Downtown in the capital

I work downtown in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. In the summertime, it’s a lovely place to work. In the wintertime, it’s as cold and miserable as the rest of the city and I will lament the horrors of winter in Ottawa when the time is right. But now, on this first official day of summer (hooray!), I will wax rhapsodic about Ottawa’s most beautiful season.

My office is right between the tourist meccas of the Parliament Buildings and the Byward Market, at the foot of the Rideau Canal. Once every week or two, I find myself walking through downtown to one meeting or another, and I love the quiet of the core on a weekday morning, after the morning rush but before the lunch crowd comes out.

I start my work day early so I can make my way home early and maximize my time with the boys. After 10 am or so, the Market is usually crowded and noisy, but I love it best very early on summer mornings, when the day is peaceful and full of promise. There is something elusive about the pre-workday Market, with vendors setting up their stalls and cleansing sunshine bouncing off the old stone walls, that reminds me of when I was travelling through Europe a decade ago.

Today, for your reading pleasure, are ten reasons why I love working in downtown Ottawa in the summertime.

1. It’s a pretty, clean, historic city with interesting architecture and lots of open space, even downtown.

2. It’s a great spot for humanity-watching. Politicians, street people, students, tourists, buskers, office workers… downtown teems with people from all walks of life.

3. There are a tonne of great places to eat. Healthy food, ethnic food, fast food, food court, ritzy food and greasy food. You name it, you can find it.

4. It’s quaint to step out of the office and be among people who are on vacation. Standing on the street corner waiting for the light to change, brushed by unfurled maps and wafting clouds of sunscreen, I could almost imagine I am on vacation too.

5. There are lovely places to curl up with a book or sit and eat a sandwich and watch the people.

6. Just about any direction you choose to go for a walk takes you someplace pleasant… along the canal, toward Parliament Hill, around the National Gallery, through the Market.

7. The pagentry. I’ve been on my way to a meeting, only to be intersected by a parade of the ceremonial guard, marching to the Changing of the Guard ceremony on the Hill, and been stuck on a street corner as a police-led motorcade escorts one or another political dignitary to an official function.

8. The festivals. From the Jazz Festival to Canada Day to our beloved Tulip Festival, there is always something going on. The Tulip Festival is my favourite – there is a naive sincerity about a modern-day city holding a flower festival that I find quite charming.

9. Maman, our 9.25 meter spider (that’s 30 feet tall, for the metrically challenged). The bronze sculpture by French artist Louise Bourgeois, was recently aquired for $3.2M and assembled in the courtyard of the National Gallery of Canada. Call me crazy, but I love it. (I particularly love the Web cam angle that the link I posted shows. I can just imagine Maman leaping over the US Embassy – that’s the building in the background – and landing on the building I’m working in.)

10. School tour groups are usually done by the middle of June. If I ever go ‘postal’, and let’s face it, the odds are good, it will be because of school tour groups. Nothing sours a beautiful lunchtime in the summer faster than having to spend 20 minutes in a Subway lineup behind 47 insane 13 year olds hepped up on sugar and freedom from parental intervention. July and August have their share of tour groups, congesting the sidewalks with rubbernecking tourists clad in socks and sandals, but none are so obtusely oblivious and patently annoying as the school groups.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll wander over to the Market for a coffee and a croissant and a little bit of early morning sunshine too.


Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

9 thoughts on “Downtown in the capital”

  1. oh how i wish i worked downtown. i miss downtown a lot. we lived there for a year before we bought our house in the suburbs.
    and, don’t be too hard on the school groups. i once was one of those annoying 13-year-olds enjoying a first trip without mom and dad in the nation’s capital, not dreaming that one day i would live here and be thoroughly annoyed by subsequent school tours trundling through the rideau centre. the annoyance is tempered with memory though….

  2. Well said Dani!!
    Two weeks ago I had to go downtown to get new health cards for the kids. I showed up early and was astonishingly done in 2 minutes flat. So here I was, downtown at 8:45. So, I opted to stay for a bit instead of going back to my countryside home to tend to millions of tasks. For 3 hours, by MYSELF (hah, the luxury, the indulgence) I strolled here and there, sipped a coffee while people-watching, got swamped by the aforementioned 13 yr olds on school outings and on adrenaline rushes, did the behind the Parliament buildings self-guided tour, watched the canal locks open and close, and basically played tourist and actually felt like a tourist!! It was awesome, like a mini-vacation. Of course, I kept making mental notes of places I could bring the kids to. And of course, I even thought of you knowing that you get to experience this way more often that I do.
    We do have a pretty city here!
    See ya

  3. Sheesh, Twinmom, you were in the neighbourhood and you didn’t drop by for coffee? Shame on you!! Next time give me a call and I’ll see if I can work in a ‘meeting’!
    Suze, I too was once one of those tour groups… my senior year in high school, our school band came to Ottawa (from London, ON.) Where were you touring from?

  4. Dani, You captured the essence of The Market so well. I travel through the Market every Friday morning and often stop on my way back. It is usually early when the shops are just opening. I grab a Latte and stroll around with Jonathan looking in all my favorite shops and telling him tales of where we used to party 😉 The only thing I disagree with is the giant spider. I personally don’t like it, but it is definately something that is a matter of taste. Hope you enjoyed your coffee this am.

  5. Dani
    make me want to go and take a stroll int he Market. An dI was there a few weeks ago. I’m craving people time. I love living in the country but nothig beats sitting outsde with a tea and a muffin watching the people stroll by and wonder what there story is.

  6. i came from Brantford,ON when i was in grade 8. we stayed in the residences at Carleton. The campus seemed SO huge and imposing then. Now i go there. funny the turns life takes.

  7. Although I love downtown Ottawa during the day, I am a bigger fan of the city (and the market) at night. I’ve never been a morning person though so that may explain my nocturnal adventures. I remember visiting all the museums as a kid with my mom and with school groups. As an adult, I adore the National Gallery and try to spend a few hours in there whenever I travel to Ottawa.
    Looking forward to my next trip to Tuliptown.

  8. I spent a June week in Ottawa once, and it was beautiful. Very peaceful, sitting outside, watching the buskers, and just relaxing. Lucky you!

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