I will be honest. I am a Canadian, who had never been to Ottawa, my own nation’s capital. This was a hard truth that I did not love admitting while I was travelling the world, visiting other national capitals. I also really love making Americans feel bad when they don’t know what the capital of Canada is… Toronto? Hockey? Polar bears? So never having been to Ottawa, my own country’s capital city, was a dark little secret of mine. Until recently…
To be fair, Canada is massive. Hailing from Vancouver, on the West Coast, a trip to Ottawa is not something one takes on lightly. The flights are minimum $500 round trip (and that’s if there is a killer sale), and for a solid 6 months of the year the weather in Vancouver will beat out the weather in Ottawa hands down (it gets super cold in Ontario…). So why wouldn’t I take my $500 and fly somewhere warm? Or at least with yummy tacos.
Finally, in the summer of 2016, I visited Ottawa. Justin Trudeau had invited me over for beers and boche, so how could I not go?
No, that’s not true at all. But I was brought to Ottawa for training with the organization that was sending me to Jamaica. So the trip was paid for by the organization, which is funded by the Government of Canada, which is led by Justin Trudeau, so yeah, he basically invited me!
Luckily, my organization is awesome and let me be rather flexible with my flights so I could have a few days to explore. And let me tell you, Ottawa may be known as the most boring city in Canada, but there are a ton of cool things to see and do in day light hours! And I didn’t get to half of them.
When I wasn’t in the training, I stayed at my long time friend Jamie’s house. Jamie is a delightful saint of a human being who I met in my first year of university. Jamie likes popcorn, riding bikes, drinking wine, and laughing at my jokes. I love Jamie. Jamie lives with Andrew, who cooks a mean steak and buys good beer. I like Andrew a lot.
Jamie and Andrew are functioning adults, so they had to go off to their day jobs, but luckily they have an extra bicycle. With a map of the city and my Justin radar turned on high, I peddled off to explore my nation’s capital.
Biking along the Rideau Canal
Jamie and Andrew live in Old Ottawa East right off the Rideau Canal. It was an easy hop onto the bike path along the canal that leads right into downtown Ottawa. The scenic Rideau Canal takes you through several small neighbourhoods and past the University of Ottawa (where Lindsay Manko got her degree!) as well as various small parks. There are also spots along the canal to drop kayaks and paddleboats into the canal, though the water isn’t too inviting for a quick dip.
There are several small points of interest along the way with public art displays as random as they come.
Ottawa Tourist Kiosk
My first mission after surviving several dodgy moves on that bike was the Ottawa Tourism Kiosk located directly across from Parliament Hill. This is where you need to go to get the free Parliament Tours tickets for later in the day. These tickets often run out, as there are only so many tour groups, so it was best to get there early and snap mine up. I got a tour for noon, so I had a couple of hours to kill.
Visiting the Supreme Court of Canada
I made my way a couple of blocks down from Parliament Hill to the Supreme Court of Canada. I know next to nothing about law making (though a little bit about law breaking ;)), so I figured the free tour of the Supreme Court really couldn’t hurt my Canadian citizen scorecard.
The Supreme Court offers free tours throughout the day, times depending on the season, and the tour is only about 30 minutes long but really is worth it! The tour guides are all law students, so they actually know what they’re talking about and can make it sound interesting. They not only go through the history of the Court but also the role the Court plays in Canadian every day life. If court is in session, tours get to sit in. I was there in the summer, so all the judges were on vacay so it was pretty dead.
The building itself is fascinating. Built in 1949, there are symbols of the law throughout, especially with two cloaked statues called Veritas (Truth) and Ivstitia (Justice) perched rather ominously at the front entrance. Busts and paintings of old white guys are aplenty, as is impressively ornate wood paneling and very heavy furniture. I am always pleased by wood paneling, it makes me feel like going hunting.
Famous Five Monument – Women are Persons Too!!!!
After my brush with the law, I checked out a spot more dear to my heart, the Feminists!
In the year 2000, the Famous Five, a group of 5 absolutely amazing (and very #nasty) Canadian women, was erected to commemorate the Persons Case. The Persons Case was the movement and court case spearheaded by Emily Murphy who was supported by Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Nellie McClung to force the Government of Canada to recognize women as persons. This would mean that women could finally be appointed to the Senate. The Persons Case was a landmark case for women’s rights in Canada and these 5 women are true Canadian heroines.
So I had wanted to see this specific monument for a very long time (I may have owned two copies of the same Nellie McClung biography when I was in the 7th grade).
The monument, located on Parliament Hill, is a scene of the 5 women having a tea party. But with a twist. Of course, Emily Murphy is standing up holding a newspaper announcing the victory of the Persons Case and they are clearly rabblerousing!
I love this monument. I took a lot of pictures and silently said my Thank Yous to these amazing women.
Then a random dude came up and asked what it was all about. Emily Murphy? The Persons Case? Women’s Suffrage? Zero bells being rung. Ok buddy, lets chat…
Tour Centre Block of Parliament Hill
Of course, another stamp on my Canadian passport is to visit Parliament Hill itself. The hallowed groups where the great leaders of Canadian politics have walked…Pierre Trudeau, William MacKenzie King, Wilfred Laurier, Stephen Harper- oh, I just gagged a little, scratch that last one. But, this, this is where Justin works!
Parliament Hill is the epicenter of Federal politics in Canada, where the magic happens if you will. The free-guided tours take the groups through the public entrance (and mucho security) and onwards to the Senate Chambers, the House of Commons and the Library.
The group also gets the chance to go up the Peace Tower, which gives a fantastic view of Ottawa from above. At the top, you try to count the number of Canadian flags you can see from the Peace Tower, which would clearly be a task they would do on the Amazing Race. My number was never correct. I would have been eliminated from the Race.
Rideau Hall Tour
My mom Sue has been travelling to Ottawa to volunteer for a youth program for a while now. And she has always said how interesting she finds Rideau Hall.
First question: Is that where Justin lives? No. Well, right now, kind of…
Since 1867, Rideau Hall has been the official residence of the Governor-General, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada. Yes that’s right, Canada is part of the Commonwealth and therefore in the most technical sense of the word, the Queen is our actual Head of State.
The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen, and they red-stamp all federal laws and budgets and all that jazz. In practice the Governor-General is an awesome person with diplomatic immunity and make public appearances on all major holidays. Rideau Hall is their home.
Interestingly, as the Queen is the official head of state, and Rideau Hall is officially the Queen’s residence, this is where the Royal family and foreign heads of state stay when they are in town on official biz. Except the American President, they always crash in the massive prison-like Embassy.
So all in all, Rideau Hall is a big ornate mansion/guesthouse, fit for a queen.
Free tours run through Rideau Hall a few times a day, so I got myself onto one of them after walking around the beautiful gardens a bit. The tour guide, a young political science nerd, was full of information and anecdotes about the construction of the house and the interesting people who had filtered through. I found this tour very fascinating, as again, I know far too little about Canadian government and how it all works. My high school social studies teachers would be appalled.
A fun fact I do know is that Rideau Hall is actually the residence of Justin and Sophie at this moment. The formal Prime Minister’s residence, 24 Sussex Drive, has fallen into a major state of disrepair, and the argument to spend millions to reno it or just assign a new residence is on simmer. It’s a real Fix’er Upper lets just say. As such, Justin and Sophie are living in some sort of guest house in the back of the Rideau Hall property. Don’t feel too bad for them, I’m sure the house is just fine!
3 Days in Ottawa
In between it all, I was lucky enough to spend time with Jamie and Andrew, as well as my friend from grad school Cara. Jamie and Andrew drove me out to Gatineau one night, so I can officially say I have been to Quebec! We ate pasta and watched the sunset from the top of Gatineau Park. We drove along Meech Lake and spied where we think Justin’s summer ‘cottage’ is. We discussed how handsome Justin is.
I ate fantastic food in Ottawa.
I was there in the summer so I had superb weather. Actually it was broiling, but compared to how cold it gets there in the winter, I was totally cool with the heat of June!
I missed a lot of Ottawa attractions, like every single museum and art gallery. I hear the National Mint is very good. But come on, there was only so much a gal could do in that heat!
I also made a decision that my long term plan for life is to become a Senator. Canadian Senators have great jobs and lifetime pensions for doing relativly little. I like that idea. And now that Justin had changed the Senate appointment procedure, well I think I would bring a little je ne sais pas to the Centre Block. So Justin, if you’re reading….