We were unable to get a room in the city our first night in Ottawa, but that may have been a benefit because it introduced us to the city’s fine public transportation system and their helpful tourist information people.
Parking in the city is difficult and expensive as in all large cities. Arriving in the afternoon after fighting congestion and construction, we found a spot on the street not far from the parliament building. Walking around downtown just to orient ourselves, we approached a young woman in a uniform that said she was with the tourist
information office to ask about parking the next day. She was not on her way to or from work; she was working. They have guides on the streets to help strangers, and she told us how to use the public transportation system.
That evening we fought our way through more construction and traffic jams out to our hotel in the suburbs. But the next morning, we were able to park at a lot for free and take an express bus to a block from where we had parked the day before. The buses have their own lanes (and sometimes their own roadways), so they are faster and more efficient than driving. And by chance, our first experience was on a Wednesday – free for seniors!
Having spent many years working with the United States Congress, we decided to tour Canada’s Parliament. It was easy to get a ticket at an office across the street for a free tour.
Three large buildings were built in the mid-19th Century to house the Parliament. The west building is being renovated under scaffolding and plastic sheeting. The actual meetings are in the center building which looks a little newer and is newer because it was rebuilt after a 1914 fire. It too will soon be closed to the public for renovation, and meetings will be held in the new west building. It turns out that much of the construction we were seeing was preparation for the 2017 celebration of the 150th anniversary of
Canada’s Confederation in 1867.
We were unable to see the House of Commons as they were meeting, but we were able to walk onto the floor of the Senate and enter the library, the only part of the old building to survive the fire because someone thought to close its iron doors. Walking around with our college student/summer intern guide, we noticed several politicians holding media briefings in the halls much like in the US.
Ottawa was having its annual Ribfest on Sparks Street, a street closed for pedestrian use. The smell of charcoal and wood fires was in the air, and some of the booths had names boasting they were from spots in the U.S. like Gator Barbeque. We tried the product of a booth whose boss and four employees were from Naples, Florida. They were in Canada going from festival to festival for the summer. It was fun that they knew Cape Coral, but we found their sauce too sweet.
As we have often done in cities that are new to us, we took a Greyline tour. Now they all seem to use the “hop on; hop off” buses which are really convenient. If one has limited time as we did, it would be best to take such a tour making the entire circuit in the morning and then go back to hop off at the places you wanted to see in more depth. As it was already after lunch, we just made one circuit.
Ottawa has some very interesting architecture. The War Museum was designed to resemble a military bunker. The skylights on one roof of the museum are
fashioned as Morse code to spell out the words “Lest we forget.”
Had we decided to take more time, we would have visited the Museum of History. It too is fascinating with many curving walls. We were told there was not a right angle in the two buildings, one building for visitors and the other for research. Unfortunately, after so many weeks on the road, we were ready to move on and had already made our reservations for Montreal.
After our tour, we had another barbeque snack and then walked along the Rideau Canal locks where the canal enters the Ottawa River. The canal was constructed in the early 19th century to create an interior water route so that the Canadians would not have to ship military supplies along routes close to the American border where they might be subject to attack. It was a great engineering feat and served some commercial purpose, but railroads soon supplanted the need, and the border became the longest unfortified border in the world as the two countries’ relations grew steadily more peaceful.