Life in Ottawa

Dust off your jingle bells, dig out your Santa hat and strap on your reindeer antlers! Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions, the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Photo of Santa Claus at the Christmas parade 2013

It’s been a dozen (!!) years since our first holiday parade round up, and this post gets longer every year. Take a close look at the details – I noticed a lot of parades moving from a traditional week or day of the week, and lots of route changes for this year, too. There are more than 20 parades crammed into one three-week period!

Here’s all the info I could scare up about the 2017 Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec Santa Claus and Christmas parade line-up, in chronological order:

Ottawa Help Santa Toy Parade
Saturday, November 18 starting at 11:00 am. New route this year! The parade starts at Ottawa City Hall and moves west on Laurier Avenue to Bank Street, then follows Bank Street south to TD Place. New toys (no used toys, please) and cash donations will be collected by the Ottawa Firefighters.

Kemptville Kinsmen Santa Parade
Saturday, November 18 starting at 1:00 pm. This year’s edition of the Kemptville Kinsmen Santa Claus parade will begin at Holy Cross starting at 1:00pm. The parade route will follow Clothier St W and then Prescott St to the Kemptville College. The theme is “Christmas in the Movies.” Following the parade please join us for Santa’s North Pole at the North Grenville Public Library.

Cornwall Santa Claus Parade
Saturday November 18, starting at 5:00 pm. The parade will run from St. Lawrence Intermediate School, 1450 Second Street East. It will then proceed west. The theme for the 45TH Annual Parade is 150 YEARS OF CHRISTMAS. Join us afterward for Santa’s Street Hockey Challenge!

Barrhaven Lions Club Light Up the Night Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, November 18, starting at 5:30 pm. (Note the change to Saturday instead of Sunday!) The parade runs down Strandherd Drive, starting at Beatrice Drive and ending at the park n ride, where it turns north for dispersal. Please remember to bring non perishable food items or cash donations for the Barrhaven Food Cupboard.

Kanata Santa Claus Parade
Sunday November 19, 2017 at 1:30 pm (note the change to day of the week and time versus previous years!) The parade begins at Terry Fox and Castlefrank and proceeds Castlefrank to Abbeyhill Drive and on to Hazeldean Mall. Food and money will be collected by volunteer firefighters along the route for the Kanata Food Cupboard. Join Santa at the mall after the parade!

Petawawa Santa Claus Parade
Sunday November 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm. Parade starts at the Petawawa Plaza along Mohns to Herman, then Herman to Murphy Road, finishing at Civic Centre.

Brockville Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, November 25, starting at 5:00 pm (new time!) The parade will start at North Augusta Road and Pearl Street then travel West on Pearl Street E. to Park Street, South on Park Street and lastly, West on King Street to Gilmore Street. The parade will feature many floats, bands, horses, clowns, community groups, dignitaries and finally the star attraction, Santa himself.

Carleton Place Santa Parade
Saturday, November 25 starting at 5:00 pm. Wear red and white, bring your food donation with you. This year’s parade theme is ‘Canada 150’. As Canada’s 150th Birthday year draws to a close, we will be inviting the public to participate in a parade all about Canada.

Gananoque Santa Parade
Saturday, November 25, starting at 5:00 pm. The Downtown Gananoque BIA will host the 2017 Santa Claus Parade on Saturday, November 25th at 5pm!

Pembroke Santa Claus Parade of Lights
Saturday, November 25 starting at 5:30 pm. This year’s theme will be 150 Years of Christmas as we
celebrate the holiday season in Canadian history. We’re encouraging participants to turn the parade into a walk through history, with each float focused on a different era over the last 150 years, whether it’s 1867, the ‘50s, the ‘80s, or anywhere in between. It’s a way to have fun while celebrating our heritage!

Arnprior Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, November 25, starting at 6:00 pm.

Clarence Rockland Santa Claus Parade
Sunday, November 26, starting at 4:30 pm. Meet Santa after the parade at the Christmas Show at the Knights of Columbus hall from 6:30 until 8:00 pm.

Vankleek Hill Santa Claus Parade
Friday, December 1. Come out on Main Street and greet jolly Saint-Nicholas a few days before he makes his round-the-world distribution of gifts! Christmas comes from the heart!

Osgoode Santa Parade
Friday December 1, starting at 7 pm. Grab a seat along Osgoode Main Street and wait for the big guy’s arrival in the second annual Osgoode Parade of Lights. During the parade Santa’s helpers will collect “Letters to Santa” and drop them off at Canada Post on behalf of all the boys and girls in the village. Don’t forget to bring your canned goods for the “Fill a Truck Challenge“. Frosty the Snowman will be there ready as ever and Stay Puff Marshmallow Ghostbusters will also be joining in the parade. The Parade starts at Nixon Rd. and Osgoode Main and ends in the Foodland parking lot. As a continuation of the Canada 150 celebrations, OVCA has been fortunate enough to be granted funds so we will be able to put on a Special Fireworks display following the Parade of Lights at the Community Centre!!

Merrickville Christmas Parade
Saturday, December 2, starting at 11:00 am. The annual Merrickville Santa Claus Parade, hosted by the Merrickville Volunteer Fire Department Association, will make its way up St. Lawrence Street starting at 11:00am.

Hawkesbury Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 2. This year, Santa Claus will be stopping by Saturday, December 2, so join him to kick off the holiday season! Visit with Santa and some Hawkesbury’s associations while enjoying the parade that will start on James Street, will continue along Main Street and will finish at Hamilton Street.

Pakenham Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 2, starting at 1:00 pm. Don’t miss Santa’s favourite event with the Pakenham Santa Claus Parade! Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and head to downtown Pakenham for an old-fashioned, festive parade.

Manotick Christmas Parade
Saturday, December 2, starting at 1:00 pm. Parade runs from the Manotick Arena and then south down Manotick Main Street. This is our favourite of the season! 😉

Constance & Buckham’s Bay Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 2, starting at 1:00 pm. Don’t miss the annual CBBCA Constance & Buckhams Bay Santa Clause Parade; floats gather on Baillie Ave for a 1:00PM start. Parade runs along Bayview to Len Purcell and winds up at the community centre for hots dogs, Santa, and hot chocolate. Be sure to check out the Christmas Craft Fair, Silent Auction, Outdoor Hockey Registration, and the Learn to Skate program. Be sure to bring your non-perishable food item for the West Carleton Food Bank.

Perth and District Children’s Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 2, starting at 5:00 pm. The annual SANTA CLAUS PARADE OF LIGHTS makes its way through Downtown Heritage Perth. Starting on Sunset Blvd. at 5pm, the parade of lights will travel south through town (Wilson to Gore), turning onto Cockburn Street and ending at Queen Elizabeth School. The parade always ends with a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus on the last float!

Renfrew Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 2, starting at 5:00 pm (note new start time and new downtown route!) The Renfrew Business Improvement Area (BIA) will be organizing the parade. The theme of the parade is ‘Christmas 150 Wishes’. Santa will be at Town Hall in the gazebo at Low Square to visit with kids after the parade.

Orleans Parade of Lights
Saturday, December 2 starting at 6:00 pm. Once again the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association will be hosting Santa’s Parade of Lights on St-Joseph Blvd. in Orleans. Toy and cash donations will be collected by firefighters along the route.

Stittsville Parade of Lights
Saturday, December 2 starting at 6:00 pm. The annual Parade of Lights is a community favourite, drawing thousands of spectators along the parade route. Each year, dozens of beautifully decorated community floats set the tone for Santa’s much anticipated arrival at the end of the parade. The parade runs along Stittsville Main from Carp Rd. to Carleton Cathcart. Merry makers are also encouraged to stay for the lighting of Village Square Park, and to share in some hot chocolate and cookies.

Aylmer / Gatineau Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 2, starting at 6:00 pm. A tradition that goes back several years, this light-filled parade that departs from the Aylmer marina and attracts crowds from the entire region.

Casselman Santa Claus Parade
Sunday, December 3 starting at 5:30pm Route: Visit our web site for all the details casselmanfestival.ca Hot chocolate will be served by Scotia Bank in front of the big tent.

Carp Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 9, starting at 12:00 pm. The Huntley Community Association is thrilled to announce we will be holding the 9th Annual Christmas Parade on December 9th, 2017 in Carp. The route starts at The Diefenbunker – 3911 Carp Road and follows Carp Road to Juanita Street to Langstaff Drive turning right on Donald B. Munro Drive to Carp Road finishing at the Diefenbunker.

Missing this year: At the time of publication in early November, I wasn’t able to find information about Arnprior, Russell, Richmond, Smiths Falls, Embrun, Almonte, Eganville or Metcalfe this year. If you have any information about these communities or others not mentioned above, please let me know and I’ll update the post throughout the season.

holly border

And don’t fret if you can’t make it to the parade – how about one of these other fun family events with a holiday theme in our region?

Magic of Lights Drive-Through at Wesley Clover Park
November 17, 2017 through January 6, 2018. Magic of Lights is composed of festive and vibrant LED lighted displays celebrating the joy of the holidays. A “drive through” experience from the comfort of your own car, the Wesley Clover Parks Campground route will be overflowing with spectacular light displays and animations where holiday themes will come to life in sparkling lights. Magic of Lights is truly a holiday family tradition and will be for years to come. Select proceeds from each carload admission will once again benefit the Ottawa Senator’s Foundation, last year’s event raised over $47,000 for this charity!

The Vintage Village of Lights
Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from November 24, 2017 to December 17, 2017, 3 pm to 8 pm at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum. Step into a holiday tale of your own as you explore seasonal scenes and activities inspired by classic Christmas stories and songs of years past. Take in the 30,000 lights illuminating the Museum, visit with Santa and send a telegram to the North Pole. Let your holiday spirit shine with cookie decorating or a Christmas craft. Singalong to your favourite carol then experience a horse-drawn wagon ride. Feeling chilly? No worries. Warm up by the bonfire and purchase a cup of hot cocoa from the Canteen. There’s magic to share with your family, friends, and loved ones of all ages at the Vintage Village of Lights!

2017 Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train hits the rails again in November, visiting over 150 communities. Since the program’s inception back in 1999, more than $7.4 million and over 3 million pounds of food has been collected in Canada and the United States. At each event, the Holiday Train provides a box car stage, a line up of great musical talents and a corporate contribution to the local food bank. The community, in turn, is encouraged to donate food and funds, all of which stays in the community. Local stops include Finch, Merrickville, Smiths Falls and Perth on November 27 and then Trenton, Belleville and Brighton on November 28. Check the holiday train schedule for more details.

Canadian Museum of History Tree Lighting Ceremony: Thursday, November 30
Thursday, November 30 at 6 p.m.Invite your family, friends and colleagues to count down to the lighting of the Museum’s giant outdoor tree, while enjoying Christmas carols, Beaver Bites and hot chocolate (while quantities last)! This event takes place at the same time as the opening of the Museum’s Christmas Market, which will be in the Grand Hall until 8 p.m. Note that the activities will take place outside, so please dress accordingly.

Upper Canada Village: Alight at Night
Bundle up for an evening stroll through this picture-perfect postcard setting! With close to one million lights adorning the heritage buildings, trees and fences of Upper Canada Village creating a one-of-a-kind magical backdrop for its annual Alight at Night Festival…a true winter wonderland! Times and dates vary, starting December 1, so check the link for details.

Manotick’s Olde Fashioned Christmas
Saturday December 2 and Sunday December 3. The Village is transformed into a Village of Yesteryear. There will be a Victorian Tea and Penny Sale, horse-drawn wagon rides, pictures with Santa, face painting, strolling carollers and more.

Christmas Tree Lighting at the National Gallery of Canada
December 7, 2017. Free admission from 5 pm to 8 pm, tree lighting at 6:30 pm in the Scotiabank Great Hall. All are welcome to enjoy special treats and activities:

  • Make a beaded swirl ornament to decorate your tree
  • Take a photo by the tree surrounded by our festive frame
  • Listen to the holiday melodies of Stellae Boreales, Ottawa Suzuki Strings’ violin ensemble, featuring the school’s senior students
  • Savour a complimentary hot chocolate and a holiday treat
  • Share your photos! #NGCTree

Christmas Lights Across Canada: December 7, 2017 to January 7, 2018
The 33rd edition of Christmas Lights Across Canada will kick off with an official illumination ceremony on December 7, 2017 at 7 p.m. Every night from December 7 to January 7, enjoy the magical winter lightscapes multimedia show projected on Parliament Hill buildings. A brand new experience also awaits you in Confederation Park with displays of lights that will “glow” your mind! People of all ages will get into to the holiday spirit as hundreds of thousands of dazzling lights shine in Canada’s Capital Region and across the country.

If I’ve missed anything, or if you’d like to share information about your family-friendly Ottawa Christmas or Holiday event, please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at danicanada (at) gmail (dot) com and I’d be happy to add them to this (now epic!) post.

How many parades will YOU attend this year?


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I think the paths along Hogsback Falls in Ottawa are truly one of the city’s overlooked treasures. I see photographers crawling all over the Arboretum but am surprised that I rarely see family photos being taken at Hogsback – there’s a stunning variety of backdrops and perfect places for posing and playing. It’s been a few too many years since we’ve been there, though I drive past it on my commute every single day and think about stopping. We took advantage of the incredible weekend weather to go out for a wander.

Taking photos of the boys is more of an adventure than it used to be. I told them to “go over there so I can take your picture.” The posing and art direction was left up to them.

fun family photos in Ottawa

I call it “Album Cover, Autumn 2017 edition.” 😉

I think this would be an acceptable alternate cover.

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

Some of them are more willing to pose for me than others. It depends on the day which kid is in which category!

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

(Oh my heart!)

fun family photos in Ottawa

autumn wander at hogsback simon

(Yes, that’s my camera. Good thing I carry a spare in my pocket!)

Did I mention it’s been a FEW years since we were up on the lookout?

fun family photos in Ottawa

We have a few favourite spots we go to year after year. I’m making sure that Hogsback Falls is put back into rotation from now on!


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Now that it is October, the fiery reds, oranges and yellows of autumn are almost upon us! I think the fall colours are a little late this year, compared to other years. (One of many benefits of having an archive of thousands of photos taken in every season!)

Parliament Hill in Ottawa on an autumn morning

Whether you’re looking for a colourful foliage backdrop for family portraits, the best time for breathtaking landscape photographs, or just planning a peaceful wander at a local hiking trail, you’ll find these tools helpful in tracking when the autumn leaves will be at their most colourful in Ottawa, eastern Ontario and western Quebec, and even the United States. (If you’re not in these areas and have a local guide to fall colour, please share it in the comments!)

Autumn on the Rideau Canal

This fall colour report for Ontario Parks provides detailed descriptions of the percentage of colour change, dominant leaf colour, and percentage of fallen leaves for each of Ontario’s provincial parks. It also provides a recommendation of the best viewing location in each park. Be sure to take a glance at the date in each location’s report – some seem to be updated more regularly than others.

Quebec’s tourism office also provides an interactive map of fall colours in key locations across the province. It’s not as detailed as the Ontario Parks map, though, showing only an icon of the dominant colour and indicators like “early” and “mid” and “near peak.” It’s updated every Thursday.

Morning on the Rideau River in autumn

For those of you in the USA, there’s a comprehensive map showing the fall colour progression right across the country. It even predicts when the colour will be at its peak and beyond, through the middle of November.

If you’re planning a family excursion to enjoy the fall colours, consider hiring me as your own personal photographer to document the morning or afternoon. Autumn is a wonderful time for family photography, and I know a few great places off the beaten path that are especially beautiful this time of year. If you’d like to know more about my photography packages, visit my Ottawa family photography website. I have a few weekend openings available between now and the end of October, but they’ll book up quickly!


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Sometimes, when you’re on your way to work and you see an amazing photograph in the making, ya just gotta stop the car and grab it.

Sunrise on the Rideau Canal

Like this sunrise over the Rideau Canal. In just a few days, the sun will be rising later, and a little bit more to the south. Today, though, it was nothing short of stunning.

Carpe diem, friends. Seize the day and celebrate beauty where you can.


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Did you know that there’s a 10,000 year old sand dune hiding in a pine forest in suburban Ottawa?

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Neat, right?

dune_2008map The sand dune in the Pinhey Forest is an ancient remnant of the last ice age, when what we now know as Ottawa was submerged under the great Champlain Sea. Even 100 years ago, the dune system was up to 10 times larger than it is today, stretching from Woodroffe across Slack to Merivale Road, but suburban homes, businesses and well-intentioned tree planting by the National Capital Commission in the 1950s have reduced it to a fraction of its former size. This graphic from the Biodiversity Conservancy shows the dune size as shown in 1925 aerial images outlined against the current dune inside the yellow dotted line.

I have been hearing about the sand dune hidden in a pine forest in the Greenbelt for years. Finally, one day toward the end of summer, two of the three boys and I set off on a little adventure to check it out.

I’ve driven down Slack Road countless times, and had no clue about the unique and fascinating ecosystem hiding behind behind the pine trees, but it’s certainly accessible when you set out to look for it. Park on the street near the mailboxes on Pineland Ave near Vaan Drive and you’ll see the entrance to the dunes. It’s truly hidden in plain sight.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Parts of the dunes are roped off, but there is plenty of room to walk around and explore. When the boys noticed some of the posts had been knocked down, they stopped to prop them back up again.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

We poked around the edges of the dunes, noting the towering pines in one area, and the oak and maples flourishing in another. Be careful, we noticed a few places where poison ivy was also flourishing. You can see how leaves and pine needles would fall and decompose, creating a mulch that would allow plants that wouldn’t ordinarily thrive in sand to take hold and encroach on the dunes.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Not only is the dune an interesting geological artifact, but it’s home to plants and insects that don’t live anywhere else in the city. Conservationists are working to protect the dunes against the constant encroachment of native and invasive plant species. We originally thought these tables were part of an archaeological dig, but on reflection I’m betting they are used to filter the sand of other bio material.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Like most National Capital Commission trails, you’ll find a few picnic tables and even a washroom on the site. Exploring the dunes was a quick excursion – I’d be surprised if we were there more than an hour, even with a bit of poking around the walking paths through the surrounding forests. It made for an interesting set of conversations about the geological history of Ottawa, though, and about how people and nature leave their footprints on ecosystems. The boys were intrigued by the idea of a desert hiding in plain sight in a neighbourhood we drive past regularly.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

There’s more information about efforts to preserve the dunes and some of the unique plants and insects on the Biodiversity Conservancy website. It would be interesting to go back in the heart of winter to see the dunes in various seasons.

Did you know about the secret sand dunes hiding in the Greenbelt? Have you visited? What did you think?


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While La Machine might have been the most amazing street spectacle ever to visit Ottawa (no hyperbole here!) it’s not too late to visit Ottawa’s other fabulous FREE summer shows. If you’re into light shows, I hear Kontinuum and the Northern Lights show on Parliament Hill are both awesome, but we were blown away (again!) by the spectacle that is MosaiCanada.

MosaiCanada-2

What is MosaiCanada? A beautiful tribute to Canadian culture embodied in the most amazing living sculptures, created from millions of annual plants and flowers. You are led on a wandering path past a life-sized replica of a CP rail station and passenger train with steam locomotive, past dragons and foxes and prospectors and totems and hockey players and Mother Earth herself.

It. is. amazing.

MosaiCanada-4

I loved it, the kids loved it. It was terribly hot, blazingly sunny and ridiculously crowded the day we went, and we still loved it. Tristan loved the dragons with their Asian flair (sadly, not quite as cool as Long Ma), Simon liked the hockey players and the northern lights, and Lucas loved Mother Earth so much that he asked to borrow my phone so he could take his own photo of her.

MosaiCanada-5

Though I loved Mother Earth in her majesty, and Anne of Green Gables waiting patiently outside the station on her suitcases, it was the tiny details I loved most – the play of colours, the way the sculptures interacted with one another, the incredible detail in each piece. Really, I only took a few photos because it’s the kind of thing that pictures simply cannot do justice. You need to experience it in real life to get it.

MosaiCanada-3

This is a perfect adventure for families of all ages and sizes. The paths are wide and stroller-friendly, and there are benches often if one neds to stop and rest, as well as plenty of seats in the shade. Kids can wander, within reason, and can get quite close before the rope barriers remind them not to touch. The colours are breathtaking, and the flowers achingly beautiful. It took us a little shy of two hours including a four-block walk to and from parking on a busy summer morning to take it in.

And it’s FREE! Parking can be expensive, but we found free two hour parking on the streets just north of Jacques Cartier Park on a Tuesday morning. This one is definitely worth a morning or afternoon out – I’ll be heading back in the fall to see if or how the seasons change the sculptures.

MosaiCanada-1

If you go: MosaiCanada is at Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau through October 15, 2017. It’s open 10 am to 7 pm every day. Admission is free, but expect a queue during peak times. Guided tours are available for $10 (we just read the plentiful signs near each sculpture.) Parking on site is $20, but there are less expensive and free options within a three or four block walk. See the MosaiCanada site for more details.


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Photos of the day: La Machine in Ottawa

28 July 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

It isn’t every day that one gets to see a giant spider and a three-story tall dragon performed street theatre on busy Ottawa streets. I was curious to see La Machine, the unique street theatre presentation featuring a giant mechanical spider and a steam-and-fire breathing horse-dragon, but was leery of the crowds. In the end, […]

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Photos of the day: Manotick’s Remembrance Park sculpture by Nathan Scott

5 July 2017 Ottawa's hidden treasures

I have been watching the progress of Manotick’s new Remembrance Park over the last few months. It’s a beautiful project in the town square beside Watson’s Mill, designed with six gardens to honour the branches of the Canadian military and those who support them. I had no idea there would be a life-sized bronze sculpture […]

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A tulip story

16 May 2017 Life in Ottawa

Five years ago, I got some of my favourite photographs of Parliament Hill, as seen over the tulip beds behind the Canadian Museum of History. Though I’ve taken many, many, MANY photos of the tulips and the Parliament Buildings since then, I thought this would be a good year to go back and revisit those […]

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A Visitor’s Guide to Ottawa 2017 Family Fun

10 February 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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