in North America. It has been designated as a World Heritage Site and can be enjoyed in both summer and winter. In the summer months, pleasure boating is quite popular on the canal taking 3-5 days to travel one way in a motor boat. In the winter, the canal officially becomes the world’s largest skating rink called the Rideau Canal Skateway. The cleared length is 7.8 kilometres which is equivalent to the length of 90 Olympic hockey rinks. The canal is also home to numerous species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish. A pleasure any time of year, the Rideau Canal is an incredible sight to behold.
3. Savor the Flavor at BeaverTails
If you want to get the full Canadian experience, you can’t miss a taste of Canada. BeaverTails Canada, also known as Queues de Castor, is a Canada-based chain of pastry stands that features their namesake treat, a deep-fried pastry hand-stretched to resemble a beaver’s tail. The chain began in Killaloe, Ontario in 1978 and two years later they opened their first permanent store in Ottawa. The chain is now operating in three other countries including the United States, South Korea and Japan.
The pastry is similar to other fried pastries, but is topped with sweets such as whipped cream, banana slices, chopped Oreos, and Nutella. The traditional beavertail is topped with cinnamon and sugar but the choices of flavors are too numerous to list here. There are other sweet treats available there too, so don’t feel like you are limited to just one choice. So while seeing and doing Canadian things in Canada’s capital city, don’t forget to taste something Canadian as well. You won’t be disappointed.
4. Explore Laurier House
Located at 335 Laurier Avenue East in Ottawa, the Laurier House is a historic Victorian mansion that previously served as the home of two of the best-known Canadian Prime Ministers – Sir Wilfrid Laurier (who the house was named after) and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Prime Minister Laurier lived there until his death in 1919 and then his wife willed the house to Prime Minister King. He lived there until his death in 1950 and then willed the house to the government and people of Canada.
Today the house is operated as a museum by Parks Canada. It is a popular summer attraction opening for guided tour visitations on Victoria Day in May and closing for the season on Thanksgiving Day in October. Inside the house, you will be able to view personal items of the two prime ministers who resided there including the crystal ball used by King in séances as well as artwork they owned. The house also features a Summer Heritage Theatre Series on the veranda and evening Butler Tours.
5. Tour Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm
Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm is well known for its natural beauty and serves as a wonderful backdrop for weddings, retreats or other group outings. Located only 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa. It features a beautiful quarry-stone house, several other log buildings, a wooden barn and is surrounded by towering maple trees.
You can forget the city and get back to nature by walking, riding by horse-drawn sleigh or by taking a wagon ride through the acres of trails. The surrounding area consists of maple forest, cedar groves and meadows and is home to a variety of wildlife for you to enjoy. The farm is a photographer’s dream with the mixed country gardens and picturesque natural surroundings. The farm hosts an Officially Sanctioned Rodeo, Christmas parties (with sleigh rides) and with over 250 acres of developed and undeveloped land, provides the perfect terrain for ATV trails. Of course having all that Sugar Maple around the place, the experience wouldn’t be complete without visiting the 400-seat Pancake House Restaurant, a sugar shack and maple cookery, and sampling some of the maple syrup produced there.
6. Discover the Canadian Museum of Nature
The castle-like building housing the Canadian Museum of Nature has an interesting history. In 1916, when the parliament buildings were destroyed by fire, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier laid in state here at the Victoria Memorial Building. The museum has been recently renovated and features everything from sea creatures to dinosaurs. It features life-sized dioramas, modern galleries, an HD theater and interactive displays including a limestone cave.
The RBC Blue Water Gallery has a 4,550 litre river aquarium, an Arctic Research Ship and a 19 metre blue whale. The Vale Earth Gallery features over 1,000 rock and mineral samples and provides education on how geology and mineralogy affect our planet. Animalium houses unusual species and allows visitors to get up close and personal with a rare collection of insects, arachnids and other critters. The Talisman Fossil Gallery, a favorite with young visitors, shows the transition from times of dinosaurs and their extinction to the rise of mammals. The Mammal Gallery features wildlife native to Canada such as polar bears, moose and cougars to name a few. These are only a few of the adventures awaiting you at this awe-inspiring museum. It must be seen and experienced to be believed.
7. See the Canadian War Museum
The Canadian War Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in the military of Canada both past and present, and how it has and continues to shape the country. The building was built with sustainability in mind and features a green roof measuring 10,684 square metres covered in tall-grass and is a self-sustaining ecosystem. It also has many energy-efficient features including an earth energy system for cooling and heating, occupancy and daylight sensors on the lighting system and more. The museum was built using recycled materials including the copper taken from the roof of the Library of Parliament during renovations.
One of the predominant features in the museum are the Morse Code Windows. They read “Lest We Forget” and “CWM” in both official languages and at 11 a.m. every November 11th, the sun shines through the Memorial Hall and lights the headstone of Canada’s Unknown Soldier. The entire exhibition covers 2 km. All of the exhibitions and programs were designed to emphasize the war experience. Some of the best military artifacts can be seen here and include vehicles, artillery, uniforms, medals, memoirs and over 13,000 pieces in the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art.
8. Experience the National Arts Centre
The National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa is the center for performing arts and was built to commemorate Canada’s Centennial anniversary in 1967. It was completed in 1969 at a cost of $46 million dollars, and is located next to Rideau Canal in Confederation Square. Within a short walking distance of Parliament Hill, the National Arts Centre is the prime place to go for an evening of arts and entertainment.
The center is bilingual and hosts several theater companies, orchestras, bands and dance troupes but is the home of The National Arts Centre Orchestra who joins other musicians to perform special concerts. While there, make sure to enjoy the fine dining atmosphere of NAC’s Le Cafe Restaurant overlooking Rideau Canal for some exquisite Canadian Contemporary Cuisine. The Centre Hall, which seats 2,323 people, hosts the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, Opera Lyra Ottawa as well as ballet and other productions. The Theatre, which seats 897, is home to the English and French theater and hosts most theater and dance events. The Studio with only 300 seats, is used for more intimate theatrical performances and the Fourth Stage seating 150, is home to many forms of community programming.
9. Stop by Peace Tower
The Peace Tower is a bell and clock tower located in the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings. It is officially named the Tower of Victory and Peace or Victoire et de la paix in French and is printed on the front of the Canadian fifty dollar bill. The roof is concrete covered in copper giving it a green color and the walls are made from sandstone.
The Peace Tower was originally constructed not only as a landmark but also as a memorial for Canadians who gave their lives in the Great War. The Memorial Chamber is a 24 ft x 24 ft room with vaulted ceilings located above the porte-cochere and adorned with stained glass windows and many other features depicting Canada’s war record. The flag at the top of the tower is changed every day from Monday to Friday and on days when it is flown at half-mast with the exception of statutory holidays and in bad weather (for safety reasons). The clock on the tower was presented by the government of the United Kingdom in celebration of the 60 anniversary of Confederation and has been ticking away since 1927.
10. Reflect at the National War Memorial
The National War Memorial entitled The Response is located in the heart of downtown Ottawa in Confederation Square with the Parliament Buildings and the distant Gatineau Hills in the background. It was unveiled in 1939 to commemorate the Canadian response in the First World War and has since become a national icon representing the sacrifice of all Canadians during wartime.
In January 1926, Vernon March of Farnborough, Kent, England was chosen to design the memorial of the “Response” from Canada. Because of his death in 1930, the memorial was completed by his six brothers and sister who molded the full-sized statues in clay and the cast them in plaster before coating them in bronze in their own foundry. King George IV unveiled the completed memorial on May 21st, 1939 with approximately 100,000 people in attendance. Peace and Freedom are the message represented by the memorial. It is a magnificent piece of art which promises to cause you to reflect on all of its messages no matter what age you are or what country you call home.