Our two nights in Ottawa would be spent staying in an Airbnb accommodation, and the instructions we received beforehand from the host were overly thorough and comprehensive to say the least!
In fact, when we arrived at the accommodation, the process we had to go through to collect the keys and get into the apartment (in the host’s absence) resembled a challenge from the 1990s TV classic, The Crystal Maze. I was half expecting Richard O’Brien to jump out at any moment.
We had the following day to explore Canada’s capital city. Ottawa of course, just like Canberra in Australia, has been catching out school kids in geography tests for years.
So why is this former lumber town, with a population of less than a million the capital? Well when Canada was looking for a new capital Ottawa put itself forwards, citing its location on the border of English speaking Ontario and French speaking Quebec as a selling point. Much to the chagrin of the far larger and more important cities of Toronto and Montreal, Ottawa was chosen as the new capital, officially because it was further from the border with the potentially hostile USA, but rumoured unofficially because Queen Victoria preferred the paintings of it!
Our day started on the pedestrianised Sparks Street, which is meant to be a social and retail hub of Ottawa, but it all felt very quiet the day we were there.
We followed this up with a free tour of the Centre Block, which dominates Parliament Hill and is home to Canada’s Parliament. If you ever want to go somewhere that highlights the historical ties between the UK and Canada, then this feels as good as place as any, with statues of Queen Victoria in the Hogwarts-esque library, memorials and plaques commemorating British/British North American/Canadian military campaigns, a statue of a horse riding Queen of Canada (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II), and a House of Commons interior that looks quite similar to that of its British counterpart.
Unfortunately due to an issue with the lift, we were unable to go to the top of the Peace Tower, the equivalent of Big Ben (OK, the Elizabeth Tower for those of a pedantic nature). Having visited Big Ben in the summer, and climbed the stairs all the way to the top, we were disappointed that we weren’t able to repeat the feat in Ottawa!
Centre Block was of course one of the sites where a lone gunman had struck only 19 days before. In fact our tour had started with a warning that the ‘incident’ on the 22nd October would not be discussed and neither would any answers be taken on it.
Passing through the same corridors and walking through the same entrance to Parliament Hill that we recognised from the media coverage of that day, it was really brought home to us how terrifying it would have been to have been present when the incident was taking place.
We also visited the nearby Confederation Square, home to the striking National War Memorial. It was here that the gunman had first struck and killed a soldier on ceremonial sentry duty. The site was gearing up for Remembrance Day the next day, and so was teeming with TV and event crews setting up, yet the mood here probably felt more sombre than it would normally be.
Running adjacent to Parliament Hill and Confederation Square is the Rideau Canal. Whereas most canals are built primarily for transport, this canal was built for military purposes, as in the case of an American invasion, the canal could ensure a secure route between Kingston and Montreal. In the winter, the canal becomes the world’s longest ice skating rink, and although it was very cold the day we were in Ottawa, it wasn’t cold enough for the canal to freeze over!
We finished up with a visit to one of Ottawa’s busiest districts, Byward Market, a buzzing public market, with indoor and outdoor stalls and kiosks, cafés, delis, restaurants, nightlife, and home to the first permanent BeaverTails store which Barack Obama had once paid a visit.
This however, is not all that there is to see in Ottawa. Being the nation’s capital, there are plenty of museums and galleries, including the Canadian War Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Laurier House and the National Gallery of Canada, so you could easily spend another day here if any of those took your fancy.