An old bloggy friend reached out recently and said he and his family were thinking of visiting Ottawa for the first time this summer, and asked if I had any recommendations for things to see and do. Yes, I might know a thing or two about family activities in Canada’s capital! While I’ve got oodles of blog posts about ideas for family adventures for those who live in Ottawa, I don’t think I’ve ever written a tourist’s guide for families that visit Ottawa.

Ottawa is a beautiful city to visit in any season, but this summer promises to be especially full of fun with the Canada 150 celebrations, and the Ottawa 2017 agenda.

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There are a few things I’d recommend for anyone and everyone who visits Ottawa. There are obvious choices, like the Parliament Buildings (take the free tour and don’t miss the Parliamentary Library!) and the Peace Tower. The Byward Market is always good for a wander, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who would say no to a Beavertail, or a visit to Sugar Mountain. I also think the Diefenbunker, Canada’s quirky cold war museum and living time capsule should be at the top of any visitor’s must-see list.

Diefenbunker-14

If you like the Diefenbunker, you’ll also be intrigued by Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum. In fact, we have no shortage of excellent museums in Ottawa, and each will appeal to different visitors. Families with young children should make time for the always intriguing Museum of Nature and the Children’s Museum in the Museum of History, formerly known as the Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada is exactly as amazing as you’d expect it to be, but we were surprised by how accessible and fun their Artissimo children’s programming is. Don’t forget to visit our famous Maman, the 10m (30 ft) bronze spider sculpture who guards the National Gallery courtyard.

Ottawa Family Fun: Artissimo at the National Gallery

If you like history, I’d highly recommend Parks Canada’s excellent (and affordable) Voyageur Canoe tours on the Rideau Canal. You’ll choose between one and two hour guided tours and learn about the history of Ottawa and Canada as they are tied to the building of our iconic Rideau Canal, all while paddling along in a huge voyageur-style canoe. While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the Bytown Museum at the lock station beside the Chateau Laurier for a little bit more history of Ottawa, formerly known as Bytown, and the Canal. Speaking of the Canal, it’s worth a visit to one of the city’s lock stations to see the Parks Canada employees turning the cranks to open and close the locks by hand, just like they’re been doing for the past 170+ years. If paddling isn’t your style, another Ottawa activity that’s been on our bucket list for a while is the Haunted Walks. I hear they are quirky, entertaining and generally awesome.

Voyageur canoe tour

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures during your stay in Canada’s Capital, I hear that the zip-lining park at Camp Fortune is amazing. (It’s on our to-do list for this year!) Waterpark lovers will not be disappointed by the waterslides at Mont Cascades (on the Quebec side) or Calypso water park. Based on our experiences, I’d probably recommend the more expensive and slightly further from downtown Calypso for families with very young children, but we have preferred the smaller and less busy Mont Cascades the past few years.

Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy Canada’s flora and fauna at Parc Omega, about 45 minutes from downtown. During the drive-through tour you can see many animals native to Canada, including deer and elk, foxes and coyotes, wolves, bison, bears and many more, all in natural habitats. For something more domestic in the heart of the city, the animal barns at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum are always a hit with the littlest animal lovers. A little further out in the suburbs is Valleyview Animal Farm, also great for the youngest kiddies.

The grey wolves of Parc Omega

Through the summer there are two excellent FREE daily spectacles on Parliament Hill. Every morning (late June through late August) at 10 am, you can see the Changing of the Guard, immediately preceded by a short march up Elgin Street from the Cartier Drill Hall. Every evening through the summer, you can also see the Northern Lights sound and light show on Parliament Hill. I’ve heard it is excellent. And free, did I mention free?! Also free on Parliament Hill, every Wednesday at noon there is a huge yoga class on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings. Just bring your yoga mat and show up to claim your space, weather permitting.

Yoga on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Speaking of free and quirky, the unusual and beautiful rock scupltures by John Ceprano on the Ottawa River are worth a visit, too. If the weather is warm, wade out onto the limestone flats in the shallow water and make your own!

rocks

Oh my goodness, there is so much more! History buffs will also enjoy Rideau Hall, home to the Governor General, and its extensive grounds perfect for picnics and wandering. Of course there is my neighbour and muse, the stately Watson’s Mill in Manotick. And don’t forget the Cumberland Heritage Museum and its throwback to life in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, with dozens of true-to-the-era reproduction buildings – including a working sawmill and blacksmith forge – heritage breed farm animals, people in costume, vintage tractor-pulled wagon rides, and more.

Watson's Mill

Phew, that’s a long list. Ottawa is a great place to visit with families! If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my archives where I’ve been blogging for years about Ottawa’s hidden treasures and fun family activities. There’s so much more to say – this may have to become a series. Consider me your bloggy ambassador to Ottawa!

Peace Tower tour

Ottawa friends, how did I do with this list? Did I miss anything important? What’s at the top of your list of recommendations for tourists to our beautiful city?


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Last autumn, one of the final photo shoots I did before the wind turned bitter and the snow started to fall was a maternity session with a friend and former colleague at the Lime Kiln Trail. It turned out to be one of my favourite sessions of the year, and not just because of my deep affection for the subjects. It was a beautiful afternoon out with a gorgeous couple, and we had a lot of fun together.

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

(Yes, they really are as sweet as they look. Seriously.)

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Their beautiful baby girl arrived over the holidays, and last weekend I was able to pay a visit with my camera and tell the story of a quiet Saturday afternoon at home with a new baby.

Portrait of a sleeping baby by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Portrait of a young family by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Daddy kissing baby by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

I’ll let you pause to catch your breath after all that adorableness. I mean seriously!

Family portrait with pet cat by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Family portrait with pet cat by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Those last two are definitely my favourites of the day, but I honestly can’t decide between the black and white yawn, or that compelling green stare of derision. What do you think?


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I miss not working downtown anymore mostly because I miss creeping around with my camera. I’m sure the two most-photographed buildings in my archives are Watson’s Mill in Manotick and the Parliament Buildings, and I’m not sure which one would come out ahead quantity-wise. So when I had the occasion on Sunday morning to do a little poking around on the grounds of the Museum of History (after being unceremoniously chased off the grounds of the neighbourhing Kruger plant by a guard with a marked disinterest in my artistic pursuits) I was in my happy place.

There’s nothing I like more than finding a new and interesting way to take a photo of a familiar subject. I’d been looking for reflections of the Parliament Buildings on the melting river ice but they were patchy and didn’t have the effect I wanted. I love this one, though. This is my kind of selfie!

Selfie with Parliament

Beautiful, right?

Parliament from the History Museum-2

The light was flat and grey but that helps emphasize the interesting shapes in the foreground here, I think.

Parliament from the History Museum-3

More shapes – I think this could be better but I can’t quite figure out how. Vexing. I have said many times in my head recently that I am simply not a landscape photographer.

Museum steps

I upgraded to a desktop computer from a laptop recently, and had to upgrade all of my software, too. It was as traumatizing as you might imagine, but jumping from Lightroom 4 to Lightroom CC has opened up a world of neat new features, including dead easy panorama stitching. This is ten or so photos merged together.

Parliament from the History Museum

And finally, to wrap everything up, a selfie and the Parliament Buildings reflected in the History Musueum’s windows — as a pano! This is nine images stitched together.

Reflection pano

Like most people, I’ve found the past few days troubling and stressful. Getting out to play with my camera was truly a balm on my soul. I’m so grateful to have this creative outlet, and to live in such a beautiful and photogenic city!


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I have been thinking about reading lately. At the end of last month, Goodreads kindly wrapped up all the books I read in 2016 (I’m fairly diligent about recording them) and told me I’d read a whopping 15 books during the year. That includes the five novels I read out loud to Tristan and Simon (Ready Player One, Neverwhere, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Wintersmith, and The Graveyard Book) but not the dozen or so Puppy Palace books I read to Lucas.

It seems like a pretty measly stack for a girl who loves to read. In my defense, a good portion of the year was dedicated to American Gods, Neil Gaiman’s not-insubstantial 635-page epic. And yes, it was the year that I fell totally and utterly in love with Neil Gaiman. All that to say, I’ve decided that I need to spend more time reading actual books and not just random Internet articles from Apartment Therapy and Medium and Slate to feed my soul.

304:365 Antique books

Yesterday on the CBC Radio program The Current, they had a piece on life-altering books. Author Will Schwalbe discussed 26 books that changed his life, and I loved that his list is eclectic and wide-ranging and does not take itself too seriously. It got me to thinking about books that have changed my life. I’m not sure I have the attention span for 26, but here are five that have been meaningful to me.

1. Generation X by Douglas Coupland

In the interview, Schwalbe talks about books that find you when you need them. This is 100% what this book was for me. I was 23 years old and stuck in a rut dug of a series of catastrophically bad choices. Reading Generation X tweaked something in my soul that made me ask, “This is it? For the rest of my life?” and then, after I’d chewed that concept over for a while, “Hell, no!” It changed literally everything for me: within the year, I was divorced, on my own, and heading down a new path that led me to where I am today. I think this is the next book I’ll read out loud to the boys, although I’ve been afraid to revisit it lest it somehow tarnish my reverence for it.

2. Firestarter by Stephen King

I was probably nine, maybe 10 years old when I picked up my mom’s copy of Firestarter off the sofa where she had been reading it and started flipping through it. I think I was first engaged by the fact that Charlie, the protagonist, was a girl of about my age. It’s not even in the top 10 of my favourite Stephen King books, but it was the first, and it gave me a taste for speculative fiction that persists to this day.

3. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro

After reading an Alice Munro short story in an anthology for high school English, I sought out more of her work. This one has stayed with me, though I’ve read so many of her books over the years. It was nothing short of shocking to me to find an oeuvre of work about growing up female in small-town Ontario when I WAS growing up female in a small-town Ontario. But I came to love her work for so much more than just the familiar descriptions of the verdant fields and sleepy towns surrounding London and beyond. Her characters are quirky and thoughtful, leading ordinary lives that occasionally break open to reveal the extraordinariness woven into the fabric of all of us, just below the surface. It was through Alice Munro that I learned to be open to and observe and love the beauty in minutaie.

4. Harry Potter (writ large) by J.K. Rowling

Because Harry Potter. I can’t think of any book I’ve re-read as many times as I’ve read the various books in the Harry Potter series. I started reading them when I was pregnant with Tristan, and the books feel like the literary backdrop to the last 15 years of my life, woven into everything about who I am and what I’ve been doing with my life for the last decade and a half.

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Another gateway book for me. When I read this funny, quirky, magical book in 2015, I wondered how I could have possibly missed reading such a delightful book for so long. Although I’d read one Gaiman book before, it sealed my love for him and introduced me to the delightful universe that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Considering nine of the 15 books I read in 2016 were authored by either Gaiman or Pratchett, the significance of Good Omens on my reading habits cannot be understated. For more than 30 years, if you asked me my favourite author, I’d quote my holy trinity of Stephen King, Douglas Coupland and Alice Munro. Where there were three, now there are five.

I tried very hard to not think too deeply about this list, and to come up with my top-of-mind impressions of books that have been meaningful to me for one reason or another. But thinking about them has only redoubled my desire to feed the beast with MOAR BOOKS for 2017.

So, what are your top-of-mind top five books that changed your life?


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Nothing makes Lucas happier than creative work – drawing, painting, building.

And nothing makes me happier than bright colours and interesting photo opportunities.

Sunday art project documentary photography

That’s a win-win, wouldn’t you agree?


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When we first brought her home, Lucy decided that Willie had the right idea, and that cats lived in the basement in the big boys’ bedrooms while dogs lived on the main floor. Over the holidays, though, we saw her venturing upstairs more and more often. She still doesn’t have much use for the dog and will run away from her (or, if caught off guard, hiss and bat at her) but doesn’t seem afraid to be in the same room with her. For her part, Bella mostly watches Lucy’s adventures with a slightly worried look on her face, provoked into chase only when Lucy chooses to zip through the room instead of padding quietly.

All that to say, there have been more chances to take a photo of Lucy this month than any other time since she came home with us in October. And when I came around the corner to see her posing prettily on my bed and my camera was right beside me within arm’s reach, you can imagine my delight!

Lucy on the bed

This is begging to be captioned and the bloggy peeps are consistently more funny and clever than me. Any ideas?


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A free gift for you from Mothership Photography!

18 December 2016 Mothership Photography

I have just finished my fifth (!) year in business as a photographer, and if you’ve been around for a while, you know that the origins of the photography business are right here on the blog. Those of you who have followed along through the years have seen me go from a photo-a-day project to […]

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Seven years of Christmas tree quests

14 December 2016 Ah, me boys

The year we moved to Manotick was the year we swapped our almost 20 year old artificial tree for a (formerly) live one. Though I had never had a “real” tree, we have come to love our annual Christmas tree quest and I could not imagine ever going back to an artificial tree. Conveniently, 2010 […]

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Photo of the day: Decorating the tree

11 December 2016 Ah, me boys

Things you see in this photo: * three boys decorating a Christmas tree * two boys who are nearly as tall as the tree itself * my boys are still wearing pajamas even though this is late afternoon (lazy Sunday FTW!) * a nearly triangular tree that is far wider than we expected * that […]

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Photos of the day: Christmas tree quest 2016

4 December 2016 Ah, me boys

We are a family that loves routine, and the highest elevation of a routine becomes tradition. There’s few traditions more sacred to our family than the annual trip out to Thomas Tree Farm to get a Christmas tree – and the photographing of said trip! This year, Lucas got to make the first couple of […]

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