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Memories of Ottawa

Home > Ottawa > Festivals | Museums | Musicals | Places of Interest | Travel
by Irenke Forsyth (subscribe)
A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at
Published May 6th 2020
Canada's capital is a blend of old and new in the architecture of many a historic building and modern gallery. It's the political centre of Canada and you'll see many a maple leaf flying on that red and white flag around the city. Young or old, local or tourist, the city provides plenty of interest.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada
Taking in Parliament Hill

My memories of Ottawa take me back to our arrival in the city, beginning at Parliament Hill, where our visit occurred just in time for the parade and the Changing of the Guard. Modelled on the one in London, this event begins at 9.45am with the pipes and drums of the Ceremonial Guard leading the march to the east lawn where they wait for the arrival of the New Guard at 10am. It takes place daily, but only in the summer months, with the Peace Tower in the background.

Changing of the Guard parade, Ottawa
Watching the Changing of the Guard parade

The Peace Tower is the centrepiece of the central block on Parliament Hill, one of three Gothic Revival- style buildings dominating the skyline. The other buildings are the east and west blocks, all very romantic, together looking like a fairytale castle in the city.

Ottawa is not short of events and apart from the pomp, pageantry and music of the Changing of the Guard in summer, there are plenty of festivals to enjoy at various times of the year. There's Bluesfest, Canada Day celebrations, the Fringe Festival, the Canadian Tulip Festival and Winterlude, to name a few. The latter winter festival draws thousands to the city each year with events taking place at Confederation Park, Jacques Cartier Park and Rideau Canal. Ice sculptures and snow playgrounds are big attractions as are the ice dragon boating and ice skating on the canal. With water turned to ice, the Ottawa section of the canal becomes the world's largest skating rink.

The Canal is a total of 202kms long, connecting the St Lawrence River on Lake Ontario at Kingston (the original capital) to the Ottawa River near Parliament Hill. It's the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, having opened in 1832. It was originally built with war in mind. The forecast of this with the United States didn't eventuate and the canal became a busy commercial artery from Montreal to the Great Lakes with barges and steamboats carrying heavy goods. In 2007, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, it is used mostly for pleasure boating and in the warmer months, you can take a cruise down the canal.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa
Rideau Canal surrounded by history

Ottawa, the second-largest city in the province of Ontario, has many landmarks. Noteworthy museums and galleries abound. The most visited museum is the Canadian Museum of History, directly across the river from Parliament Hill. The curve-shaped complex has four levels, with permanent galleries exploring Canada's human history. There's also special and travelling exhibitions that look at other cultures and civilisations, as well as a children's museum and a movie theatre.

The Grand Hall on the first level is the museum's architectural centrepiece with a wall of glass panels framing views of Parliament Hill, Alexandra Bridge and the Ottawa River. On the opposite wall is a forest scene, said to be the world's largest colour photograph. Bound by these walls are a collection of towering totem poles, deemed to be the largest indoor display of such in the world.

Canadian Museum of History, Ottawa
Human history, the focus in Ottawa's most visited museum

Other interesting museums include the Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum, whilst the art gallery that caught my eye was the National Gallery of Canada. It is easily recognisable for its two glass octagonal towers and the Maman sculpture in the plaza out front. This giant spider, created by Louise Bourgeois, was acquired by the gallery in 1999 for a whopping C$3.2million. It measures over 30ft high and 33ft wide, includes a sac containing 32 marble eggs, and an abdomen and thorax made of ribbed bronze.

National Gallery of Canada, Maman sculpture, Ottawa
Maman in the plaza of the National Gallery

The name 'Maman' is French for mother and alludes to the occupation and strength of the artist's mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.

Adjacent to the gallery is the ByWard Market district, a buzzing hub of outdoor farmers' market stalls and specialty food shops selling the likes of Canadian cheese and maple-infused chocolate. There's also colourful street art and hip shops filled with crafts and clothes by local designers.

Surrounding eateries serve shawarma (roasted slices of meat stacked in a cone-like shape) and BeaverTails (sweet fried pastries in the shape of a beaver's tail). Nightlife encompasses rustic taverns and stylish bars.

ByWard Market, Ottawa
The colourful ByWard Market area

A 'Don't Miss' experience in the evening is the 'Oh Canada Eh' Dinner Show. It's the longest-running dinner musical, originating in Niagara Falls. It's a feast of food in the form of a 5-course Canadian family-style meal with the entertainment serving you and giving you the experience of Canada from coast to coast. Characters include a singing Mountie, a hockey player, lumberjacks and Anne of Green Gables.

It runs for two hours, is comical and features over 70 Canadian songs with music from Paul Anka, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and many more. It was one of the best nights we had.

Oh Canada Eh Dinner Show
They'll have you shouting Oh Canada Eh

Other things you can do in Canada's largest city include visiting the Humanics Sanctuary and Sculpture Park, taking a bike tour, and jumping on the big red hop on hop off sightseeing bus or historic trolley.

At the time of writing this, many things are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It's best to check online first to see what is open and if visiting is not an option now, then this fair city is certainly one to add to your bucket list to explore in the future.
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Why? For the love of exploring
Your Comment
Oh my gosh, Irenke, hubby and I were in Ottawa last year, absolutely one of my most favourite cities - love your article title, perfectly apt! A big congrats on reaching your '500th' milestone too ...
by Elaine (score: 3|7440) 98 days ago
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