Ottawa’s hidden treasures

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.

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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?


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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 hardly believe that parade season is starting tomorrow! Here’s all the info I could scare up about the 2016 Santa Claus and Christmas parade line-up, in chronological order:

Photo of Santa Claus at the Christmas parade 2013

[click to continue…]


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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 got them downtown, in Carp, Barrhaven, Riverside South, and about a dozen other location, including one right here in Manotick. This is in the gazebo at AY Jackson park.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

As soon as Tristan heard about it, he wanted to check it out. He’s been teaching himself to play piano from YouTube videos using Synthesia (not unlike Rock Band or Guitar Hero) on our electronic keyboard, but he doesn’t get a chance to play on a real piano very often.

Safe to say, he quite enjoyed it!

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

And so did Lucas, though he was more inclined to discordant banging than any actual harmonies.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

I was intrigued, so I did a little digging to find out more about the project. Founder Nicholas Pope launched Ottawa’s Pianos in the Park in 2014, modeling it on Play Me, I’m Yours, a project started in Britain that now has more than 1,300 pianos in 45 cities around the world. In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Pope said all the local pianos will be painted with Ottawa-specific themes, and that they take anywhere from 40 to 80 hours to finish. So the Manotick piano is in place but not yet painted – although I did notice it smells of fresh varnish.

Amazing, right? I love this so much that I joined the Pianos in the Park group on Facebook, and found out about THIS amazing project being cooked up as a tribute to Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, a traveling piano set to go on tour across Canada this October.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

Have you been to any of the other pianos in Ottawa parks? I’m thinking it would make a fun adventure to tour them all before they’re packed away until next spring.


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Yay, it’s officially summer! I’ve got a short list of five great activities I’d like to do this summer with the boys, and I thought I’d share in case you needed a little inspiration for planning your Ottawa family fun in the next couple of weeks. It’s a sort of a Bucket List of Ottawa Family Fun. If we get most of these checked off, it will have been a summer of awesome adventures. And surprisingly, most of these are things we’ve never tried before.

1. Go zip-lining at Camp Fortune

I loved this idea from the first time I heard about it, and I loved it even more when I got discounted coupons through Groupon earlier this summer. “Visit Camp Fortune for an adventurous zip lining and aerial park excursion. Glide through the trees from stand to stand through one of two courses available. Trekking through the ropes course will include climbing ladders and bridges, while enjoying the beautiful scenery.” Fun, right?

2. Check out the balanced rock sculptures on the Ottawa River

I’ve been meaning to do this for years, if not decades. It’s surprising how few people know about the amazing balanced rock sculptures created by John Ceprano at the Remic rapids on the Ottawa River. I think the boys will be fascinated by them.

3. Go canoeing and/or kayaking

We rented kayaks at the end of last summer at Chapman Mills, and despite the fact that one of our party went swimming unexpectedly, we still had a good time. This may be the summer we try stand-up paddling!

Paddling

4. Learn to Geocache

I know there isn’t a lot to “learn” with Geocaching, but despite having it on my radar for years and knowing the boys would love the idea of treasure hunting, I’ve still never actually gotten started with this fun family activity. I finally downloaded the Geocaching app to my iPhone this week and was amazed by the sheer number of caches even in our immediate neighbourhood.

5. Visit the dinosaurs at Prehistoric World

This is another one I’ve had on my radar for years, and we really need to get out there while Lucas is still in his dino-fascinated phase. Prehistoric World is a small park near Morrisburg with meandering paths featuring over 50 life-sized and apparently mostly scientifically accurate dinosaur sculptures. This would be a great side trip to pair with our other favourite Morrisburg adventure, McHaffie’s flea market.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, I’ve got a dedicated category full of blog posts about fun family adventures in Ottawa. What’s on YOUR Ottawa summer fun to-do list?


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I‘m trying to remember when they opened the new and improved Landsdowne Park. Was it summer 2015? Maybe summer 2014? Regardless, we haven’t had the chance to make our way down there until this past weekend. I have to say, we were impressed. It’s a beautiful, bright and spacious area, and we felt like tourists in our own city poking around it yesterday afternoon.

We went down specifically for the farmer’s market, and it’s definitely one of the best in the city. I was surprised, though, that on a blazingly sunny Sunday afternoon on a long holiday weekend that there weren’t more people. I was braced for crowds, especially after having brought the boys downtown on Friday for their first Canada Day festival in Ottawa (north of the Queensway twice in one weekend!) but it felt more like a Tuesday morning with the amount of people around.

We poked about the shops for a bit, managing to miss entirely the Whole Foods (maybe for the best?), collecting our free sample at Lindt, and then stopped for lunch at South Street Burger. (Five thumbs up.) Our favourite part, though, was definitely the playground and the water feature. Any time you can get an eight-year-old, a tween and a teen all engaged in the same activity, that’s a win. Like most of the families present, we ignored the rather odd differentiation between the art side of the water park and the play side of the water park, and all three kids played WITH the art.

Then Lucas noticed the giant roll of hill off in the distance, across a wide open and completely empty green space. “Can I run up the hill?” he asked, eyes bright. Of course! And with that, a sibling gauntlet was thrown, and all three charged up the hill.

I couldn’t resist using the rolling shape of the hill and the, um, whatever that weird structure is, to frame up a photograph. Picture me at the bottom of the hill, yelling up to my agreeable subjects. “Tristan, move left one step. Great! Simon, two steps left. That’s it! Now – band pose!”

Boys at play at Lansdowne park

Yes, a photographer’s kids know a handful of poses by name. What, yours don’t?

Simon and I had earlier been discussing a new summer challenge we’re undertaking together. One minute of planking every day for the entire summer, with the idea of working up to two minutes of planking every day for, well, forever.

Here’s Simon getting started.

Boys at play at Lansdowne park

I’m seeing the birth of a photography-fitness mash-up here. How many interesting places can we photograph Simon doing a plank this summer?

We had a lovely, low-key day exploring Lansdowne park with the family on a sunny, summer Sunday that also happened to be our 17th wedding anniversary. (Happy Anniversary, my sweet Beloved!)

Have you spent any time there? What did you think?


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Did you know the Giganotosaurus, a giant meat-eating dinosaur from the southern hemisphere, was even bigger (and probably meaner!) than the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the so-called “king of the dinosaurs”? The T. Rex lived in North America about 65 million years ago, but the 13m Giganotosaurus roamed near what is now Argentina 95 to 100 million years ago.

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

That’s just one of the wicked cool things the boys and I learned at the Canadian Museum of Nature’s summer blockbuster exhibition called Ultimate Dinosaurs, featuring 16 fully articulated dinosaur skeletons. It’s a fascinating and must-see exhibit for even the most casual dinosaur fan.

Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature

Like most eight year old boys, Lucas is fascinated by dinosaurs, and never misses an episode of Dino Dan on TVO. We had just finished reading a detailed book about dinosaur facts when I came across an article in the Citizen a few weeks ago about Jordan Mallon, a palaeontologist with the Museum of Nature, who introduced a new species of horned dinosaur earlier this year. I was fascinated by the idea of a local scientist doing something so cool, and Lucas and I were engaged by the story of “Judith”, a horned ceratops dinosaur the size of a small elephant whose bones were discovered by an amateur fossil prospector in Montana.

You won’t see Judith’s skeleton in the Ultimate Dino exhibition, though you can find her a few floors down in the Museum’s Fossil Gallery. The Ultimate Dinosaur exhibition is all about dinosaurs from the ancient super-continent of Gondwana, the southern breakaway piece of Pangaea that eventually became South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. We learned that as Gondwana formed 145 million years ago, the dinosaur species that lived there evolved in isolation from their Laurasian (northern) counterparts. The exhibit is not just about dinosaur bones, but about evolution, biodiversity, climate change, and geology. The Gondwana dinos are bigger and more bizarre than their northern cousins. The teeth of Giganotosaurus, for example, had blade-like teeth well suited to slicing meet, whereas T. Rex’s teeth and jaws were designed to crush bones outright.

Not all of the dinosaurs were giant “titanosaurs”, though one sauropod was so huge that only its leg bones can fit into the exhibition. The Eoraptor was a relatively petite meter or so long, but is known as one of the earliest species of dinosaurs, having lived more than 200 million years ago. In all, there are 16 dinosaur skeletons you can see, but there is so much more to the exhibition. They have a very cool augmented reality feature where you can look through mounted, mobile screens to see the skeleton in front of you transformed into a fully fleshed (pardon the pun) dinosaur.

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

There’s lots of hands-on things to do as well. You can make a replica of a fossil tooth or claw in the fossil lab, hold casts and actual fossilized dino bones and teeth (hint: the casts are lighter than the actual fossils), see fossil replicas made from a 3D printer, and use plasticine to build muscles and veins on a velociraptor skull. In the Dino Zone, the littlest dino fans can engage in dress-up and shadow theatre play, and have fun with the magnet board and giant building blocks. Lucas loved finding the stations to emboss his dinosaur fact sheet throughout the Ultimate Dino exhibition.

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

The kids were definitely engaged by all aspects of the exhibit, but I learned a lot, too. For example, I knew that one doesn’t find giant dinosaur bones in this part of Canada, but why not? Well, for one thing, the rock here is generally so old that it pre-dates the dinosaur giants. You can find some really neat marine fossils that are local to the Ottawa area from a spectacular 450 or so million years ago and excavate them from limestone as part of the museum’s summer programming in the Nature Live gallery.

A trip to the amazing Museum of Nature is always at the top of my list of recommendations for awesome family fun in Ottawa, but the world-class Ultimate Dinosaur show will bring us back more than once before the exhibit ends in September 2016. Note that admission to the Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit is in addition to regular Museum of Nature fees. See the Museum of Nature website for full details about rates and hours of admission. If you don’t want to pay the premium to visit the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibition, you can still have an awesome dinosaur adventure in the Fossil Lab and Dino Zone, as well as seeing the local Ordovician fossils, and visit “Judith” in the Fossil Gallery, all as part of regular museum admission.

Disclosure: We were invited to the media preview of the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit. While I tried hard to fact-check my references, any errors in dino facts and figures are completely on my part!


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Photos of the day: An amazing birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

8 February 2016 Lucas

We’ve had a LOT of birthday party experience over the years, from bowling to trampolines to movies to art to Lego. Our new favourite party by far, though, is one hosted at the Ottawa Humane Society. We all love animals, but Lucas has shown a real affinity for them. When he did a school project […]

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Ottawa family fun: A voyageur canoe trip on the Rideau Canal

1 September 2015 Ottawa Family Fun

Great news: I have a most excellent new suggestion for an affordable family activity that involves fresh air, exercise and a fascinating and fun lesson in Ottawa history. Not so great news: the season is over until spring, so you’ll have to wait until next year to try it out for yourself. As I’ve mentioned, […]

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Photos of the day: The secret sunflower dilemma (with a bonus conversation with the Universe)

8 August 2015 Ottawa's hidden treasures

It went something like this: **ring ring** Hello? DaniGirl! It’s the Universe calling. Long time, no chat! Universe! Hey old friend, what are you doing in a photo of the day blog post? There was a disturbance in the force and I had to check it out. You were radiating happy when you were out […]

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Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures: The Peace Tower

2 October 2014 Ottawa's hidden treasures

You know how some treasures are hidden in plain sight? Ya, like this one: The Peace Tower. How many photos do I have of the Peace Tower? I started counting on Flickr and stopped when I got to 40. I gaze upon it every single day, several times a day, each day that I am […]

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