I just got back from a 2-1/2 day mini-vacation in Ottawa with my best friend, Barbie. After 20+ years of living only blocks apart, we are now in different provinces, so try to get together at least once a year to supplement our weekly Skype chats with REAL hugs.
While I was away, Ted’s “vacation” was a couple of days respite from me!
Ottawa lived up to all my fond memories of prior visits, and then some. (Note: Barbie chronicles our time together in pictures. The ones shared here are her work.)
Our time in Ottawa gave us a renewed sense of pride in our country’s capital: the magnificent architecture of the Parliament itself, as well as the natural beauty of the capital region.
We stayed at the Auberge McGee Inn (click here http://en.mcgeesinn.ca/about to learn about its historic significance!) close to Byward Market, so spent the afternoon of our arrival exploring the gorgeous market stalls filled with both seasonal and greenhouse produce, as well as the tempting cheese shops, and the vendor stalls. It really does look like a European market.
Our first full day was chilly and rainy, which is pretty typical for Ottawa in October, so after enjoying the B&B’s hearty breakfast, we drove across the river to Gatineau to spend the entire day at the National History Museum. This was our second visit together, but the grand Indigenous Peoples’ hall with its massive totems remains a highlight.
The next day was cold but gloriously sunny, so we left cars behind and headed into the centre of the city on foot. We stopped briefly at the National War Memorial, where that day’s ceremonial honour guards were from the Air Force (the branches of the Canadian Forces rotate this honour). I was saddened to note the addition of 4 Military Police, which is new since October 2014 when Corporal Nathan Frank Cirillo was shot and killed while on sentry duty there at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Touring the Parliament Buildings was a last-minute decision, so all the guided centre block and library tour tickets were gone when we arrived at 10:00 a.m., but we were still able to go up the Peace Tower, where the bells and clock are housed, and into the Memorial Chamber. I honestly think our Parliament Buildings and tower rival England’s Westminster with its Elizabeth Tower that houses Big Ben.
This was my first visit to the Memorial Chamber, which holds the bound and illuminated parchment books that list the names of the Canadian service men and women lost in the Boer War, WWI, WWII and the Korean war. Every day, a page is flipped in each of the books, meaning that on every visit you see different names. There is also a book dedicated to the colonials and natives who defended our land in the War of 1812, before we were “Canadians”. We were surprised to see the separate book of Newfoundlanders, since their province was not part of Canada until 1949.
We certainly could have spent an entire day on the grounds of Parliament Hill where there are bronzes of Canada’s Prime Ministers, our Kings and Queens, and significant military, political and historic figures on all the outdoor walkways, competing with the breathtaking views of the Rideau Canal as well as Gatineau and its hills across the Ottawa River….. but with only a couple of days to spend, we moved on.
Our planned activity was touring the National Gallery. I have to say we were awed and overwhelmed. We took in the Anthropocene visiting exhibit, which is also at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Despite having seen Edward Burtynsky’s earlier photo exhibition ( Water, at the Chrysler Museum in Richmond Virginia in spring 2016) and somewhat knowing what to expect, we were nonetheless impressed by how he uses drone photography and huge inkjet lithographs to share stories of how human practices and ingenuity both aid and plunder our planet.
The highlight of our visit was the Canadian and Indigenous galleries, where works by white and native artists were displayed side by side by time period. Imagine an entire room of Tom Thomson works displayed on the walls with a huge intricately decorated birch bark canoe in the centre of the room, or Emily Carr’s totem poles beside a Shaman spirit mask, or Lawren Harris’ magnificent glacier behind an Inuit soapstone walrus, and you get the idea. Walking through the galleries, we felt such a sense of national pride. For a vast country with such a relatively small population, there is an incredible amount of artistic talent helping to showcase our unique culture.
We ended our mini vacation with cocktails and dessert at the iconic Chateau Laurier, one of Canada’s grand railroad hotels.
I’m back home now with Ted for our last few weeks in Canada before the winter away. Next spring, Barbie and I will look for another getaway experience.