From the category archives:

Ottawa’s hidden treasures

With dozens, probably hundreds, of posts over the last ten years about family-friendly things to in Ottawa, can you believe I’ve never blogged about Canada Day in Ottawa? When we were young and childless, we used to go downtown and do the Hill all the time, and I think I remember battling the crowds once or twice with a stroller, but I just realized that we’ve never brought the boys downtown to enjoy the quintessential Canada Day experience. That will have to wait for another year, as we’ll be in PEI celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown Accord in Charlottetown on Canada Day 2014. Three more sleeps!!

This year, my brother and his family will be visiting Ottawa to celebrate Canada Day (nice how they come to town when they hear we’re leaving, eh ;) At least Willie will have company while we’re out of town!) and they were asking for ideas, so I thought I’d pull together some ideas. Then my bloggy friend Elise mentioned she and her family are planning a special trip to Ottawa to celebrate their first Canada Day as Canadian citizens. How amazing is that? It makes me feel proud and patriotic, and reminds me how easy it is to take our very Canadianness for granted. (Did you know that new Canadians get special cultural passes that allow them free family entry to several Canadian museums and a 50% discount on a ViaRail trip? I love that!)

Anyway, what we have here are two families who are Canada Day in Ottawa virgins (well, with the exception of my brother, who has done Canada Day on the Hill with me many moons ago), and they need some ideas and suggestions. I’ve pulled together a few links, but what I’d love from you are your tips, ideas and suggestions for navigating the madness downtown with kids. One family will be staying right downtown, and the other will be driving in from Manotick.

Postcards from Ottawa-2

Here’s five great sources of official information for things to do in Ottawa on Canada Day:

1. Chris Hadfield at the Canada Space and Aviation Museum

If I were in town, I’d brave the crowds for this one! Canada’s favourite astronaut will be at the Canada Space and Aviation Museum as part of a fun Canada Day lineup that also includes the Army’s SkyHawk parachute team and Canada’s beloved Snowbirds. I’m sad to be missing this one!

2. Canada Day in Barrhaven

Although it’s been years since we’ve been downtown, we’ve enjoyed the Canada Day party in Barrhaven quite a few times. There will be a midway, facepainting, kid crafts, food and more.

3. NCC information on Canada Day in Ottawa

Check this link for the official scoop on things to do on Parliament Hill, Majors Hill Park and Jacques Cartier Park.

4. Capital museums celebrating Canada Day

The NCC has put together a big list of museums and other institutions offering Canada Day activities throughout the region, from the Bytown Museum to the Mackenzie King Estate to the NAC, with a nice hourly timetable so you can schedule your day by the minute!

5. OttawaStart.com’s big Canada Day listings

I saved the best for last. You can always count on OttawaStart.com for compiling the best lists of local activities. Check out their list of various community celebrations and more.

So all of that is a pretty good idea of WHAT to do. Now I need your help, bloggy peeps. Can you share your tips and tricks on HOW to do it? How do you approach the logistics of maneuvering your kids through hundreds of thousands of people on Parliament Hill? Do you go early and/or stay late? Where are the best places to park your car downtown? Are there some Hill vantage points that are better than others? What are the family-friendliest businesses open for Canada Day? What should you bring, pack or leave behind? What should you avoid at all costs? What did you learn the hard way?

Please share your best tips, bloggy peeps! I promise I’ll keep it just between us and Google. ;) And Happy Canada Day to you all, too!


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

Uh huh.

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

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

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

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

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

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

Pedal boating at Dow's Lake

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

If you go:
Dow’s Lake summer rentals:

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

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

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

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

Strawberry picking 2013

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

Strawberry picking 2013

Strawberry picking 2013

Strawberry picking 2013

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

Strawberry picking 2013

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

untitled.jpg

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

Strawberry picking 2013

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wakefield

Wakefield

Wakefield

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

Wakefield

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

Wakefield

Wakefield

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

Wakefield

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

Wakefield

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

Wakefield

Wakefield

Wakefield

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

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


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

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

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

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

HipstaPrint

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

Mother's Day in Almonte

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

Almonte riverwalk

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

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

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

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


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A Capital Walk

by DaniGirl on May 18, 2012 · 0 comments

in 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 Portage Bridge and back? Because if you haven’t, I’m telling you — you must!

I’ve had this blog post half-written for a while now, and I just needed to add the pictures to finish it off. Okay, so I was not exactly lacking for pictures. It was kind of a time and organizational thing that got in the way. Because when I first started writing this post, it was looking kind of like this outside:

Parliament Hill in Winter

And now it looks a lot more like this:

Parliament Buildings through the  tulips

Which tells us two things. First, I am WAY behind on my blog postings! But more importantly, it confirms that Ottawa is a spectacularly beautiful city no matter what the season. And whether you’re a resident or a tourist, this walk is too gorgeous to miss.

Our walk takes advantage of an easy 5K loop on paved paths – perfect for strolling, strollers, roller-blading or biking. I like to do it on my lunch hour and it takes almost exactly an hour – when you don’t stop every 15 meters to take a photo. ;) I cannot believe that I’ve worked downtown for the better part of my career and never walked the full loop before this year.

I start at Majors Hill Park, beside the National Gallery, which is conveniently close to where I work. If you follow this route, you’ll walk across the Ottawa River on the 112 year old Alexandra Bridge, which is also known as the Interprovincial Bridge (no wonder we can never figure out which bridge is which!) Did you know it was originally built as a train bridge by CPR, and that it had a dedicated trolley lane for decades? It also has a gorgeous panoramic view of the Parliament Buildings if you stop and look back over your shoulder about 3/4 of the way across.

Parliament

At the foot of the bridge, find the bicycle and walking path that leads in behind the Museum of Civilization, to the left off the bridge. You’re now on the Voyageurs Pathway, part of the Trans Canada Trail. Follow the path down in behind the curving walls of the Museum of Civilization, back to toward the river, and you’ll see the best views of the Parliament Buildings. I love this spot!

Pretty Parliament

Keep following the path behind the museum and you’ll see the (sadly now no longer operational) outdoor section of the children’s museum, and the ruins of the old EB Eddy digestor tower – a nod to the industrial history of the area. Keep walking, but cast an occasional glance back toward the Parliament Buildings – they’re beautifully framed by trees at certain spots, like this!

Parliament Buildings framed in greenery

Eventually, the pathway will bring you up to the foot of the Portage Bridge, where you can admire (ahem) the monument to bureaucracy that is the government’s Place du Portage complex on your right. Turn left and head onto the bridge and stare at the beauty that is the river to erase the Portage complex from your brain. To your right further upstream you’ll see the Chaudière Bridge and the Asticou Falls – a great way to extend your walk if you’re feeling adventurous. We’ll take the shorter route, though, and make our way across the Portage Bridge. The views of Parliament continue to be stunning from this perspective, and my camera(s) just love them no matter the season nor angle.

Ottawa River panorama

As you cross back into Ontario, you’ll see the new Mill Street Brewery in a 140 year old former grist mill on the right (what’s the rush, I’m sure we’ve got time to stop for a beer!) and the ruins of the old carbide mill on Victoria Island on the left. I love this spot. I’m fascinated by the ruins, and find this particular spot one of the most evocative of Ottawa’s history. You’ve got the old grist mill and the carbide mill in the foreground and Parliament Hill in the distance, the commercial heart of the city just over the rise, an homage to the First Nations people at your feet, the government complex behind you, and the mighty Ottawa River flowing through it all. How can you not feel the history of the place?

Tower framed

From here, you have a choice to make. You can walk up to Wellington Street and finish your walk in an urban way, wandering up the sidewalk past the Supreme Court building, Library and Archives, and eventually promenade past the front of the Parliament Buildings. It’s a gorgeous walk in any season, but it will bring you up hill – there’s a reason they call it Parliament HILL.

Or, you can opt for the nature route, and follow the pathway back down to the river. I’ve grown fond of this route, especially this time of year. You see a different sort of Ottawa tourist down here.

Geese and goslings

And let’s face it, while I do love the energy of downtown, there is something calming about walking along a river path on a sunny summer day – even if you do have to be mindful of the hundreds of other people who also had the same idea.

This may be an outlet for the city’s sewer system, but it’s still quite lovely! One of the many curiousities to see on this route.

Trickle

As you hug the river, downtown rises up beside you. Soon, the Parliament Buildings seem like they’re towering above you. You can take one of a few sets of stairs embedded into the cliffs behind the Parliament Buildings (not for the faint of heart!) and visit the feral cat colony that lives near the West Block, or you can stick with the river path and catch glimpses of the Library of Parliament perched above you, which reminds me of a whimsical sort of treehouse.

Library of Parliament peeking through the trees

And finally, you’ll end up at the first set of locks where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River. Ahead of you is the Chateau Laurier, of course.

The Chateau and the Rideau Canal locks

Have a couple of extra minutes? I’ve been meaning to check out the Bytown Museum for years. One of these days I’ll get around to stopping in! To finish our walk, we’ll hike up the steps to Wellington Street, circle in front of the Chateau and return to Majors Hill Park.

I think this may be the most beautiful walk in the whole national capital region. What do you think? Can you think of a better one?


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Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures: RCMP Stables

5 March 2012 Ottawa Family Fun

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

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

22 February 2012 Ottawa Family Fun

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

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Seven days of free family fun in Ottawa!

18 November 2011 My 15 minutes

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

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Friday Family Fun: Apple Picking!!

9 September 2011 Ottawa Family Fun

Apple-picking is one of my favourite summer-into-fall family traditions. On a crisp autumn day, there is nothing better than blue skies, green grass and fresh red apples. And there is no better snack than a tartly sweet juicy apple – I’m drooling just thinking about it! The apple-picking season is just getting underway here in [...]

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