I am an unabashed fan of the city of Ottawa. It was the first city I ever fell in love with. I first heard about it in 5th grade, when one of my best friends went there on a family vacation and sent me a postcard, since we didn’t have email back then. On the back, she wrote “I am having a fun time. (My 8 year old brother) Jeff got his fingers caught in the elevator door at the Parliament buildings and he cried.” It was then that I knew I needed to go – and go I did, every time vowing to return as soon as humanly possible.
In fact, Gloucesketeers, you once almost lost me to Ottawa forever. Were it not for a too-short work history to meet immigration standards (and then changing, more selective standards), we may have uprooted and been Ottawa Citizens (ha, get it) forever.
I hate that people of such a wonderful city have to deal with what happened yesterday. It’s unfair. And I’m sorry, Ottawa. Believe me, we’re Bostoners, we’ve been there, and it’s horrible and earth-shaking. Even though you are a tough, strong city, this cuts you to the core.
But I want to share with as many people I can the beauty of Ottawa, this small city with so much to offer. So here’s a list of the best things about Ottawa.
1. Skating the Rideau Canal.
Who needs the top of their head in a picture anyway? Not a skinnier, younger version of me from 2008.
In the winter, at least before Climate Change fucks everything up forever, the Rideau Canal freezes over and you can skate on it. It’s technically the world’s largest skating rink. You can get on at one spot and get off another – there are folks who commute via skate. Our hotel has had daily weather reports and guides that tell you which mile markers you can skate on and which are closed if the surface isn’t safe ahead of time so you can plan your route.
The Rideau Canal itself is pretty cool, as well. In fact, it was once home to the Stanley Cup overnight in 1905 when a drunken Ottawa team, having just won the cup, took bets to see if someone among them could drop-kick Lord Stanley’s cup into the canal. Unsurprisingly, they were successful, and had to go fish it out once they sobered up in the morning.
2. The Diefenbunker
Don’t panic, eh?
The city of Ottawa, being the capital, obviously has an awesome formerly top-secret Cold War nuclear bunker capable of keeping the Prime Minister and other top officials safe underground for 30 days, right? You goddamn bet. Commissioned in 1959 by Prime Minister Diefenbaker, it operated not-very-secretly underneath farmland in rural Ottawa from 1961 until 1994. In 1997, it was turned into a museum, and the public can visit. It has a tiny CBC recording studio inside, some cheery posters of not-apocalyptic scenes, and some awesome mid-century modern radioactive decontamination showers for the hipster in us all. It’s awesome.
3. Sleeping in Jail
Hope you like brick and steel and jail-ghosts!
We’ve all been there. You wake up behind bars after a questionable evening. Fortunately for me, we had booked a room at the HI Hostel at the old Ottawa Jail. The top floor held death row, executions took place there until 1946, and inhumane conditions and unmarked graves marred its storied history. Now, the whole thing is a hostel – from semiprivate jail cell rooms to the upper (death row) floors that hold the family suites. It’s a blast, a bit creepy, and beautifully macabre.
4. The Parliament Buildings at Night
The Parliament buildings on Capital Hill are stunningly beautiful by daylight. They are the backdrop for peaceful protesters for all causes, thousands of tourist photos, and at night, they become even more photogenic. Every evening from June to September, weather permitting, a free sound and light show called Mosaika unfolds against the buildings, telling Canada’s story in both English and French.
The character of the Hill is wonderful, as well. Until last year, Parliament Hill had its own marauding gang of cats cared for by volunteers who were allowed to mill the grounds. They had been brought to the buildings to deal with a rat and mouse problem in 1924. The cats began to be spayed and neutered 15 years ago, and finally the four remaining cats were considered too frail to survive the Ottawa winters in the outdoor cat sanctuaries, and were adopted to homes.
5. Byward Market
The Byward Market area is full of bars, restaurants, tiny shops, and Beaver Tails. Beaver Tails, my friends, are oblong pieces of fried dough coated with gooey maple sugar and chocolate. They are amazing and they are proof that life is good.
I WANT ONE SO BAD
Aside from Beaver Tails, Byward Market has small farmer’s market stands, tons of crafts by local artisans, cheese shops that sell squeaky, unpasteurized cheese curds (the building block of poutine), a bar called Zaphod Beeblebrox’s, a strip club called Barefax with a low cover and relatively classy atmosphere, and something called the GreenRoom Carbon Neutral Nightclub which really is the most Canada thing to ever occur. Byward Market spans four blocks and is nothing but awesome.
While Ottawa reels from yesterday, its beauty, its spirit, and its vibrant core will continue to shine. And I’ll be going back.