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Travel Logs December 2013

Compulsive Traveler

10 Things to Do in Ottawa

By Sandra Scott

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada’s largest and most popular museum chronicling a thousand years of Canadian history. Not to miss is the First Peoples Hall that highlights the culture of Canada’s aborigines, with the Grand Hall featuring the world’s largest collection of totem poles.

Ottawa, Canada’s vibrant capital is a world-class city closer to Central New York than New York City. It has the look of a European city where the Gothic Revival Parliament building and the colorful changing of the guard brings to mind London. Ottawa was picked as the capital because it was nearly midpoint between Toronto and Quebec City and its location in what was then the back country made it more defensible should their neighbors to the south decide to attack – plus it offered easy access to major waterways.

  1. Parliament Hill: The current building was built in the 1920s after a devastating fire destroyed the original building. Only the library was saved due to the metal doors. During the summer the colorful Changing of the Guard takes place each morning, and in the evening there is an awe-inspiring Mosaika Sound and Light show. During the day there are carillon concerts and tours of the building. Do not miss the view from the 302-foot Peace Tower. Pick up the “Discover the Hill” book, for a self-guided tour of the grounds. The best part – everything is free.
  2. Rideau Canal: The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, opened in 1832 connecting Ottawa and Kingston with the St. Lawrence River. It was constructed because of the military threat posed by the United States. Lieutenant Colonel John By supervised the construction which, like the Erie Canal, brought workers from around the world. Between Parliament Hill and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel there is a flight of eight locks, the largest set of locks in the Rideau system. Rideau still has hand-operated locks which raise boats from the Ottawa River 79 feet to the canal. Next to the locks is Bytown Museum housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building. Paul’s Boat Tours offers a variety of tours on the canal.
  3. Tours: The best way to get acquainted with a new location is to take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. There are two tour companies, Lady Dive and Gray Line, but they offer the same tour, with Lady Dive offering an amphibious tour. Once around on the bilingual fun, historical, educational tour takes about 75 minutes. The tour stops at the museums, Byward Market and other places of interest. A two-day ticket is best in order to spend time at interesting stops.
  4. Museums: The Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada’s largest and most popular museum chronicling a thousand years of Canadian history. Not to miss is the First Peoples Hall that highlights the culture of Canada’s aborigines, with the Grand Hall featuring the world’s largest collection of totem poles. The Canada Aviation Museum has a collection that focuses on the development of the flying machine along with its use in peace and war. Other popular museums deal with nature, science, and currency.
  5. Art: The National Gallery of Canada has a comprehensive collection of Canadian art including Inuit art. Do not miss the amazing reconstruction of the Rideau Chapel in one of the galleries. The museum saved the beautiful 1887 chapel of the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart from destruction. While walking about take time to check out the historic bronze statues. Sit on the piano bench next to Oscar Peterson’s statue outside the National Arts Center and listen to the music. There is fascinating art and architecture everywhere – keep your eyes open.
  6. Gardens: There are several historic destinations with pretty gardens but the most unique has to be the Mackenzie King Estate that features heritage gardens, walking trails, and the cottage of Canada’s 10th prime minister. A unique aspect is the picturesque ruins Mackenzie rescued from destruction by placing them throughout the property. Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada’s Governor General, is surrounded by a wonderful heritage garden including an Inuit stone marker and commemorative trees.
  7. ByWard Market: There is always something happening in ByWard. It was established in 1826 by John By, the father of the Rideau Canal, making it Canada’s oldest and largest public market. It is the place to shop, eat and more. There is something in every price category. Make sure you try Ottawa’s favorite treat – Beaver Tails –  whole-wheat pastries drizzled with butter and topped with apples, cinnamon, bananas, M&Ms or any of their many choices.
  8. Biking and more: Miles of pathways link historical sites, parks, and gardens including trails along the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River. From May to October on Sunday Bikedays some streets are closed to motor traffic. Gatineau Park offers great mountain biking and hiking. Don’t have a bike? No worries, there are a plethora of places to rent them. During the winter the Ottawa Skateway offers over four miles of skating on the frozen Rideau Canal.
  9. Festival: Ottawa has a festival for every season starting with their Spring Tulip Festival that celebrates the return of spring, to Canada Day, the largest Canadian birthday celebration, to their three-week fun-filled Winterlude. There are also events that feature food, balloons, music and fund-raising races.
  10. Unique: Don’t miss Remic Rapids Balanced Rock Sculptures, but don’t touch. John Ceprano’s sculptures line the river and seem to defy gravity. There are accommodations to suit every taste: Spend the night in a jail. The historic Carleton County Gaol is now a hostel located within walking distance to Parliament Hill and other sites. If staying in a jail is not to your liking then you can stay at the Fairmont Chateau Laurie, fondly referred to by locals as “The Castle.” For lovers of the paranormal there are several Haunted Walks where visitors can learn about the city’s ghosts, goblins and other unsavory citizens.

If you go: Americans must have a valid U.S. passport when returning to the United States by air and if returning from by land or sea Americans must have a passport card, NEXUS card or an enhanced driver’s license.


Sandra Scott travels the globe recording the top attractions at every destination.

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