Ottowa is the capital city of Canada. A little like Canberra in Australia, I understand that it was created as the capital from a small, insignificant town. It was originally a backwater timber town and was selected by Queen Victoria, probably because it sits in the heart of ‘old Canada’ and adjoins both the English and French speaking parts of the country. It has a population of over 1.5 million people and is positioned on the Ottowa River. It is clearly a government city with lots of buildings that house various public offices and departments.
We enjoyed our visit to a number of significant buildings, both as part of our tour and though our own strolling around.
The National War Museum has the same purpose as the Australian memorial in Canberra. It is a long low building, opened in 2006, and designed by a Japanese architect. We visited the heart of the memorial which is a solemn place with the headstone of the unknown soldier from WW1. As in other memorials, the headstone is positioned so that the light of the sun will shine on it at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It would have been good to have spent a whole day there and look through the entire museum.
Another ‘must see’ building was the Museum of Civilisation. This is situated in a modern multi-story building and depicts scenes from Canada’s history beginning with the First Nations people, then moving on through the life of early fir traders, farmers, early cities and right through to the airports catering for modern jet aircraft. The First Nations displays are housed in a gigantic gallery on the first floor and show totem poles, canoes and a large variety of carvings. Canada Hall on the fourth level, takes you through a meandering route (just like the Ikea store) past various depictions of life in Canada – salmon boats, colonial buildings and various streetscapes. I learnt a lot more about Canada’s history, but wish I had much more time to explore all the exhibits in more detail.
Next door to our hotel was the Rideau Canal. This was built by an Army Engineer, Colonel By, in the early 1800’s to provide a transportation link to Montreal that avoided contact with the American border. Apparently, in those days, there was some fear that America might invade Canada. To enter the canal, boats have to pass from the Ottowa River through a ‘staircase’ of eight locks. We could see these from the bridge to the right of the hotel’s front door.
Across the road from the hotel was the very impressive War Memorial. It has a statue that depicts a Victory Arch, and through it are passing a number of tired and solemn figures of soldiers on their way home. It was originally built to remember the service of men from WW1, but now remembers service men and women from all conflicts. A little way down the road is the Peacekeepers memorial. Canada has had a fine tradition of providing peace keepers to political hot spots around the world for decades.
On Parliament Hill, we could see the very grand buildings of Canada’s Federal Parliament. It was originally the site of a military base in the 18th and early 19th centuries and developed into a place of governmental in 1859, after the city was chosen by Queen Victoria as the capital of the Province of Canada. Following a number of extensions to the parliament and departmental buildings and a fire in 1916 that destroyed the Centre Block, Parliament Hill took on its present form with the completion of a tall and impressive Peace Tower in 1927. Queen Lizzie is also Queen of Canada, in a constitutional framework very similar to ours in Australia, although William and Kate are clearly the current Royal favourites.
Other interesting buildings that we saw included the Catholic Cathedral which is actually made from timber, even though it has the appearance of stone and marble. The art gallery is all glass and steel and looks like a stunning modern building.
We had lunch at the little Byward Market in the centre of town. It has many little cafes and we had a salad sandwich made from a rather tasty bagel. We were impressed with the display of produce in many of the stalls from various local farms. This is one rather neat farmer’s market! We found the way in which groups vegetables were arranged in mult-colour displays – usually in lots of three. All the beans, capsicums, gourds, potatoes and carrots looked stunning. We couldn’t believe some of the low prices. The cauliflowers, for example, were selling for $1 each. That is less than I can grow them for in my own vegetable patch after paying for seedlings, snail bait and fertiliser.