Canada’s Capital is Brimming with History
Few Canadians, let alone tourists, know that Ottawa was the third choice for Canada’s capital, after Toronto and Montreal. But Queen Victoria felt that the country needed a cornerstone between these two opposing metropolises – one predominantly English-speaking and the other steeped in French heritage. So she chose a quiet little community on the banks of the Rideau River as the seat of Canada’s parliamentary system.
Tradition Mingles with Trendy
Canada’s tie with Great Britain is still demonstrated on a daily basis during the summer, when the Governor-General’s Foot Guards, resplendent in their red tunics and tall bearskin hats, perform the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill. The stirring ceremony is North America’s only replica of London’s Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Tour the Parliament Buildings, the Governor-General’s residence at Rideau Hall and other government structures year-round. Fashionable restaurants, chic boutiques and shopping centers featuring the same ritzy merchandise available in Paris, London and New York are yours for the choosing here. For instance, The Rideau Centre, located in downtown Ottawa just a stone’s throw from the Parliament Buildings, offers 200 shops and services from national chain stores to small souvenir kiosks. 240 Sparks Shopping Centre is also centrally located and is anchored by one of Canada’s premier department stores, Holt Renfrew.
Adventure is a four-season affair in Canada’s capital city. The Rideau Canal, a man-made structure that bisects the city like the River Seine does Paris, is a great place to cruise, canoe, walk or cycle in the spring, summer and autumn.
In the winter, this miraculous waterway transforms itself into the world’s longest skating rink. And each February the city comes alive with Winterlude – a festival of ice sculptures and rock bands performing in the frigid outdoors. While you’re here, enjoy some “beavertails” (a pancake-like snack) washed down with hot cider, or watch a maple syrup-making demonstration.
As modern as this city might be, it takes only minutes by car to reach rural areas, where all the traditional summer and winter outdoor activities – from rugged sports like whitewater rafting and rock climbing to benign pastimes like birdwatching and hiking along nature trails – are readily available.
But Ottawa is also a cultural Mecca: ballet, symphony and live theater are year-round options at the National Arts Centre, while the works of Canada’s finest artists are on view at the National Gallery of Canada. The city is also world-renowned for its museums, one of which, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, features displays that engross wide-eyed youngsters and serious students of science alike.
Another must-see event in Ottawa is the annual Tulip Festival in May, where more than a million of these colorful flowers turn the nation’s capital into a sea of red, white and yellow blooms. Most of the tulips displayed in flowerbeds throughout the city are part of an annual gift from the people of Holland – who have never forgotten that Ottawa took in part of their Royal Family during World War Two’s Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands.
Canada’s dual heritage is reflected in its pub fare and French-Canadian cuisine. But for something a little different, you might try:
- Cora’s on Rideau.Start your day off right with Ottawa’s trendiest breakfast spot, where a colorful menu features traditional specialties from Quebec. 179 Rideau Street.
- Prime 360is a classic steakhouse that offers the best beef Canada has to offer as well as fresh-from-the-oceans seafood. 407 Laurier Avenue West.
- Big Daddy’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar For a culinary experience that’s a tad offbeat, visit what the natives refer to as New Orleans North, where you can enjoy such Cajun-style seafood as fresh oysters, king crab and catfish.