It’s a nationwide birthday bash this year and what better place to celebrate than in the heart of Canada, Ottawa and Gatineau. Tourism offerings have been ramped up big time here in the national capital region. Here are 5 things to do in Canada’s national capital region including a few Canada 150 highlights.
1. Stroll the magnificent MOSAïCANADA 150/Gatineau 2017
This new major international horticultural exhibition will astound you and it’s free! My sneak preview of the transformed Jacques-Cartier Park, in Gatineau, Quebec, left me vowing to return to see the finished gardens. Open from June 30 to October 15, 2017, it reflects 150 years of history, values, culture and arts in Canada, represented by some 40 different horticultural arrangements. In jaw dropping beauty, 40-foot tall, Mother Earth lords over the park with an eagle perched on one of her outstretched hands, from which flows water to a pond below.
There are representations for each province, two spectacular creations representing Shanghai and Beijing (built by the contributing country of China) and much, much more. For train lovers there’s a horticultural reproduction of the first transcontinental train to arrive in Vancouver, pulled by Canadian Pacific Railway Engine No. 374. My favourite display depicts the arrival of horses in Canada with three giant horses rising out of the water. This living artwork is stunning! The easy stroll through the entire exhibition is about one kilometre.
2. Walk through time in the Canadian History Hall
“This summers must-see. 15,000 years in the making. Drama, hope, heartbreak, violence, action, outrage, courage. Welcome to Your History.” I love this promotional trailer for a brand spanking new 40,000 square foot gallery in the Canadian Museum of History. The Canadian History Hall opens on July 1st and traces Canada’s history from the dawn of human habitation to the present day.
Enter the space through a spectacular passageway lined with silhouettes of familiar reminders of Canadian history. Arrive in the hub with a satellite image of Canada underfoot, and a touchscreen with a timeline of more than 500 historical events.
From there venture into one of three galleries. The first traces the foundation of the country from the indigenous fifteen thousand years ago to 1763. Gaze upon the tiny ivory carving of a human face dating between 3600 and 3900 years old, the oldest known depiction of a human face in Canada. From ancient remains estimated at about 4000 years old, digitally animated faces of a family were produced, the first of its kind in North America. How cool is that, to actually see moving faces of people who lived so long ago! There’s an even more vivid reconstruction, also based on human remains, of an Inuk man who lived about 800 years ago. Fantastic!
The second gallery continues the time travel covering colonial Canada until 1914. There’s an evocation of a Plains tipi, the handcuffs worn to the gallows by Louis Riel, an authentic Ukrainian church, and the actual gun of the assassin that killed Father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee. Finally the third gallery takes you through more modern times up to the present day. Memorabilia here includes: a famous guitar of Randy Bachman, Terry Fox’s t-shirt worn during the Marathon of Hope, Rocket Richard’s hockey jersey, Lester B. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize medal and on and on.
Throughout the exhibition, there are distinct stories of conflict, struggle, loss, success, accomplishment and hope. It’s truly a brilliant depiction of our history and the three galleries are named in recognition of generous donations made by: the Rossy Family Foundation, Fredrik Eaton, and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation and Weston Family.
Younger kids will have a blast in the Children’s Museum exploring the world with tons of touchy feely stuff. Hockey fans will enjoy the Hockey exhibit running until October 9. There’s also the exhibit Horse Power with a collection of 18 elegant handcrafted carriages and sleighs running until January 7, 2018.
3. Canadian Museum of Nature launches the new Arctic Gallery and Canada C3 exhibit
This year the museum celebrates Canada’s birthday with the new Canada Goose Arctic Gallery. The Arctic’s rich natural diversity and its important connections to humans are the focus of this 8000 square foot gallery that opened in June.
Upon entering, visitors will immediately feel connected by video and images projected on to real ice! The Geography Zone features a projection of the Northern lights and a 3-D circumpolar map. The Sustainability Zone examines the important connections between Arctic peoples and natural resources. The Northern Voices Gallery will be curated by northern Indigenous organizations.
Also, learn about the Canada 150 Signature project, Canada C3. The 150-day expedition from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage launched on June 1. Canada is being explored from coast to coast on a nautical voyage covering 23,000 kilometers at sea. From over 5,000 applications, participants were invited to join the expedition on one of 15 legs. You can be part of it too by connecting with them on social media using the hashtag #CanadaC3. There’s probably someone from your region and you can cheer him or her on! You can also experience the journey through interactive hubs at museums throughout the country. Discover more at www.canadac3.ca
Yes, the ever-evolving Canadian Museum of Nature continues to be a fabulous place for family entertainment. The majestic moose diorama in the Mammal Gallery has always been a favourite display of mine. Few notice that there’s a partly hidden animal in there. Can you find it?
Imagine prehistoric dinosaur sounds when you carefully place your head in a gigantic toothy jaw. It’s a favourite social media photo op in the Fossil Gallery.
Ever wonder how many birds you weigh? Say what?! Step right up and find out how many of a variety of bird species are equivalent to your weight in the Bird Gallery.
Ooh, I love pressing the buttons in the Oceans Gallery to listen to the cries of various sea animals. In fact, there are lots of buttons to press throughout the museum for a wealth of fun facts literally at your fingertips.
Be dazzled by gorgeous specimens in the Earth gallery and hopefully not grossed out by cockroaches, tarantulas and walking sticks in Nature Live. And don’t forget the outdoor ecozones. What a wondrous place!
For more information on the Canadian Museum of Nature visit www.nature.ca.
4. National Gallery of Canada opens the new Canadian and Indigenous Galleries
From June 15 to September 4, Our Masterpieces, Our Stories will feature close to 1,000 works of art. The new Canadian and Indigenous Galleries, also opening on June 15, will feature Canadian and Indigenous Art: From Time Immemorial to 1967. The gallery is primed to be a powerful portrayal of Canadian cultural heritage celebrated through many forms of art. There will also be special exhibitions throughout 2017, and activities for all ages. The National Gallery of Canada is set to celebrate.
5. Be inspired at Inspiration Village
In the core of Ottawa, there’s lots of fun planned in the new Inspiration Village. Built out of sea containers, it’s an artistic showcase of Canada’s provinces and territories, running until September 4 and open daily from noon until 8 pm. Inside a sound studio you can share stories about Canada, there are ongoing culinary demonstrations showcasing Canadian food, you can play dress up in Canadian costumes, and take a virtual tour across the nation with Parks Canada. There’s a grandstand for ongoing entertainment and you’ll enjoy live dance, music and artistic performances from across the country.
All this can be found on York Street near Byward Market Square where I happily indulged in a Beaver Tail pastry. Classic Canada!
For another patriotic treat, check out the Canada cookies at nearby Moulin de Provence Bakery. Sold by the thousands, they are affectionately known as Obama cookies because he bought three of them for his family during his first visit to Ottawa in 2009.
For more information on Inspiration village visit www.ottawa2017.ca
What a great year to plan a visit to Canada’s national capital region, Ottawa and Gatineau. You’ll have a hard time choosing between the literally hundreds of things to do. Be sure to research all the other great sights and activities at www.ottawa2017.ca, www.ottawatourism.ca, and www.tourismeoutaouais.com/en
Insider Tip: Get free two-day Gatineau street parking passes at the Maison du Tourisme at 103 Laurier Street in Gatineau.
Where to stay:
The British Hotel in Gatineau (in what was once known as Aylmer) is a fabulous option. Local entrepreneurs did a tremendous job painstakingly restoring and modernizing this gem of history built in 1834. With original stone throughout, the hotel has ten rooms, a variety of reception/meeting rooms, and a great restaurant/pub (specializing in gourmet burgers and wood fired artisanal pizza) in what was once the stable. Way back in the day, Sir John A. MacDonald was known to sip a beer or two there and King Edward VII (while he was still the Prince of Wales) gave a speech from an upstairs balcony. On rue Principale, it’s a short stroll to the Ottawa River where there’s a nice playground, a beach, a marina, and a great spot to catch the sunset. And don’t miss the lovely Café British next door.
Jan Napier is a Halifax-based photographer/travel writer.
Tourisme Outaouais and Ottawa Tourism assisted her travel to Outaouais and Ottawa.