|Destination # 17: Ottawa, ON
Mileage:100 k (from London)
Arrive: Sunday, July 17, 2011
Depart: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
• Sunday, July 17
Our camping spot for the Ottawa leg of our journey is the Rideau-Carleton Raceway and Slots, an establishment just outside of Ottawa which features live horseracing (trotters), bingo and slot machines.
The first order of business is to find a Tourist Info Centre and stock up on information on what we should see in Ottawa. This takes right into the heart of Ottawa, right across from the Parliament Buildings and gives us a bit of an orientation to the area. Although things have obviously changed since we were here 8 years ago for a Canadian Library Association conference, some things seem quite familiar.
Our intent is to go back at 10:00 that night to see the fabulous light show at the Parliament Buildings, a plan which is squashed by a violent wind and thunder storm that evening. No damage where we are staying – different story elsewhere where several power outages were reported and a stage collapsed in Ottawa during the final evening of a major musical festival in town.
• Monday, July 18
It’s off to the Parliament Buildings first thing for the opening parade and a couple of tours. Although the storm from the night before did cool things off a bit, it is still quite warm and it is hard to imagine how the guards and other military personnel in the parade manage in this kind of heat in full uniform, including those iconic tall fur hats. The precision marching is amazing and quite something to see in person.
We spend the time until our tours watching several pleasure boats being ushered through the Rideau Locks and taking a stroll through the magnificent (and air conditioned) lobby of the Chateau Laurier which is situated just a short distance from the Parliament Buildings. It is very interesting to note that P.E. Trudeau lived there for 3 years while he was Justice Minister, quite the setting to go home to after a hard day at the office.
Our first tour is of the Centre Block, where the House of Commons and the Senate both reside. The tour includes a quick (and quiet) visit to the Parliamentary Library. This domed addition to the back of the Centre Block is absolutely beautiful with a life sized statue of Queen Victoria taking centre stage. No pictures are allowed in here. Pity……
The second tour takes us through the East Block. This is where Lord Dufferin, first Governor General of the Province of Canada (at that time) and Sir John A. MacDonald had their offices. This was also the home to the Privy Council chamber where decisions such as confederation and the building of the trans Canada railroad were made. Now, the East Block houses, among other things, Senators’ offices. The West wing is admin offices and continues to be in the midst of a major restoration project. It is not open to the public for tours.
We return to the Parliament Buildings later that evening to watch the light show, entitled Mozaika. The entire lawn in front of the buildings is filled with people. The show is spectatular! Hard to describe how moving it is to see the entire Centre Block lit up with this amazing display.
• Tuesday, July 19
Tuesday’s agenda is a little less ambitious and starts with a trip out to Gatineau Park. Situated on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, this is a beautiful 36,000 hectare space with lakes, trails, lookout points, historical sites and is huge draw for anyone who is looking to walk or bike or just spend a peaceful few hours just looking around. We zero in on a couple of things of interest.
The first is a quick stop at Lac Pink. The lake was named after the Pink family who lived here and were the first to discover the secret of the lake. It is meromectic which means it has no oxygen in its bottom layers, its layers do not mix and it is home to some very unique species. The lake’s ecosystem is very fragile and access to the lake is restricted to a boardwalk trail that follows the shoreline. In the summer, as a result of lack of oxygen and other properties of this very rare kind of lake, the water turns a bright emerald green.
Second is a walk through the estate of William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was very instrumental in the creation of the park and bequeathed his estate to the park upon his death. King’s estate consists of 231 hectares on which he built 2 houses. The first is in an area called Kingswood on the shores of Kingsmere Lake. The site has the cottage where King spent much of his time away from the rigors of government plus a guest cottage, boat house and garage. The later site is called Mooreside where a much more elaborate house was built. King was passionate about nature and oversaw the development of beautiful gardens throughout the estate, including a very interesting trail called the Waterfall Trail which apparently was a favourite of King’s and did, as we can attest to, indeed end up at a lovely little waterfall after following a meandering stream through some fairly dense forested landscape. One interesting note – upon finally being elected Prime Minister after 5 long years in opposition, King erected, in triumph and in view of the Mooreside house, an arch made from the entranceway of the old Bank of British North America. More pillars from the bank were also erected as a gateway to one of his gardens in the forest.
Our last stop in Gatineau Park is for a great photo op at the Champlain Lookout, supposedly the best overall view of the Ottawa Valley – it does not disappoint!
Our Ottawa sight seeing endeavors end with a trip to a well known market place called the Byward Market. Situated right in the thick of things not too far from the Parliament Buildings, it showcases local farm products, fresh flowers, restaurants galore and just about anything else a tourist might want to buy.
That’s all we have time for in Ottawa. Next stop – Montreal!