Museums, Galleries and Parliament

How I spent a few days in Ottawa

I recently had the chance to hang out in Ottawa for two days. I was going there for a workshop , so I thought it would be great to spend a few extra days in the capital.

The downtown core is very walkable with many places to visit in a short distance. The weather in early March was hovering around freezing, so it was nice enough to spend some time outside and not have to rush from one building to the next.

Ottawa has many museums and places to visit so that is where I started. My first stop was the National Gallery of Canada. It was bright and open inside, because there is so much glass to let in the sunlight. The main entry way and the courtyards inside had glass roofs, allowing for most of the artwork to be illuminated with natural, indirect light.

The second level of the museum is filled with international art, from Michelangelo to Monet, but it was the first level that really surprised me. It is filled with Canadian Art. I guess I had always focused on European art and never really contemplated Canadian artists. I guess I just never really looked. My favourite painter has always been and remains to this day Lawren Harris, but I thoroughly enjoyed everything else the gallery offered. I sat down infront of Alex Janvier’s Untitled for at least 10 minutes before realizing that if I wanted to see more of what the Gallery has to offer, I needed to keep moving.

The following day I took to bus to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. I think I was the only person there who did not have at least one child attached to them. I was in my happy place. Each grouping of aircraft represented a different era in aviation and it was really interesting to see the development from the Silver Dart to current and futuristic aircraft designs. My favourite section was the space section, which included the first Canadarm that was launched into space and used from November 12, 1981 till June 1, 2011. That Canadarm performed 23 missions and travelled 153 million kilometres!

Canadarm Closeup
Canadarm Closeup

The Life in Orbit Exhibit showed what life is like on the International Space Station. The specially made guitar that Chris Hadfield took into space and recorded his version of Space Oddity is on display, as well as an Extra Vehicular Mobility Unit (aka space suit), sleeping quarters and so much more. I highly recommend the museum to everyone.

CF-101 Voodoo
Aviation Museum
Avro Arrow

From there, I took the bus back to downtown and walked over to the Canadian War Museum. I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not. I had heard good things about it from people I knew, so I thought I would check it out. It is an extremely informative museum. Tracing through Canada’s history, from the early wars through to present, they cover all major conflicts Canadians have been involved in. I am happy that I went, but it was overwhelming. Not just the information and the displays, but there are videos and audios playing in different sections and after a while, it was just too much and I was no longer absorbing everything the museum had to offer. I would still recommend going, but if you have the chance, split up the museum to two different days.

The last of my must see plan was a tour of Parliament. This hour-long tour is provided in either French or English and is free, but you need to pick up your tickets on the day of the tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable as she took us through the Rotunda, Hall of Honour, Senate and the library. Did you know that the library is the only part of the original building that remains? Fire had broke out on 3 February 1916 and was going to burn everything down, when the people in the library closed the doors. Although they are painted to look like wood, they are actually made out of steel. This was the only entrance to the library, and the heavy steel doors stopped the fire. The firefighters were also pouring so much water onto the library to prevent the spread of the fire, that many books were lost due to water damage.

During our tour, we did not go into the House of Commons, because they were in session. We were allowed to go and sit in the public galleries, and listed to what was going on. They were debating the limits of the tax-free savings account. My last stop in the building was the Peace Tower. The elevator takes you up 150ft in the air for a great view of the area. I happened to be up there at noon, when the carillon was being played for the daily 15 minute concert. It is always cool to listed to bells with their sound softly filling the air as you walk.

I spend my days walking around Ottawa. Those places are definitely worth a visit should you find yourself in Ottawa.


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