Life in Ottawa

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?


{ 3 comments }

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.


{ 2 comments }

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, we decided to go as a family to see Long Ma, the giant horse-dragon, “awaken” at City Hall this morning.

It. was. amazing.

This was the scene when we arrived: Long Ma sleeping in front of Ottawa City Hall.

Long ma awakens #lamachine

You can see the little fellow in front of me did not appreciate the efforts of the musicians playing to awaken the dragon. (You can see them on the pedestal.)

It didn’t take long for Long Ma to awaken and start moving, and then to start breathing fire and steam.

Long ma awakens #lamachine-2

Long ma awakens #lamachine-3

And then, to our surprised delight, it started moving – right toward us!

Long ma awakens #lamachine-7

We had to retreat to let it pass by. (Look at that tongue – how cool is that?)

Long ma awakens #lamachine-10

Long Ma rolled off down Laurier and then Elgin streets, in search of Kumo the giant spider. So. Many. People.

Long ma awakens #lamachine-12

It was truly extraordinary, and worth braving the downtown crowds to see it – although I’m not sure I’ll be able to entice the family downtown to go in search of Kumo the spider. I’d love to see their final “battle” on Sunday but I fear half the city will be there. If you’re curious, you can read the back story behind the event on the La Machine page on the Ottawa 2017 site. The gist of it is that Kumo has stolen Long Ma’s wings, and has been disturbed from her rest by the underground work on the LRT downtown, and now Long Ma roams the city in search of them.

If you do go, I’d suggest bringing water bottles and sunscreen, a decent camera and a bucketload of patience. We were downtown at least an hour early, parked four blocks away, and the crowds were still intense – but at least good-natured. I think it will only get more crazy as the weekend goes on. There are also a few more photos on Mothership Photography’s facebook page.

Have you been downtown to see Kumo and Long Ma? What did you think?


{ 2 comments }

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 in the park until I was commissioned by the sculptor himself to come out and take a few photos of him and his art the day after it was unveiled. Nathan Scott, a Canadian sculptor based in British Columbia, is perhaps best known for his sculpture of Terry Fox at Mile 0. He has pieces installed across Canada, and now, we have one of our very own right here in Manotick.

Manotick's new memorial garden

I can’t imagine a more beautiful, perfect addition to our community.

Manotick's new memorial garden

You know what’s especially cool? The figures are based on Nathan Scott’s own daughter and father. They are truly lovely, evocative and warm.

Manotick's new memorial garden

The sculpture, placed in the middle of a square without a visible base (it’s below the bricks), invite you to come closer to admire the details in the bronze work, or to interact with the figures.

Manotick's new memorial garden

Chatting with Nathan, an obvious family man with five (or was it six?) kids, made it easy to see where the warmth and love come from in the sculpture. I could have chatted with him about his inspiration and his processes all day!

I’m so pleased to have this amazing new gathering place at the heart of Manotick, where it can be seen and touched and admired. The sculpture is a loving tribute to both the aging veteran and all he stands for, and the power of family ties. I hope it provokes memories and conversations about the importance of remembering for generations to come.

Manotick's new memorial garden


{ 0 comments }

A tulip story

by DaniGirl on May 16, 2017 · 0 comments

in Life in Ottawa, Photo of the Day

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.

Pretty Parliament

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 iconic shots with a better camera, a better lens and frankly, better technical chops.

It’s a bit longer of a walk from where I’m working now to the History Museum, but I showed up for work early to buy myself some extra lunch hour, ate my lunch early at my desk, and set off with my camera into a perfect spring day.

It’s been about a week since the flooded Ottawa River crested, and parts of the foot path that had been submerged just last week were clear and dry.

(I quite liked this shot from last Tuesday, the day the flood waters crested. None shall pass on this submerged multi-use path behind the Library and Archives buildings!)

Photo of Ottawa flooding by Danielle Donders

When I crossed the Portage Bridge, the waters were still high and raging. The sound of rushing water was still powerful – but not as intense as last week.

As I crossed over to the Quebec side and picked up the multi-use path on the other side of the river, there were clues to which perhaps I should have paid more attention. But, I did not.

Photo of blocked path by Daniele Donders

You’d think this would be a clue to which I should have paid attention.

Photo of sinkhole in bike path by Danielle Donders

The water was washing right up on to the path in a few spots. Still, I did not take the hint.

Photo of flooded bike path by Danielle Donders

You’d really think this would have been a sign of things to come. (Get it? Sign? I slay me.)

Photo of underwater sign by Danielle Donders

Nevertheless, she persisted. And what she found when she finally arrived at the back lawn of the History Museum, looking out over the still-swollen Ottawa River and the Parliament Buildings beyond, was one sad little tulip, and the remains of a tulip bed that had been, until very recently, completely underwater. Ottawa’s great flood of 2017 was not kind to the flower beds.

Photo of tulip and Ottawa flood by Danielle Donders

Alas, poor tulips, I knew them well.

I guess we’ll have to wait until Spring 2018 to revisit that iconic tulip shot from behind the History Museum. If anybody needs me, I’ll be on Parliament Hill. They chose it for its elevation – the flood waters never came anywhere near these beauties!

Photo by Danielle Donders


{ 0 comments }

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.

ottawa2017-footer-logo

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?


{ 7 comments }

Photos of the day: Reflections of Parliament

23 January 2017 Life in Ottawa

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 […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Ho- Ho- Hooray for Holiday Parades 2016

11 November 2016 Happy holidays

Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions! Welcome to the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. Can you believe we’ve been doing this post for eleven years? I’m a bit later posting this year’s list, and I can […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Photos of the day: Perfect autumn morning in downtown Ottawa

21 October 2016 Life in Ottawa

I don’t miss the commute home from working downtown, but this season especially I have really missed poking around on my lunch breaks with my camera. When I was invited to attend a conference at the National Gallery this week, I set my alarm to arrive extra early and give myself some time to creep […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Photos of the day: Piano in the Park at Watson’s Mill

25 September 2016 Lucas

I had heard about Pianos in the Park, but didn’t realize until this week that they had installed a piano right around the corner from us at our favourite place. The Ottawa version of Pianos in the Park (apparently it’s an international movement) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing pianos to local parks. They’ve […]

4 comments Read the full article →