/ On The Road
On The Road — By Andy Hayes on August 21, 2010 at 12:31 am
Filed under: Attractions, Canada, city guide, museum, Shopping, top-feature

Capital Culture in Canada

So, let’s just clarify – yes, Canada does have a capital.  Do you know where?  It’s Ottawa, located in the north of Ontario, one of the country’s most populous provinces, and just across the river from the French-speaking Quebec province; this part of town is called Gatineau.  These two provinces were considered the most important at the time, so what better place to choose than Ottawa.  Or so it seemed – there was a bit of subterfuge involved, probably choosing a neutral location than making a controversial decision to pick either Toronto or Montreal, just as large and influential now as then.  Ottawa is also fairly protected by natural defences, though it was remarked that since nobody could find it, it would never be attacked.

Ottawa is easy to get to today by bus, rail, or car, and there’s plenty to do and see.  Let’s get started, shall we.

Parliament Hill

Most visitors to the city will start of their tour at Parliament Hill (map), where many of Ottawa’s iconic capital buildings can be found.  These buildings, which are in the Victorian Gothic (Gothic Revival) style similar to the Westminster parliament building in London.  They’re looking great despite their age – the development was considered ‘complete’ in 1876 – but an ongoing restoration project is in the works which is transforming these buildings back into their original state.

The buildings that make up Parliament Hill include:

  • West Block: This building has seen a number of extensions and refurbishments over the years, and more are ongoing.  It’s an administrative building, where you’ll find Ministers, Members of Parliament, committee rooms, and a ceremonial room.
  • East Block: This building is still beautiful but has less ornamental features than the other two blocks because it was intended for lower ranking staff to use the facility, but today it houses senators’ offices.
  • Peace Tower: Right in front of the Centre Block, there’s nothing more iconic than this building.  It stands in honor of all the Canadians who died in WWI.
  • Centre Block:  This building is the 2nd that stood here – the first was razed in fire in 1916.  This is the heart of the Canadian parliamentary system – inside here are  the Senate and the House of Commons.  Guided tours depart from here.
  • Library of Parliament:  Looking amazing as ever after recent restorations, the library has a fantastic view over to Gatineau and the river bridges.  It’s tucked away behind the Centre Block.

The bridge just next to Parliament Hill runs across the Rideau Canal, and from the bridge you have a spectacular view over the staircase locks that bring the water level from the canal down to river level.  On a sunny day, there isn’t a better place to be.

Culture Vultures

Ottawa also has some great capital culture, unsurprisingly.  But where to find it once you’ve seen the sights of Parliament Hill?  Easy:

  • The Glebe (map): this central neighborhood is the it destination right now.  There are lots of restaurants, boutique shops, and nightlife.  It’s also a place for architecture lovers, as there are tons of wonderful homes on those classic tree-lined streets.  Like right out of  a movie.
  • Musems, Museums, Museums:  Ottawa has so many museums, you could easily overdose if you don’t pick strategically.  Some of the most popular:
    • The Museum of Civilization (map): In Gatineau across the river, this museum explains the migration of tribes and people into Canada, and includes some larger-than-life artefacts.  Also has a great view of Parliament Hill (particularly at night).
    • National Gallery (map): I love it when the gallery buildings themselves are just as much of an artwork as the contents within.  Downtown Ottawa.
    • Bytown Museum (map):  Learn about Ottawa’s early history and foundations as a capital – Bytown aws the city’s original name.  Small venue just off Parliament Hill.


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If there is anything I can guarantee about your Ottawa visit, it will be that not only will you not go hungry, but that you will be stuffed when you leave.  It’s a wonderful mix of both the English and French influences, with representation of chefs from across the country.  A couple of favorites:

  • Byward Market (map):  Hard to miss, because it’s the center of the action.  The market itself has some nice stalls and food vendors, including a great place to buy all-things-maple, but surrounding the market are several good restaurants.  Follow up for dessert with a beavertail – fried dough with cinnamon, sugar, and other toppings.
  • Bridgehead (multiple locations):  This is the city’s fair trade coffee chain, just in case you were tired of Tim Horton’s.


If you have time for a daytrip, there are lots and lots of options (even a tour of downtown Montreal is a possibility, as the train is just under two hours each way).  My top recommendation though is to go hiking up in the Gatineau Hills (map).  The park is enormous and you’ll find lots of options for all fitness levels, from a gentle stroll about the MacKenzie Estate to staircase climbing.

For More Info

For more great Ottawa sightseeing info, visit the official website, www.ottawatourism.ca.

Photo Credit: Christopher Policarpio, wat suandok

Related places:
  1. A
    Parliament Hill
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  2. B
    The Glebe, Ottawa, ON K1S
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  3. C
    Th%uFFFD%uFFFDtre IMAX - Canadian Museum of Civilization
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  4. D
    National Gallery Of Canada
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  5. E
    Bytown Museum
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  6. F
    55 Byward Market Square
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  7. G
    Gatineau Park
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Tags: Attractions, Canada, city guide, museum, Shopping, top-feature

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