Ottawa’s hidden treasures

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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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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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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Weekend family fun: Culture Days at City of Ottawa Museums

25 September 2014 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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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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