My friend Todd and I, together with seven kids — my three, two of his three, and two cousins — ranging in age from 17 months to 10 years old, had the most lovely adventure yesterday morning and I highly recommend it as a family excusion in Ottawa. (Why is it far easier for two people to manage seven kids than one person to manage three? The physics of parenting never fails to perplex me!)
We visited Victoria Island and Aborignal Experiences. Never heard of them? I know, and it’s a shame. I’d been wanting to explore Victoria Island for some time. You’ve driven over it if you’ve crossed the Chaudiere Bridge, but have you ever stopped to take a closer look? You should!
Fifty years ago, families lived on Victoria Island, but now with the exception of the Aboriginal Experiences site and a few unmarked buildings, the island has largely returned to it’s natural state. It’s such an incongruous place, lushly green and lightly forested and peppered with ruins of the industrial age, but just steps from the heart of the nation’s capital. The outer walls of this century-old but long-since abandoned carbide mill still stand, and they’re doing some sort of construction work on it.
I’m not even sure what this used to be — part of a hydro project, I think. I was fascinated by the various ruins, though, and would like to do more research.
We arrived (an easy drive — just follow Booth to where the new War Museum is and turn right off the Chaudiere Bridge if you’re coming from Ottawa) at about ten in the morning, a full hour before Aboriginal Experiences opened for the day. Conveniently, it took us about an hour to walk the eastern perimeter of the island, with plenty of stops to peek over outlooks, examine gopher holes and climb random hills.
There are beautiful views of the Alexandria Bridge, the National Gallery, the Supreme Court building and of course, Parliament Hill, from the eastern tip of the island.
You could say Victoria Island is a stone’s throw away from both downtown Ottawa and downtown Hull, erm, I mean Gatineau…
After an easy loop that brought us under the Portage bridge but not as far as Chaudiere Falls (I’m saving that for the next visit – stay tuned!) at the western-most part of the island, we arrived back at our starting point and, conveniently, the Aboriginal Experiences site.
I knew that pow-wows and other aboriginal activities took place on special occasions on Victoria Island, but I had no idea there was a permanent (May through October) museum set up there.
There are different tour packages available. With limited time and short attention spans, we chose the basic “Legends” package that got us into the Aboriginal Experiences site and an interpretive tour. (Other packages include authentic Pow-Wow dances, storytelling theatre, crafts, and traditional lunches.) Once we got in the door, though, we still had a half an hour to pass before our tour began. I was a little worried that the kids would start getting antsy, but I was amazed at how content they were simply to explore the (relatively small) site in the way that only kids can do.
I think Tristan and Keegan spent the full half hour in this perfectly-climbable tree near the river’s edge.
Lucas was fascinated by the Turtle clan’s tipi.
I think maybe the First Nations people had the right idea, if they intended this as a kid-cage.
In the end, I think letting the kids run wild for an hour and a half did a lot to improve their attention spans for the 40 minute interpretive tour. I have to admit, I was impressed that they were actually paying attention and even asked a few questions. I was highly impressed by the young woman who hosted our tour — by her ease in presenting, her patience with a 17-month old who wanted to steal the show, and by how much I learned.
I was particularly fascinated by how the Iroqouis nations were matrilineal, meaning the women chose their husbands and when they did, the husband forfeited his clan and his family to join the wife’s family. (Fine for me to do, not so fine for my boys to do!!!)
It was a really interesting and unique way to spend a cloudy, grey summer morning. From the local Ottawa history in the ruins to the greater Aboriginal history of the island, it was fascinating to me and at least acceptably interesting to the kids. It’s definitely worth checking it out!
Next time I go back, I want to explore the Chaudiere side of the island, and I’ll be bringing this really neat history of the island and its buildings that I just discovered with me for reference.