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Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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Did You Know … ?

  • In winter, a section of Rideau Canal is the world’s longest ice skating rink, five miles.
  • Queen Victoria selected Ottawa to be Canada’s capital.
  • Ottawa’s tulip festival is the world’s largest, attracting some 600,000 people annually.
  • Holland’s Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa, the first European royal born in North America (1943).
  • Ottawa is the only major capital with a working farm at its heart (the Central Experimental Farm).

 

Tulips: A capital display

After inauspicious beginnings as a military outpost and then a logging center, Ottawa has become a national capital noted for its Parliament Hill, markets, museums and budding nightlife; its tulip festival, and the rivers and parks that offer diversions for active travelers.

Parliament Hill with its striking government buildings is a logical starting point for sightseers. On tours, visitors may catch part of a legislative session. The hill itself is a good place to begin a get-acquainted tour on foot.

As for the tulips: Holland’s Queen Juliana gifted Ottawa with thousands of bulbs over the decades in thanks for harboring her family during World War II.

The bilingual city (French and English) sits in southeast Ontario where three rivers converge, the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau. The Ottawa separates the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Canada’s capital overlooks, on the river’s opposite bank, the Quebecois city of Gatineau and its nearby 138-square-mile Gatineau Park. Within the capital itself, the center is surrounded by a collection of parks, called the National Capital Greenbelt.

The rivers and parks accommodate everything from kayaking and sightseeing cruises to hiking, skiing and even camping (in Gatineau Park).

But one manmade enhancement to nature’s several gifts to Ottawa, the Rideau Canal, epitomizes the city’s ability to appeal to visitors with varying interests and personality types.

First, the history: The U.S. had invaded Canada during the War of 1812; concerned about a repeat, the British Army built the 125-mile canal in 1826 to provide a secure supply route from Montreal at the mouth of the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario. The canal, starting from Ottawa, linked the Ottawa River to the lake, bypassing the part of the St. Lawrence River that is the U.S. border.

Today, visitors may enjoy a boat ride on the canal in summer or ice skate on the waterway in winter. It’s flanked by paths suitable for the casual stroller or for the more energetic jogger or cyclist. Flower lovers have their claims here, too. Blossoms follow the canal route. They include some of the millions of tulips that are the centerpiece for the annual Canadian Tulip Festival.

 

Things to do for Venturers

  • Hike some rugged trails in Gatineau Park on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Or, in winter, ski downhill or cross country in the park.
  • Choose one for a summertime excuse to come to town: the Ottawa International Jazz Festival or the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest.
  • Sleep in a (reputedly) haunted place; stay at the Ottawa International Hostel. The building was Ottawa’s first jail and possibly the site of the country’s last hanging.
  • Paddle a canoe or kayak on the Ottawa River. Or head a couple of hours out of town to take on the river’s whitewater.
  • Work up your courage for the Great Canadian Bungee, a 200-foot drop into an amphitheater of limestone with a deep pool at the bottom, at Morrison’s Quarry across the river in Quebec. Or choose Ripride, a cable slide of 1,015 feet at an average speed of 51 mph.
  • Cycle, or travel on in-line skates, along any part of the 100-mile Capital Pathway which connects museums, parks and historic sites.

 

Things to do for Centrics

  • Take in the view of the Ottawa River and Gatineau from the observation deck of the Peace Tower.
  • Come to Ottawa in autumn to see the area’s fall foliage. Or, if it’s winter, Ice skate on the Rideau Canal.
  • Try traditional First Nations cuisine and observe dance performances and craft workshops at Aboriginal Experiences, location of a First Nations village on Victoria Island. The site is the historic meeting place of the country’s aboriginal peoples.
  • Go to the beach. Ottawa has several beaches, often accessible by bicycle, as well as by car.
  • See a hockey game. The Ottawa Senators are the hockey league team, but the 67s are another choice.
  • Take a tour with an amusing, or slightly chilling, theme. Choices include a ghost tour, jail tour and a pub walk.

 

Things to do for Authentics

  • Attend the Canadian Tulip Festival in May, an event for which Canada’s capital is famous. Ottawa has millions of tulips because, for years, the Dutch Queen Juliana sent the bulbs as gifts of gratitude for sheltering the Dutch royals during World War II.
  • Be entertained by Canadian or international acts at Barrymore’s Music Hall (located in a 1914 vaudeville music hall) or at the Capital Music Hall.
  • Watch the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill (10 a.m. weekdays), then give yourself a walking tour of the area. Also, take a tour of the buildings of Parliament. You can observe the proceedings in the House of Commons and Senate if they are in session.
  • In summer, see the free sound-and-light show, which depicts Canada’s history with images projected onto the buildings on Parliament Hill.
  • Cruise on the Rideau Canal from downtown to Dows Lake and back, or cruise on the Ottawa River. Or, take a tour of the city by trolley.
  • Taste a local favorite, the beaver tail, a flat, fried pastry served with sweet or savory condiments.

 

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Ottawa Tourism at www.ottawatourism.ca