From the category archives:

Ottawa’s hidden treasures

I have been living in Ottawa for more than 25 years and recommending Rideau Hall as a destination and activity for free Ottawa family fun for nearly a decade, so I figured it was high time we actually headed over and checked it out. It was, to be honest, not at all what I expected. And even though I’ve seen it on the news dozens of times and you can hardly escape hearing about it if you live in Ottawa, I truly think this one qualifies as one of Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures!

I knew that we would see the Ceremonial Guard. They do a changing of the guard ceremony each hour through the summer tourist months, and we happened to arrive just in time.

A visit to Rideau Hall

And while I had a vague idea that there were lovely grounds to walk, I was delighted by the gorgeous green gardens with towering trees and unexpected treasures placed here and there like this totem pole.

A visit to Rideau Hall-2

The main building is well back from the front gate where the changing of the guard takes place. Because there is no entrance fee nor checkpoint through which to file, we didn’t realize that during the early afternoon access to the residence and main building is only by guided tour. A helpful guide stationed nearby explained that if we were to return after 3 pm, we would be able to take a self-guided tour at our own pace, and I would be free to take photos. Photos are not allowed during the guided tour.

A 40-minute tour seemed a little beyond the comfort level of my wrangy companions, so we decided to either come back later in the day or another day for a self-guided tour. As we were walking away, the boys wanted to check out the big fountain to “see if the water is warm.”

A visit to Rideau Hall-3

I had read that there were children’s activities, so we headed loosely back in the direction of the visitor’s centre near where we had entered. Just wandering the grounds without even entering any of the buildings is a lovely outing in itself.

A visit to Rideau Hall-4

A visit to Rideau Hall-5

The boys are headed toward a small playstructure tucked away in one corner. :) As I wandered around, all I could think was “oh my goodness, what an amazing location this would be for family portraits!” I wondered if there was a fee to shoot portraits on the grounds, or if a permit is required. (Did you know you now need a permit to shoot professional portraits in the arboretum?)

After a pause on the play structure, we headed over to the visitor’s centre next door to ask about the children’s activities. We stopped on the way to check out the flags. Lucas knew right away which flag represents Prince Edward Island – the whole family is truly and completely smitten with the province!

A visit to Rideau Hall-6

The children’s activities comprised, at first glance, a couple of small tables set up with colouring sheets, pencil crayons and markers, and some board puzzle cut-outs of various Governors-General coats of arms. The oldest and youngest boys are magnetically drawn to any artistic activity, so they were instantly engaged. So too was the middlest boy, who is magnetically drawn to anything with a screen and an internet connection – in this case, the gg.ca website!

A visit to Rideau Hall-7

I was flipping through the guest book, marveling at how far some travelers had come and enjoying their comments, when the young docent stationed in the visitor’s centre asked if we would mind if the official photographer came by and took some pictures of the boys colouring for potential use on the GG’s website. I laughed and said they certainly were experienced in that, and since they were still fully engaged in creating their coats of arms and didn’t mind, I said sure. A few minutes later, a photographer and his assistant with an arm full of model releases showed up.

A visit to Rideau Hall-8

Altogether, we probably spent the vast proportion of our time at Rideau Hall in the visitor’s centre between waiting for the photographer to arrive and Lucas’s insistence that we not leave until he finished his coat of arms, and the young docent’s easy chatter and eager explanations made the afternoon for us. He explained how it works when the Royal Family visit (we had speculated on that in the car ride over), the various seasonal activities for the public, and shared interesting insight and minutiae about Rideau Hall. We talked about the complexities of the Governor General living in the midst of such a public place, and he mentioned how you can always tell when the Governor General’s grandchildren are on site because of the row of bikes near the residence. He told us that His Excellency so loves to read to his grandchildren that they call him “Grandpa Book.” Isn’t that the most charming thing?

And then he pointed out that the boys could try on the knight’s helmets that I thought were merely decoration. Of course, the boys were all over that.

Sir Tristan:

A visit to Rideau Hall-9

And Sir Lucas:

Sir Lucas

(Sir Simon declined to be photographed.)

On my way out, I remembered to ask the question I had been wondering about: could we take formal family portraits on the grounds? Of course, answered the docent, “this all belongs to the people.” I love that! Who wants to do portraits at Rideau Hall???

So even though we never actually made it inside Rideau Hall itself, we had a lovely visit nonetheless. If you do go, be sure to engage the helpful and knowledgeable staff – they are everywhere, and the several with whom we spoke seemed to genuinely enjoy sharing their time and knowledge. If you’ve never been, I recommend this as a refreshingly low-key but entirely pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

If you go: Rideau Hall is located at 1 Sussex Drive. Short-term parking is free on local streets. You can enter through several gates on the grounds. See the Relief of the Sentries at the front gate every hour on the hour from 9 am to 5 pm through August 23. Admission is completely free! See the Rideau Hall website for additional details.


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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 ;) 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. ;) And Happy Canada Day to you all, too!


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For years I’ve been meaning to check out the boat rentals at Dow’s Lake. I rented a canoe once a million years ago, maybe before Beloved and I even met, but ever since we’ve had kids I’ve been thinking about going back and renting a peddle boat or two and splashing around the Canal. I had visions of happy, smiling kids burning off their excess energy, of close-up encounters with ducks and whatever creatures live in the lake, of sunshine and water and summertime joy.

Uh huh.

So my advice to you is that this is a really fun and relatively inexpensive excursion, with a couple of caveats. First, do not go on the hottest day of the summer, and do not delude yourself that going early in the day will make a difference. We went a week ago last Sunday, and it was sweltering even at 10 o’clock in the morning. You may also want to avoid 11-year-olds who get surly over wearing a lifejacket, and 9-year-olds who decide they’re too tired to pedal after the first 10 minutes. And be aware that despite what the people at the rental desk are calling to you from the deck, the rudder may be so finicky that you get stuck turning in counterclockwise circles about every 10 minutes, thus impeding your egress from the harbour, elevating your already elevated body temperature and perhaps adding to the overall surliness in your pedal boat.

Once you master the finicky rudder, however, you may be rewarded by close encounters with ducks after all.

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

And playing a gentle game of bumper boats will go a long way to restoring everyone’s equilibrium.

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

And if you stop pedalling and just put your feet up for a few minutes, it’s not so infernally hot after all.

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

Despite the heat and the elevated risk of crankiness, we all ended up having a good — but short — time. We’d rented two boats for an hour and I don’t think we lasted 45 minutes — but we also barely made it around to the edge of the arboretum and back. (Given the number of circles we turned trying to master the rudder, had we simply pedaled straight I’m pretty sure we could have made it most of the way to the NAC. And back.) It was an affordable little adventure at $15 per boat per hour, and $3.50 for parking across the street. Now that I know Lucas is old enough to sit still, I think next time we’ll go for a canoe instead of a peddle boat. And maybe choose a day where the mercury tops out under 35C.

If you go:
Dow’s Lake summer rentals:

  • Canoe, kayak and peddle boat rentals, starting at $15 per hour
  • A $20 deposit and government-issued ID required
  • Open 7 days a week (WEATHER PERMITTING), beginning after the water reaches navigation levels in May, until the Thanksgiving weekend in October. The hours vary with the seasons and also with the weather.
  • See website for additional details

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If you’re looking for something fun to do with the kids around Ottawa sometime in the next few days, I highly recommend a wee adventure at Rideau Pines Farm for berry picking.

Although we’ve gone on excursions to pick apples, pumpkins and even Christmas trees, we have never yet managed to go strawberry picking, although I have been intending to do it with the boys for years. In fact, I have never been strawberry picking and so was not exactly sure what to expect. Since Friday was a rare clear and warm (albeit sticky and humid) day, I was afraid it would be terribly busy and I was also worried it might be swampy after all the rain we’ve had. I was wrong on both counts.

After a goodly wander to the furthest field in the farm, we had the place to ourselves.

Strawberry picking 2013

One of the farm hands warned us that it was toward the end of the season and the berries weren’t as plentiful, but I can’t imagine how it must have been before because we had no trouble founding a bounty of berries to pick.

Strawberry picking 2013

Strawberry picking 2013

Strawberry picking 2013

We may have snacked on a few, too. :)

Strawberry picking 2013

We also inspected a few other familiar crops, like runner beans and squash and tomatoes and our new favourite, kale!

untitled.jpg

And on our way back we picked a few currants and raspberries, too!

Strawberry picking 2013

In addition to our investment of $4 for two pints (give or take) of strawberries, we bought some new potatoes that went perfectly with a little garlic scapes for dinner. They have all sorts of other fruits, veggies and honey in season throughout the year.

I’m sure there are lots of great places to pick strawberries around Ottawa, but we were deeply charmed by Rideau Pines Farm, and we’ve found a new summer adventure to repeat every year. Their website suggests you call ahead before you visit to make sure there are still berries to be picked. The number is (613) 489-3601.

If you go:
Rideau Pines Farm
5714 Fourth Line Rd
North Gower ON
K0A 2T0


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Yesterday was my (gasp!) 43rd birthday. I was going to write a post about wondering about how I got to be so old, but I don’t really feel that way. The number still freaks me out a bit — it’s a really far stretch from my 30s, where I seem to live in my heart — but I had a really terrific day with my menfolk and so I thought I’d ramble on a bit about that instead.

We had no real plan for the day except to do something when Beloved mentioned a road trip to Wakefield Quebec, somewhere we’ve idly chatted about going several times. There’s a bakery there that had been recommended to him (it’s one of Beloved’s ongoing laments that there’s no decent bakery in Manotick) and I’d wanted to visit the covered bridge for ages. Less than 20 minutes later, we were in the car.

Wakefield, if you don’t know it, is a tiny little community about 20 minutes north of Ottawa on the Quebec side of the Ottawa river. In fact, I called our day trip the three rivers tour, because we followed the Rideau north, crossed the Ottawa, and ended up on the shores of the Gatineau. If you’ve heard of Wakefield, it’s probably either for the Black Sheep Inn, a great spot for live music, or because of this gorgeous covered bridge.

Wakefield

Wakefield

Wakefield

The original bridge burned down in 1984, and the community came together to rebuild it. It was re-opened in 1997. There’s a set of steps down to the river from one side that leads to a set of flat (and as Lucas wetly discovered, very slippery) rocks where you can wade to cut the heat of a muggy summer day.

Wakefield

I’m taking an on-location portrait lighting workshop right now, and I had a homework assignment to complete. (On my birthday! Shameful!) One of my goals in taking this workshop was to master this type of shot, where you use your flash in a fairly bright daylight situation. I had a few very patient models, especially when they were able to take turns being my “voice activated lighting stands.”

Wakefield

Wakefield

This may be my favourite shot of a very photogenic day:

Wakefield

The covered bridge isn’t quite within comfortable walking distance of the heart of the village, especially when you’re wrangling a hungry herd and the skies are growing more threatening by the minute, so we hopped in the car and looped back into town for lunch. Maybe it was because I was hungry myself, but everything looked delicious and on a summer Wednesday at lunch time, we had our choice of places to eat. We settled on Kaffe 1870 because they seemed reasonably kid-friendly, and had a delicious and inexpensive lunch. The light in the front room was also delicious:

Wakefield

And then we just wandered for a bit, in and out of some interesting shops including the bakery and a candy store and the eclectic fun of Jamboree. It’s an incredibly picturesque little village.

Wakefield

Wakefield

Wakefield

The one thing I didn’t get a picture of (hard to do it while you’re driving through looping mountain roads at 90 km/h) is the fact that the trees are already starting to change colour in many places. Can you believe that? It must be the drought this year. I’ve been surprised to see shoots of red in the forest on Labour Day weekend, but I can’t think of a year when I’ve seen fall colour creeping in as early as my birthday. What a crazy year.

I can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday than exploring a beautiful new place with my favourite people, and I can’t believe we’ve never gotten around to visiting Wakefield before. It certainly won’t be long before we go back.


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Oops! I started writing this post two three weeks ago, but just got around to finishing it today. My life? Is filled to bursting right about now. Lucky for me, I like it that way!

My friends at Fisher-Price wanted me to share my thoughts on joy with you, because one of their favourite themes is the joy of learning. What better inspiration for joy than talking about Mother’s Day?

We had a wonderful adventure-filled day on Mother’s Day this year! We spent the day exploring antiques and flea markets in Almonte, something I’ve wanted to do for ages. (I admit it, I totally pulled the “I don’t really care if you don’t want to go looking at antique stores and junk shops, darlings! It’s Mother’s Day, get in the car and stop complaining!”)

Our first stop was the Almonte Flea Market. It was a little smaller than we’d hoped, but they still had some interesting things. One of the most interesting was not for sale — this old car. How fun would it be to tool around in that for a day?

HipstaPrint

We’ve never been to Almonte before, but I’ve always meant to visit. It’s just barely outside of Ottawa’s border. I had heard it was picturesque, but was still surprised by what a lovely little town it is. We wandered the main strip, poking into shops here and there, and reminding the boys that there would be no complaining about the browsing on Mother’s Day. (Um, can we have a Mother’s Day every week from now on?)

Mother's Day in Almonte

There were three reasons I wanted to visit Almonte. One was the flea market. Check! Second was because I’d heard the Riverwalk and old mills were lovely. Check!

Almonte riverwalk

And last but not least, I had been itching to visit the Tin Barn Market. What a great little place! I had to try reeeeally hard to not buy an amazingly funky printer’s letter drawer (useless, maybe, but oh so vintagey good!) and an antique wooden tripod, but I could simply not resist a few wooden clothespegs and a charming retro-modern watch pendant. Happy Mother’s Day to me! :)

I have to admit, it was just about a perfect Mother’s Day. And then we went home and I cut the back grass and cleaned a few toilets (sigh, really!) and made dinner for the whole family including my own mom and dad. Because that’s just how life goes these days — lots of time for joy, as long as you get a few chores out of the way, too.

I’m a little late with the question, but was your Mother’s Day joyous too? Can you remember that far back? ;)

Disclosure: I am part of the Fisher-Price Play Panel and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.


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A Capital Walk

18 May 2012 Ottawa's hidden treasures

This post is a part of my ongoing series about “Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures.” I love this one because you have no doubt walked or at least seen a part of this route dozens of times before – but have you ever taken the time to walk the entire loop from the Alexandra Bridge to the [...]

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Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures: RCMP Stables

5 March 2012 Ottawa Family Fun

I have been blogging about raising a family in Ottawa for seven years and this? May be the best discovery of them all. I’ve recommended a tour of the RCMP Musical Ride Centre a couple of times as an excellent idea for free family fun in Ottawa, but I’ve never actually gotten around to doing [...]

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Fun and FREE fitness for Ottawa’s new moms: Strollercize!

22 February 2012 Ottawa Family Fun

It’s hard to believe a whole ten years (!) have passed since I showed up for my first Strollercize outing at Boomerang Kids on Bank Street. I can barely remember being that girl, shy and still overwhelmed by being a new mom, looking for any excuse to get out of the house and interacting with [...]

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Seven days of free family fun in Ottawa!

18 November 2011 My 15 minutes

This week, CBC Ottawa has been doing a series on savvy spenders, featuring ways to save on your groceries and on your clothing budget. And today, they’ll be airing a segment on free activities for families in Ottawa — featuring me and the whole family! It’s been about three years since I wrote what was [...]

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