One of Ottawa’s hidden treasures: Victoria Island

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.

big old wall

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.

parliament hill

You could say Victoria Island is a stone’s throw away from both downtown Ottawa and downtown Hull, erm, I mean Gatineau…

throwing rocks

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.

tipi and parliament

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.

kids 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.

Two waterparks for Ottawa

I get a tonne of traffic googling Ottawa’s new water park. Next summer promises to be a wet one as there are not one but TWO water parks opening in the capital. In the east end, there’s Calypso, which promises to be Canada’s largest water park — cool! And in the west end near Barrhaven, we will have Alottawata off Moodie near the 416. Both are scheduled to open in June 2010.

Edited to add: Alottawata Park has now delayed their opening until June 2012, but you can see pictures from my special sneak peek preview of Calypso Water Park or read about our visit to Calypso park the first week it opened. Fun! And check my “Ottawa Family Fun” archives for more suggestions on great things to see and do in Ottawa!

Fun at the Gloucester Fair

I love the fair. I’ve been going to the fair, whether London’s Western Fair or Ottawa’s SuperEx, for as long as I can remember. I love the fair so much that I even love those little mini-fairs they set up in the parking lot of the strip mall, with half a dozen rides and a stand to buy candy floss and caramel apples at outrageous prices. I don’t go on the rides anymore, but the boys are now at an age where they can ride by themselves, and I get as much enjoyment out of watching them as I ever did riding myself. It’s not about the rides, though. It’s about the whole thing — the games, the grime, the fat cables snaking across the ground, the carnies, the noise, the colours, the lights, the distinctive smell of fried foods and axel grease… what’s not to love?

Ferris wheel

We brought the boys to the Gloucester Fair yesterday with my mom. (The love of fairs is genetic. Almost every fair we attend, and we average two or three a year, we usually bring Granny and Papa Lou along for the ride.) It was one of those days where everything was perfect — warm and sunny but not hot, busy but the line-ups were short, and we had a darn near perfect late-afternoon-into-evening.

The boys had pay-one-price wristbands for the rides, but I think they like the games even more than the rides.


That’s not to say they didn’t enjoy the rides!

122:365 At the fair

It’s rare that I get all three boys in the same picture, and I think this is their first ride together. (I’ve got a death-grip on Lukey’s thigh as I lean back and snap this with one hand — not an easy feat with an SLR!)

122c:365 Brothers on the carousel

Of course, an integral part of the fair experience is the food, in this case a pulled pork sandwich. I had a pogo and fries that left my stomach roiling as if I’d taken three spins on the Scrambler — but they were delicious.


I like the Gloucester Fair because it’s small, and because aside from the midway, there’s a stretch of fun stuff for the kids like a petting zoo, a stretch of hay-bales set into a maze, a fire truck for the kids to climb on, and other things you might find at a community block party. Lucas was so fascinated by this hula hoop near the hay bales that I didn’t think we were going to get him to leave it behind.

Lucas and the hula hoop

It made my heart swell watching him toddle around in that distinctively stiff-legged new-walker way, where it’s like they’re running downhill even on a flat surface because they can’t quite control the momentum of their forward movement yet. Such a short phase, but one of my favourites!

Not quite silhouette

And the caramel apples? Best I’ve had in years — perfectly tart apples with creamy caramel. Mmmmm. Every day should be so sweet.

(The Gloucester Fair runs the third weekend in May every year at the Rideau Carleton Raceway. Today is the last day.)

Free museum admissions in Ottawa on May 18

Looking for something to do in Ottawa tomorrow? May 18, 2009 is International Museum day, and you can get free admission to all or part of the exhibits at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian War Museum, the Nature Museum and the National Gallery, among others.

I think we’ll be checking out the Mythic Beasts exhibit at the Museum of Civilization. If you haven’t already done so, consider combining a visit to the Tulip Festival (Monday is the last day!) at Major’s Hill Park with a visit to the National Gallery. Should be a beautiful and bright (if not terribly warm) day for it!

105b:365 National Gallery from the ferris wheel

It’s Tulip Festival time!

I’m not much of a Winterlude girl, but I do love Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. (How can I not love a festival that’s mere steps outside my office door, jam-packed with gorgeous subjects for my 365 project?)

102b:365 Tulips!

There’s some cool stuff going on in the Tulip Festival this year, too — truly a little something for everyone. You’re too late for Margaret Atwood (one of my heroes) or Rick Mercer (my old nemesis from year one of the Canadian blog awards), but there are plenty of other intriguing presentations as part of the Celebridée speakers’ series. You can also see an acrobatic troupe or even try out the trapeeze yourself. Or, you can do what I’ve been doing and just wander around and enjoy the vibrant colours that the tulips splash throughout our winter-dulled city.

102:365 Tulip artist

I love playing tour-guide when we have visitors, and I always tell the story of why Ottawa has a tulip festival in the first place. During World War II, the Dutch royal family stayed in Ottawa, and Queen Julianna’s daughter Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa’s Civic Hospital. For her birth, the maternity ward of the Civic (where Tristan and Simon were both born) was declared “Dutch soil”. After the war, the Dutch people sent 100,000 tulips to the city as a thank you, and now more than half a million tulips bloom here each year.

105:365 Tulips and the Peace Tower

This is my favourite tulip festival picture so far. (Hey, we still have more than 10 days to go!) I’m riding on the vintage ferris wheel, circa 1917, and used the bars to frame the National Gallery of Canada. A little something different from your everyday tourist shot of the Gallery! (Just don’t tell my mom that I practically fell out of the chair trying to get a low enough perspective that I didn’t cut off the top of the Gallery. Shhhh!)

105b:365 National Gallery from the ferris wheel

The Canadian (I like to think of it as the Ottawa) Tulip Festival runs through May 18, and there are some reasonably-priced and even free events for a wide range of audiences. It’s worth the effort to come downtown for this one!

Sugar, sugar (maple, maple!)

Hey Ottawa peeps – got a question for you! Now that the snow is melting and the sun is bright, the sap is running and it’s maple syrup season again. Hooray for spring!!

My brother and his family are coming up to visit for the March Break, and I thought it would be fun to do Sunday morning breakfast at a sugar shack, so I’m collating a list of the best ones in the area. Bare necessities include family-friendly pancake breakfast and maple taffy on the snow, but bonus points for easy hiking trails, wagon rides, animals, and play structures or activities for the kids. I’d prefer something on the Ontario side of the river, but if you know of a really stellar cabane à sucre in la belle province, let me know! Charm also wins out over cafeteria-style folding chairs and stacking tables.

Mmmmm, maple sugar…

And, à propos of nothing, but possibly segueing on the theme of spring, can I show off this picture that I took yesterday that I think is one of my best so far?

48:365 Fence posts 2 of 2

Sort of captures the whole spring-melt-sunshine-on-snow feeling of maple season, doesn’t it?