Unlike Montreal’s busy city pace where we were compelled to keep up with the energy the city was exuding – the opposite was true for Ottawa. Ottawa’s easy pace and laid-back feel seemed to give us permission to slow down and rest. I very much welcomed this and think it is probably why Ottawa was my favorite of the three eastern Canadian cities we visited.
The duplex we rented was half of a beautiful Victorian house in the Hintonburg/Wellington Village neighborhood just west of downtown Ottawa, and a short walk to markets and loads of restaurants on Wellington Street.
It also provided us with easy access to the Ottawa River Parkway – a bicycle path that follows the southern bank of the river.
It was a quick, safe and scenic route to downtown and Parliament Hill.
Ottawa is Canada’s government center – it is the Washington, D.C. of Canada, and Parliament Hill is the city’s regal focal point.
Four gothic revival buildings, complete with gargoyles and grotesques, sit on the Ottawa River surrounded by beautiful grounds. We strolled through the grounds stopping at various statues and monuments honoring Canada’s history.
We also enjoyed Parliament Hill in the evening after learning of a sound and light show that takes place nightly during summer months. We joined hundreds of others for an amazing light show.
The main parliament building seemed to come alive through projected images. It danced in sync with a mix of orchestra and techno music that was blasting out of a wall of speakers and amplifiers set up on the vast lawn. At one point the building’s windows appeared to stick out into another dimension apart from the rest of the building – then another window would pop out while the other would move back into place – and then more and more would pop in and out as if the windows were trumpet keys blowing out the beat of the music. It was magical!
The light show then went on to tell Canada’s history through large mural-like images projected onto the entire central building. Scenes included the stories of the “First Nation,” French explorers, fighting back invading Americans during the War of 1812, and Canada’s alliance with the U.S. in current conflicts. The show culminated with even larger images of Canadian icons blasting rapidly to the beat of music.
This finale was followed by an explosion of applause and Canadian pride – even from us Texans!
Three months later we would hear of the terrorist attack and shooting death of a Canadian soldier at one the monuments we had visited. We hope that the violence and fear of the lone zealot has not affected Parliament Hill, as our memories of visiting this area are of a peaceful, diverse, welcoming and safe environment. We would gladly return without hesitation.
Canadian Museum of History
The Canadian Museum of History is located just north of downtown Ottawa and across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec.
We enjoyed their collection of Northern Pacific totems, but were most impressed by the building itself. The museum’s architecture very appropriately reflects the art and culture of Canada’s first nation people.
To simply walk around the building and its grounds is a great experience in itself. It was not surprising to find that the architect, Douglas Cardinal, is Blackfoot. He was also an architect for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. and is a University of Texas at Austin graduate.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
From the history museum we walked across the Alexandra Bridge back into Ontario to explore the arts area by foot. We discovered that the gorgeous silver twin steeples that we could see from the north river bank was another Catholic basilica [see Montreal].
With our new fascination in these special Catholic churches, we just had to check it out. The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica was smaller and more humble than Montreal’s basilica, but certainly did not lack in beauty. The sanctuary had a deep blue ceiling that appeared to be sparkling with stars, and it had a more peaceful and sacred feel to it than Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica – probably due to the absence non-stop guided tours and tourists with cameras.
National Gallery of Canada
The basilica is located across the street from Canada’s National Gallery – a previously planned “must see” since we’d missed Montreal’s Museum of Fine Art. A giant spider sculpture that sits on the gallery’s grounds greeted us on our walk and conjured up comparisons to the creatures in War of the Worlds that scooped up people into holding sacs underneath their bellies.
Inside, the gallery has a wonderful collection of indigenous art, many masters and contemporary works.
The Rideau Canal intersects Ottawa between downtown and Parliament Hill. It connects the Ottawa and Rideau rivers, and has been in continuous operation since 1832, making it North America’s oldest operating canal.
It was built following the War of 1812 to open an alternative supply route from Montreal, Quebec to Kingston, Ontario in case the pesky Americans decided to invade Canada again.
Each time we were in the area of the canal we couldn’t help becoming captivated with the slow process of moving boats through the hand operated locks. The 21st century crafts were dependent upon 19th century engineering – a very entertaining juxtaposition of time and technology.
We happened upon Sparks Street while trying to locate the source of a reverberating salsa beat after emerging from a public parking garage near Parliament Hill. Four blocks of Sparks Street are permanently closed to car traffic and lined with sidewalk cafes and boutiques.
There was literally dancing in the streets and all were invited to join in the fun! Intimidated by the salsa skills we were witnessing, we opted to just watch. L’Ange Café sat directly adjacent to the “dance floor” and allowed us to continue enjoying the music and dancing while sipping cappuccinos and sharing a crème brulee.
Shakespeare in the Park
I picked up a pamphlet promoting a local Shakespearean group, A Company of Fools, at a coffee house across the street from where we were staying. A quick Google search revealed that their next performance was on our last evening in Ottawa at a nearby park. The “fools” version of As You Like It was funny, entertaining and downright delightful.
I simply loved Ottawa. I loved its pace, its people, its culture and fun spirit! I’m hopeful to return there someday.