Ottawa’s hidden treasures

Did you know that there’s a 10,000 year old sand dune hiding in a pine forest in suburban Ottawa?

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Neat, right?

dune_2008map The sand dune in the Pinhey Forest is an ancient remnant of the last ice age, when what we now know as Ottawa was submerged under the great Champlain Sea. Even 100 years ago, the dune system was up to 10 times larger than it is today, stretching from Woodroffe across Slack to Merivale Road, but suburban homes, businesses and well-intentioned tree planting by the National Capital Commission in the 1950s have reduced it to a fraction of its former size. This graphic from the Biodiversity Conservancy shows the dune size as shown in 1925 aerial images outlined against the current dune inside the yellow dotted line.

I have been hearing about the sand dune hidden in a pine forest in the Greenbelt for years. Finally, one day toward the end of summer, two of the three boys and I set off on a little adventure to check it out.

I’ve driven down Slack Road countless times, and had no clue about the unique and fascinating ecosystem hiding behind behind the pine trees, but it’s certainly accessible when you set out to look for it. Park on the street near the mailboxes on Pineland Ave near Vaan Drive and you’ll see the entrance to the dunes. It’s truly hidden in plain sight.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Parts of the dunes are roped off, but there is plenty of room to walk around and explore. When the boys noticed some of the posts had been knocked down, they stopped to prop them back up again.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

We poked around the edges of the dunes, noting the towering pines in one area, and the oak and maples flourishing in another. Be careful, we noticed a few places where poison ivy was also flourishing. You can see how leaves and pine needles would fall and decompose, creating a mulch that would allow plants that wouldn’t ordinarily thrive in sand to take hold and encroach on the dunes.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Not only is the dune an interesting geological artifact, but it’s home to plants and insects that don’t live anywhere else in the city. Conservationists are working to protect the dunes against the constant encroachment of native and invasive plant species. We originally thought these tables were part of an archaeological dig, but on reflection I’m betting they are used to filter the sand of other bio material.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

Like most National Capital Commission trails, you’ll find a few picnic tables and even a washroom on the site. Exploring the dunes was a quick excursion – I’d be surprised if we were there more than an hour, even with a bit of poking around the walking paths through the surrounding forests. It made for an interesting set of conversations about the geological history of Ottawa, though, and about how people and nature leave their footprints on ecosystems. The boys were intrigued by the idea of a desert hiding in plain sight in a neighbourhood we drive past regularly.

Ottawa's hidden sand dunes

There’s more information about efforts to preserve the dunes and some of the unique plants and insects on the Biodiversity Conservancy website. It would be interesting to go back in the heart of winter to see the dunes in various seasons.

Did you know about the secret sand dunes hiding in the Greenbelt? Have you visited? What did you think?


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I have been watching the progress of Manotick’s new Remembrance Park over the last few months. It’s a beautiful project in the town square beside Watson’s Mill, designed with six gardens to honour the branches of the Canadian military and those who support them.

I had no idea there would be a life-sized bronze sculpture in the park until I was commissioned by the sculptor himself to come out and take a few photos of him and his art the day after it was unveiled. Nathan Scott, a Canadian sculptor based in British Columbia, is perhaps best known for his sculpture of Terry Fox at Mile 0. He has pieces installed across Canada, and now, we have one of our very own right here in Manotick.

Manotick's new memorial garden

I can’t imagine a more beautiful, perfect addition to our community.

Manotick's new memorial garden

You know what’s especially cool? The figures are based on Nathan Scott’s own daughter and father. They are truly lovely, evocative and warm.

Manotick's new memorial garden

The sculpture, placed in the middle of a square without a visible base (it’s below the bricks), invite you to come closer to admire the details in the bronze work, or to interact with the figures.

Manotick's new memorial garden

Chatting with Nathan, an obvious family man with five (or was it six?) kids, made it easy to see where the warmth and love come from in the sculpture. I could have chatted with him about his inspiration and his processes all day!

I’m so pleased to have this amazing new gathering place at the heart of Manotick, where it can be seen and touched and admired. The sculpture is a loving tribute to both the aging veteran and all he stands for, and the power of family ties. I hope it provokes memories and conversations about the importance of remembering for generations to come.

Manotick's new memorial garden


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An old bloggy friend reached out recently and said he and his family were thinking of visiting Ottawa for the first time this summer, and asked if I had any recommendations for things to see and do. Yes, I might know a thing or two about family activities in Canada’s capital! While I’ve got oodles of blog posts about ideas for family adventures for those who live in Ottawa, I don’t think I’ve ever written a tourist’s guide for families that visit Ottawa.

Ottawa is a beautiful city to visit in any season, but this summer promises to be especially full of fun with the Canada 150 celebrations, and the Ottawa 2017 agenda.

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There are a few things I’d recommend for anyone and everyone who visits Ottawa. There are obvious choices, like the Parliament Buildings (take the free tour and don’t miss the Parliamentary Library!) and the Peace Tower. The Byward Market is always good for a wander, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who would say no to a Beavertail, or a visit to Sugar Mountain. I also think the Diefenbunker, Canada’s quirky cold war museum and living time capsule should be at the top of any visitor’s must-see list.

Diefenbunker-14

If you like the Diefenbunker, you’ll also be intrigued by Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum. In fact, we have no shortage of excellent museums in Ottawa, and each will appeal to different visitors. Families with young children should make time for the always intriguing Museum of Nature and the Children’s Museum in the Museum of History, formerly known as the Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada is exactly as amazing as you’d expect it to be, but we were surprised by how accessible and fun their Artissimo children’s programming is. Don’t forget to visit our famous Maman, the 10m (30 ft) bronze spider sculpture who guards the National Gallery courtyard.

Ottawa Family Fun: Artissimo at the National Gallery

If you like history, I’d highly recommend Parks Canada’s excellent (and affordable) Voyageur Canoe tours on the Rideau Canal. You’ll choose between one and two hour guided tours and learn about the history of Ottawa and Canada as they are tied to the building of our iconic Rideau Canal, all while paddling along in a huge voyageur-style canoe. While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the Bytown Museum at the lock station beside the Chateau Laurier for a little bit more history of Ottawa, formerly known as Bytown, and the Canal. Speaking of the Canal, it’s worth a visit to one of the city’s lock stations to see the Parks Canada employees turning the cranks to open and close the locks by hand, just like they’re been doing for the past 170+ years. If paddling isn’t your style, another Ottawa activity that’s been on our bucket list for a while is the Haunted Walks. I hear they are quirky, entertaining and generally awesome.

Voyageur canoe tour

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures during your stay in Canada’s Capital, I hear that the zip-lining park at Camp Fortune is amazing. (It’s on our to-do list for this year!) Waterpark lovers will not be disappointed by the waterslides at Mont Cascades (on the Quebec side) or Calypso water park. Based on our experiences, I’d probably recommend the more expensive and slightly further from downtown Calypso for families with very young children, but we have preferred the smaller and less busy Mont Cascades the past few years.

Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy Canada’s flora and fauna at Parc Omega, about 45 minutes from downtown. During the drive-through tour you can see many animals native to Canada, including deer and elk, foxes and coyotes, wolves, bison, bears and many more, all in natural habitats. For something more domestic in the heart of the city, the animal barns at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum are always a hit with the littlest animal lovers. A little further out in the suburbs is Valleyview Animal Farm, also great for the youngest kiddies.

The grey wolves of Parc Omega

Through the summer there are two excellent FREE daily spectacles on Parliament Hill. Every morning (late June through late August) at 10 am, you can see the Changing of the Guard, immediately preceded by a short march up Elgin Street from the Cartier Drill Hall. Every evening through the summer, you can also see the Northern Lights sound and light show on Parliament Hill. I’ve heard it is excellent. And free, did I mention free?! Also free on Parliament Hill, every Wednesday at noon there is a huge yoga class on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings. Just bring your yoga mat and show up to claim your space, weather permitting.

Yoga on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Speaking of free and quirky, the unusual and beautiful rock scupltures by John Ceprano on the Ottawa River are worth a visit, too. If the weather is warm, wade out onto the limestone flats in the shallow water and make your own!

rocks

Oh my goodness, there is so much more! History buffs will also enjoy Rideau Hall, home to the Governor General, and its extensive grounds perfect for picnics and wandering. Of course there is my neighbour and muse, the stately Watson’s Mill in Manotick. And don’t forget the Cumberland Heritage Museum and its throwback to life in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, with dozens of true-to-the-era reproduction buildings – including a working sawmill and blacksmith forge – heritage breed farm animals, people in costume, vintage tractor-pulled wagon rides, and more.

Watson's Mill

Phew, that’s a long list. Ottawa is a great place to visit with families! If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my archives where I’ve been blogging for years about Ottawa’s hidden treasures and fun family activities. There’s so much more to say – this may have to become a series. Consider me your bloggy ambassador to Ottawa!

Peace Tower tour

Ottawa friends, how did I do with this list? Did I miss anything important? What’s at the top of your list of recommendations for tourists to our beautiful city?


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Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions! Welcome to the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Can you believe we’ve been doing this post for eleven years? I’m a bit later posting this year’s list, and I can hardly believe that parade season is starting tomorrow! Here’s all the info I could scare up about the 2016 Santa Claus and Christmas parade line-up, in chronological order:

Photo of Santa Claus at the Christmas parade 2013

[click to continue…]


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I had heard about Pianos in the Park, but didn’t realize until this week that they had installed a piano right around the corner from us at our favourite place. The Ottawa version of Pianos in the Park (apparently it’s an international movement) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing pianos to local parks. They’ve got them downtown, in Carp, Barrhaven, Riverside South, and about a dozen other location, including one right here in Manotick. This is in the gazebo at AY Jackson park.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

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

Safe to say, he quite enjoyed it!

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

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

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

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

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

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

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


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

1. Go zip-lining at Camp Fortune

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

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

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

3. Go canoeing and/or kayaking

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

Paddling

4. Learn to Geocache

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

5. Visit the dinosaurs at Prehistoric World

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

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


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Photo(s) of the day: An overdue visit to Lansdowne Park

4 July 2016 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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Awesome Ottawa family fun: Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature

12 June 2016 Ottawa Family Fun

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 […]

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

8 February 2016 Lucas

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

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

1 September 2015 Ottawa Family Fun

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

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