Canada Day in Ottawa: Tips and Suggestions?

by DaniGirl on June 26, 2014 · 7 comments

in Ottawa Family Fun, Ottawa's hidden treasures

With dozens, probably hundreds, of posts over the last ten years about family-friendly things to in Ottawa, can you believe I’ve never blogged about Canada Day in Ottawa? When we were young and childless, we used to go downtown and do the Hill all the time, and I think I remember battling the crowds once or twice with a stroller, but I just realized that we’ve never brought the boys downtown to enjoy the quintessential Canada Day experience. That will have to wait for another year, as we’ll be in PEI celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown Accord in Charlottetown on Canada Day 2014. Three more sleeps!!

This year, my brother and his family will be visiting Ottawa to celebrate Canada Day (nice how they come to town when they hear we’re leaving, eh šŸ˜‰ At least Willie will have company while we’re out of town!) and they were asking for ideas, so I thought I’d pull together some ideas. Then my bloggy friend Elise mentioned she and her family are planning a special trip to Ottawa to celebrate their first Canada Day as Canadian citizens. How amazing is that? It makes me feel proud and patriotic, and reminds me how easy it is to take our very Canadianness for granted. (Did you know that new Canadians get special cultural passes that allow them free family entry to several Canadian museums and a 50% discount on a ViaRail trip? I love that!)

Anyway, what we have here are two families who are Canada Day in Ottawa virgins (well, with the exception of my brother, who has done Canada Day on the Hill with me many moons ago), and they need some ideas and suggestions. I’ve pulled together a few links, but what I’d love from you are your tips, ideas and suggestions for navigating the madness downtown with kids. One family will be staying right downtown, and the other will be driving in from Manotick.

Postcards from Ottawa-2

Here’s five great sources of official information for things to do in Ottawa on Canada Day:

1. Chris Hadfield at the Canada Space and Aviation Museum

If I were in town, I’d brave the crowds for this one! Canada’s favourite astronaut will be at the Canada Space and Aviation Museum as part of a fun Canada Day lineup that also includes the Army’s SkyHawk parachute team and Canada’s beloved Snowbirds. I’m sad to be missing this one!

2. Canada Day in Barrhaven

Although it’s been years since we’ve been downtown, we’ve enjoyed the Canada Day party in Barrhaven quite a few times. There will be a midway, facepainting, kid crafts, food and more.

3. NCC information on Canada Day in Ottawa

Check this link for the official scoop on things to do on Parliament Hill, Majors Hill Park and Jacques Cartier Park.

4. Capital museums celebrating Canada Day

The NCC has put together a big list of museums and other institutions offering Canada Day activities throughout the region, from the Bytown Museum to the Mackenzie King Estate to the NAC, with a nice hourly timetable so you can schedule your day by the minute!

5. OttawaStart.com’s big Canada Day listings

I saved the best for last. You can always count on OttawaStart.com for compiling the best lists of local activities. Check out their list of various community celebrations and more.

So all of that is a pretty good idea of WHAT to do. Now I need your help, bloggy peeps. Can you share your tips and tricks on HOW to do it? How do you approach the logistics of maneuvering your kids through hundreds of thousands of people on Parliament Hill? Do you go early and/or stay late? Where are the best places to park your car downtown? Are there some Hill vantage points that are better than others? What are the family-friendliest businesses open for Canada Day? What should you bring, pack or leave behind? What should you avoid at all costs? What did you learn the hard way?

Please share your best tips, bloggy peeps! I promise I’ll keep it just between us and Google. šŸ˜‰ And Happy Canada Day to you all, too!


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Wynn June 26, 2014 at 8:45 am

RCMP Sunset ceremony is another option.

2 Elise June 26, 2014 at 9:30 am

Thank you Dani šŸ™‚ You’re amazing! Will check out these links (well those you have not emailed to me!) and the comments.

3 Carly June 26, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Patience, patience, patience! We have parked at the Museum of Civilization and then walked back over to Ottawa from there. If you stake out a spot behind that same museum early enough in the evening (think 6 pm ish), you’ll have a lovely spot to watch the fireworks from too.

The restaurants are always pretty packed, so be prepared to wait (patience, patience) or bring a picnic/snacks with you. :o)

If I’m not mistaken, most museums are free on Canada Day so we’ve gone to the War Museum and the Museum of Nature on Canada Day in the past, but again, you have to be patient because there are so many people.

Beyond that, I have no tips or tricks. I kinda find downtown on Canada Day boring for little kids . . . they don’t seem to get too into the shows on the hill and I know my own get tired of all the walking very quickly. And some kids (and adults) find the crowds overwhelming.

I think if you prepare yourself (mentally and otherwise) to have to move slowly, for everything to take a little longer than usual and for the heat and crowds you’ll have a great time!

4 Lynn June 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Are you specifically looking for tips on doing the Hill? Here’s what I would say: the Hill itself is crazy crowded and a tough go with little kids. It’s standing room only, and you have to arrive pretty darn early (well before the noon show) if you want to be up on the lawn. Don’t even think of taking a stroller there.

If you have really young kids, you can consider the carillon concert and changing of the guard that are very early in the morning, if you want to see the Hill itself. After that, I’d leave and head either over to Sparks Street, which has buskers all day, or to Jacques Cartier Park across the river where all the kid stuff is (sandcastle building, face painting, crafts, and a show by the parachute team SkyHawks in the afternoon). There’s lots of space at Jacques Cartier to run around and spread out for a picnic, and if you get hot, the Museum of Civilization is close by and has free admission on Canada Day.

There’s a free shuttle bus that runs between Major’s HIll Park and Jacques Cartier Park to help you get across the river, but if you have a big stroller it’s probably just easier to walk across – it’s only a 15 or 20 minute walk and the stroller is a pain to fold up and fit onto a crowded bus. Remember that the Alexandra Bridge closes to all pedestrians at 9 p.m. so don’t get caught on the wrong side of the bridge.

In the past we have gone down in the morning (before lunch) and found parking pretty easily. Once we parked in the lot at the Rideau Centre, although I believe it has limited space these days due to some construction. Last year we just parked on the roads close to the Hill (as close as you could get) and the walk in to the Hill was about 20 minutes (making it a pretty long hike across to Jacques Cartier, but we made it with piggybacks and lots of stops for beverage breaks).

For the fireworks, the Hill is lovely but there are so many people that getting out afterwards can be a bit of a scary crush with kids. You can see them pretty well from Major’s Hill Park and it is often not as crowded, But the best possible place to see them is from a Hill-facing hotel room, if you have one :).

OC Transpo is free on Canada Day and a great option for getting downtown – but if you are planning on taking it home after the fireworks, you’ll be waiting a long time. You might need as much as two hours to get out of the downtown core by public transit if you stay for the full firework show.

5 DaniGirl June 27, 2014 at 6:18 am

Lynn and Carly thank you!! Exactly the kind of info I was looking for!!

6 Canada Aviation and Space Museum June 27, 2014 at 9:46 am

Admission on July 1st is free for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum and Canada Science and Technology Museum

7 Nat June 29, 2014 at 6:36 am

Thanks girl! And the free accomodations are a nice perk (:

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