Ottawa’s hidden treasures

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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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 last year on “People In Your Neighbourhood” he chose our vet Heather Ann to profile, and every time I see a cute kitty video on Facebook, I make a note to save it and show it to him. We support the Ottawa Humane Society already as one of our preferred charities, and so hosting a birthday party there was an easy choice – all profits beyond the direct costs of the party are invested back into the OHS.

They did an amazing job with the party. All we had to do was show up! They provided decorations, cups and plates, napkins and cutlery, and even candles. Our party leader Stephanie was patient and knowledgeable, good with kids, and just the right personality to wrangle a few boys who might have been a wee bit overexcited. She introduced us to her friendly pet rat Phoebe, who was a definite hit with party-goers big and small.

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

First, we decorated our treat bags (Lucas looked up at me and said blissfully, “I didn’t know there would be art at my animal party!” as his worlds of happiness collided) and then the kids made doggie treats out of oats, flour and peanut-free nut butter. We chose the dog treat activity, but could have also made cat toys or hide-and-perch boxes for the shelter cats.

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

Then we went on a tour of the shelter, where we saw the animals waiting for adoption. There was a beautiful malamute that very nearly went home with Granny and Papa Lou, had his papers not said he would prefer a home without other dogs. I was really pleased that the kids got to go “behind the scenes” to learn about what the OHS does, and how they take care of the animals that come to the shelter. The highlight of the tour, though, was being allowed to pet the cats waiting for adoption.

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

I have to tell you, I was secretly pleased at how few animals we saw at the shelter. We’ve visited a few times before to pet the kitties, and always found dozens of cats waiting for homes, but there were just a few this weekend. In fact, while we were there two kittens and one dog were adopted. What a great lesson for the kids! What I didn’t point out to the kids was the family who were obviously surrendering their pet, as they brought in armloads of pet gear and left empty-handed and in tears. It must be heart-wrenching to work with the shelter, and I have so much admiration for the staff and volunteers.

After our tour, we had the usual party fun: cake, presents and loot bags. A giant cookie cake, in fact, baked at Lucas’ request by Beloved.

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

I can’t say enough good things about the Ottawa Humane Society or the party they helped us host for Lucas. He loved every minute of it and has already said that he wants his ninth birthday party to be at the OHS, too. And did you know they have camps for PD Days and March Break, too?

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

Happy birthday, Lucas! Thanks for having a birthday so we could have fun visiting the OHS!


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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, I like to walk along the Rideau Canal at lunch time. Over the summer, a few times I caught sight of a massive canoe being paddled down the Canal. At first, I thought it was some sort of summer camp activity, but then I noticed many of the participants were adults. One time the canoe passed close enough that I noticed the Parks Canada logo on the canoe, and I could hear a narrative being delivered about Colonel John By and how the Canal was built. Intrigued, I googled it and sure enough, it is yet another amazing Parks Canada family activity, one that’s been running all summer in downtown Ottawa practically right under my nose: Voyageur Canoe tours from the Ottawa lock station, right beside the Chateau Laurier.

Voyageur canoe tour

How fun is that? They have one and two hour guided tours, and they provide everything, and it’s less than $10 per person. There’s room for 10 people, plus a Parks Canada guide in the front and back. On our one hour tour, we made it past the Corkstown bridge and just to the big bend in the Canal before the Pretoria Bridge and then back again. Our guides Liam and Molly were awesome: chatty and full of interesting anecdotes about the history of the Canal, and not at all judgmental about our very, um, uncoordinated paddling and the rather incessant grumbling of two brothers locked in a battle of oars wills over personal paddling space.

Voyageur canoe tour on the Rideau Canal

You can paddle as much or little as you like, and with the exception of mild wakes from passing boats, the water is calm and forgiving – considerably less terrifying than our our previous family canoe trip almost 10 years ago. I was sure at the outset that at least one paddle, if not one boy, would end up floating in the Canal at some point, but miraculously we lost neither paddles nor passengers during the tour.

Voyageur canoe tour on the Rideau Canal

This was a really fun family adventure. An hour is the perfect amount of time, and it’s a wonderful way to explore the easy-to-overlook Rideau Canal at the heart of our beautiful city. The boys were tickled to be paddling across the same spot they often skate in the winter, and they actually listened to enough of the history lesson to ask me questions about it after the fact.

Put this one on your to-do list for summer 2016!


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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 playing with your camera in the morning’s first light in a sunflower field. What’s up with that?

Oh wow, those sunflowers! So many, so gorgeous, and what a perfect morning for it. Who knew there could be so many varieties? Some were easily 10 ft tall, some were purple, some were tiny. It was photographer heaven! I’m not surprised I was radiating happy.

A dozen sunny faces

Were you surprised to find such a treat so close to home?

I really was! I’d been chatting with the owner of the farm online since February, and I knew she was more or less local – but I didn’t realize until I went out there that she’s literally 10 minutes away from my house in Manotick!

A dozen sunny faces

How did you find out about the sunflowers?

The owner, Kristie, sells cut sunflowers for $5 a bunch, and also sells sunflower stalk kindling and makes art out of the stalks. She makes trellises, frames for chalkboards and mirrors, all sorts of interesting designs. We started chatting on line, and I asked her if it would be okay if I came out to poke around with my camera when the sunflowers were in bloom.

A dozen sunny faces

She sounds lovely.

She truly is! And the sunflowers are incredibly lovely, too. She planted more than 7,000 seeds, and nature helped jumble a lot of them together, so the field is like a crazy quilt with sunflowers every which way. They are every colour you could imagine – yellows, oranges, purples and pinks! Who knew sunflowers came in pink and purple and black? Each one seems to have its own personality.

A dozen sunny faces

I’m sensing a bit of covetousness here.

It’s true! Living in an old farmhouse surrounded by sunflowers? Move the whole shebang to PEI, plunk it down by the ocean and it’s DaniGirl’s House of Dreams!

A dozen sunny faces

I’m also sensing a bit of conflict.

Sigh, yes. I have a bit of a dilemma. I’ve found this incredibly photogenic field of sunflowers practically around the corner from me, and part of me wants to go there every day and just take pictures – morning light, hazy light, twilight, macro, wide angle, details, bees, tight crop, shooting up, shooting down — I had a hard time leaving in the first place!

A dozen sunny faces

Did Kristie mind the idea of you taking photos?

Not at all! She was so nice, and she was even open to the idea of me hosting sunflower photo sessions in her field. How fun would that be? People love sunflowers!

A dozen sunny faces

Very fun and very popular, I’ll bet. So what’s the problem exactly?

So here’s my dilemma. As I said, people love sunflowers. I see postings in local photography groups all the time with people asking for sunflower fields. If I tell people about this treasure, it’s not my secret sunflower place any more. But Kristie is trying to sustain a business of sunflower farming, and I can help promote her. Aside from the photographers, I know lots of people who would love the idea of just dropping by her place 15 minutes outside of Barrhaven to pick up a bunch of fresh-picked, locally grown and truly beautiful sunflowers for only $5.

A dozen sunny faces

Ah, I see. Photographers are a little proprietary about good locations, are they?

Well, yes, that’s true. But I also would want people to be respectful of Kristie and her field. Maybe everyone who goes out there to take photos also makes sure to make a donation, or buy a bunch of flowers on the way out? That way she can have a sustainable business, and we’ll have a beautiful local sunflower field for years to come! She was telling me a little bit about the work involved, and it’s neither cheap nor easy to grow that many sunflowers!

A dozen sunny faces

So how do people find this hidden sunflower treasure?

You can find Kristie’s Keys Sunfields page on Facebook, and you can pick up fresh sunflowers at the end of the lane from 9 am to 8 pm at 5939 First Line Rd. If you’d like to pay a visit, please message her first.

A dozen sunny faces

And when will you be hosting your sunflower field portrait sessions?

I’m working on the details for that, but it will be a weekend in the near future. Spots will be very limited, though – if you’re super keen, message me for details and I’ll put you on the waiting list. Watch this space for an announcement soon!

A dozen sunny faces

I’ll make an appointment with my stylist and get back to you. You’ll need a wide, and I mean w-i-d-e angle lens for me, though. Lovely sunflower photos, by the way!

Thanks Universe! I’m glad you checked in. We’ll chat again soon!


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You know how some treasures are hidden in plain sight? Ya, like this one:

Peace Tower tour

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 at work. And yet, it has been more than 20 years since I went up inside the Peace Tower. You’d think between all the photos and the blog posts about things to do in Ottawa, I’d have put two and two together before now, right?

Peace Tower tour

How cool is that? It’s little smudgy, and someone needs to get up there with a squeegy, but it’s still way cool to be so close to the clock face that I gaze upon so many days of the year. If you look at this shot, you can see the row of square observation deck windows right under the clock face.

Peace Tower tour

Truth be told, I was actually a little disappointed at first. I’d wanted to see the carillon bells up close, but you only see them as you zip past in the elevator. (Parliamentary trivia: the observation deck is one flight of stairs and nine floors up in an elevator.) It was bright and glarey looking south toward downtown, and the windows were a little fogged and the lunchtime sun made taking good photos of downtown a bit of a bust. But then I walked around to look out to the east — and I might have actually gasped in delight. Look at beautiful Majors Hill park, and the US Embassy, and all those lovely, colourful trees!

Peace Tower tour

And then I worked my way around to the north side of the observation deck and LOOK AT THIS VIEW!!!

Peace Tower tour

I’ve gazed at so.many views and perspectives of Ottawa, but I can’t believe I’ve never seen more of this one. What an incredible vista. You can see two bridges, two provinces, two cities, the Museum of Civilization (or whatever it’s called now), and just around either side the National Gallery, the Chateau Laurier, more bridges, most of downtown, the river stretching off in either direction…

Wow. Talk about the best view in town!

I had to wait in a bit of a queue, so I didn’t really have time to take the tour of anything except the Peace Tower itself. You can take a self-guided tour, but I’d leave at least 60 to 90 minutes to get in, up, look around and come back down. There are also self-guided and guided tours of the Centre Block (including the Senate, House of Commons and Library) and guided tours of the East Block in summer months only. Tours are free of charge.

Peace Tower tour

I’m definitely going back for a tour soon! The Senate and House of Commons are interesting, but what I really want to see again is the beautiful Library. I remember being enchanted the first and only time I saw it, 20+ years ago.

Peace Tower tour

When is the last time YOU went up the Peace Tower?


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Did you see the forecast for this weekend? It’s like the summer we forgot to have! There’s no excuse to stay inside, so here’s an idea – get out and enjoy Culture Days with free admission at one of Ottawa’s museums.

At the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum, they’re exploring “vintage social media” (ha!): “Experience the days of radio and movie magic! In the days before television, iPads, and texting, the family radio and the weekly movie screening were the social media of the day. Everyone gathered around radio sets in family homes to listen to weekly broadcasts of their favourite shows like Little Orphan Annie. Have fun as a modern family learning how to build a radio set transmitter, listening to authentic historic radio broadcasts, watching silent films, and having fun with our film crew activity to learn about gaffers, grips, sound artists, producers, and directors. If you have a future Steven Spielberg at home, this is the event for you! On Sunday, local producers and artisans from the Cumberland Farmers’ Market will be selling their goods – locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, pastries, alongside artisanal products – at their first Harvest Market.” Free admission!

Cumberland Heritage Museum

The Billings Estate National Historic Site is also offering free admission for culture days. The museum will be open for self-guided tours to learn about the history of the site, settlement in Billings Bridge, and the trades that helped them prosper. Admission to the exhibition, use of family-friendly Experience Backpacks, and access to the activity room in Sally’s Kitchen are included. Free!

I’m thinking the fall colours will be lovely out at Pinhey’s Point Historical Site this weekend! Explore the site with a self-guided tour and scavenger hunt that will encourage you to find details about the site that you never knew before. Free!!

If you’re all booked up with fun this weekend, make sure you make room on your calendar next Sunday, October 5, for the hilarious and popular Smashing Pumpkins event at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum! One of their most popular events, you definitely don’t want to miss the chance to watch your pumpkin launched by a trebuchet across the west field towards a giant bulls-eye target! Aside from the absolute fun of launching things across a field, this event teaches about flight technology in the 1920s and 1930s. Make a model airship, play with model trebuchets, and take in some storytelling before decorating your pumpkin for its flight. If you planted a pumpkin in the fall, now’s the time to harvest it! Regular museum admission charges apply.

Pumpkin heads

Check the links above for specific information about locations, hours and programming.

Disclosure: The City of Ottawa is a sponsor of this blog and has provided some of this information. However, all opinions are always my own.


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Ottawa Family Fun: Ten things we loved about the Cumberland Village Heritage Museum

4 August 2014 Ottawa Family Fun

I‘ve been meaning to get back to the Cumberland Village Heritage Museum for years now. We went way back in the day, maybe four or five years ago, and I remember really liking it, but we just never got around to making the return trek. We actually started heading out there with a picnic last […]

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Free Ottawa Family Fun: A visit to Rideau Hall

30 July 2014 Ottawa Family Fun

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. […]

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Canada Day in Ottawa: Tips and Suggestions?

26 June 2014 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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Ottawa Family Fun: Peddle Boats on Dow’s Lake

25 July 2013 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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