Ottawa’s hidden treasures

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?


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.


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 summer, or was it the summer before, but we got sidetracked by the beach at Petrie Island and never did end up going.

Right about the time I was thinking this would be a great summer for a return visit, the fine folks at the city of Ottawa department of museums and heritage got in touch with an inquiry about blog ads. I love it when a plan comes together! You’ll see their shiny new ad in the sidebar over there on the right, and I’ll tell you a little more about them in an upcoming post. For now, this is the post I would have written regardless of whether they were one of my new bloggy sponsors or not, because I really did love our sunny summer afternoon spent at the Cumberland Museum.

Have you been? In their own words, the Cumberland Village Heritage Museum offers “an immersive, fun, and educational experience that showcases life in the 1920s and 30s with dozens of heritage and 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 so much more.”

The first thing I loved about it is that you can get a family admission for less than $20, and they have no rigid definitions on how many kids comprise a family. Yay!

The second thing I loved, and the things the kids loved most of all, were the quirky games spread out all over the lawn, from a gigantic Sorry board and Chinese checkers to putt putt to a bowling alley to an old fashioned bean bag toss. They had retro wooden scooters, go-carts and wagons, too. The kids thought it was all fabulous!

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

The third thing I loved was the kids dressing up in firefighter costumes. Tristan said he wants a pair of these boots for school: “I won’t even need snow pants in the winter!”

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

The fourth thing I loved was that everything was laid back and low key and relaxed. You could poke around at your own pace, and even on a summer Sunday afternoon, we almost had the place to ourselves.

The fifth thing we loved, and we loved it a lot, was the steam-powered miniature trains that were run every second Sunday afternoon through the summer. Riding on the trains is free with museum admission, and the gentlemen who own and run the trains are more than happy to talk about their hobby. We made several loops and Beloved was a little too interested in the trains as a hobby for my (pocketbook’s) comfort. 😉

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

The sixth thing we loved were the animals. Guard geese, horses, cows and piglets. And Lucas milked a wooden cow – that’s something you don’t see every day.

Cumberland Heritage Museum

The seventh thing we loved were the old fashioned play structures – swinging ropes and see-saws.

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

The eighth thing we loved was the tractors!

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

The ninth thing we loved is how delightfully accessible and touchable everything is. You can climb on just about everything at the Cumberland Museum, and there are polite and humourous signs letting you know when you cannot. I’m seriously thinking of getting the slogan on the yellow sign printed on a t-shirt for Beloved.: “I’m old and tired, please don’t climb on me.” 😉

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Oh no! I”m already at 10 and there are so many other thing we loved – learning about history by touring the buildings, the gorgeous grounds and pretty flowers, the helpful docents, the curio and curiousities… way more than enough things to keep a gaggle of boys out of mischief for an entire afternoon.

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

Cumberland Heritage Museum

You know what else is cool? They have lots of special events and programming including an upcoming drive-in movie night featuring The Wizard of Oz.

The Cumberland Village Heritage Museum is truly one of Ottawa’s hidden treasures. I’m glad we remembered to go back, and the boys have already said they’re looking forward to a return visit soon. It was a timely reminder for me too, that working with Ottawa’s heritage and museum network is a perfect complement to the blog. Want to know more? Visit them on their Facebook page. :)

If you go:
The Cumberland Village Heritage Museum is at 2940 Old Montreal Rd in Cumberland, just 30 minutes east of downtown Ottawa. Admission fees: Adults – $7, Seniors and Students – $5, Families (two adults 2 adults and all of your children under 18 years) – $18, Annual Family Membership $35 (2 adults and all of your children under 18 years). Group rates available upon request. Additional fees may be applicable to some special events and programs.

Disclosure: I have entered into an advertising agreement with the City of Ottawa’s department of museums and heritage. However, this idea for this post pre-dates that agreement and my opinions – and enthusiasm for the museum – are completely my own.


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 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.’s big Canada Day listings

I saved the best for last. You can always count on 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!


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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Quick idea for family fun this week: Strawberry picking at Rideau Pines Farm

6 July 2013 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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Dani’s excellent birthday adventure in Wakefield

2 August 2012 Away we go

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 […]

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A joyful Mother’s Day – a few weeks ago

1 June 2012 Fisher-Price Play Ambassador

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 […]

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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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