It was an embarrassingly long time into my life (and scarily close to my decision to move to Canada) that I found out the Toronto was not the capital of the huge white country.
I forgive anyone who still is of the understanding that little Ottawa ISN’T the capital. It would seem that Toronto has it all — the skyline, financial centers, the huge hockey team, better shops, harbour front and so on. Whereas Ottawa is far more small-town and laid back. It may sound like I am hating on Ottawa, and I absolutely am not — I love living in Ottawa. If Toronto is London and New York, Ottawa would be Edinburgh or Madrid. Ottawa is a beautiful open green city with plenty of space and water and parks. It’s the type of city that you can discover in a day, but also get lost in for a week while diving in and out of the numerous fascinating and varied museums and galleries.
While Ottawa’s winters certainly take their toll, they are also great fun. In order to keen Ottawans going after the New Year, there is the Winterlude festival to look forward to. Normally held every February, Winterlude is essentially a festival celebrating all things ‘ice’. It is mainly celebrated along the Rideau Canal, which also doubles up as the world’s longest ice rink. Skate-able from mid-January to mid-March weather depending, it’s packed every weekend with tourists and residents all out for a skate. Covering the whole rink will give you an excellent butt workout of a 7.8 km skate. Residents of Ottawa use it as a means of getting from one end of the canal to the other to get to work, downtown for shopping or even as a ‘highway’ to get to the bars. The festival brings ice sculptors from all over the world, culinary delights such as beavertails and snow frozen maple syrup and many other things to entertain anyone.
However, it is the summer that is really the time to visit Ottawa. Watching the transition from winter to summer is honestly one of my favourite things, especially since moving to Canada. Summer in Ottawa means long evenings and huge parks to take advantage of again. The (unfrozen!) canal and lakes to lay by. Parliament comes to life with the changing of the guard event happening twice daily, and the sound and light display against the Parliament buildings in the evenings. You can go on river or canal cruises to escape the bustle of the ByWard Market, which in itself is a great place to explore. The smaller streets and boutique shops are scattered around cafes, bistros and bars and hidden in small courtyards. And, of course, there is the daily market of fruit, vegetables, flowers and other small local produce.
As for museums there are the Museum of Civilization, Canadian Mint, Museum of Nature, War Museum to name but a few. As I said, the nicest thing about being a tourist in Ottawa is the ease at which you can be a tourist. So often you are hassled by people trying to scam you into buying things, just awed by the sheer size of places to visit and areas to cover. Since everything a tourist needs to see is so close together, it means your feet dont get tired and you don’t need to stop to rest at any given point. And whenever you do feel that need, you simply walk into one of the many parks around town!
So while Toronto may be the bigger- and better-known city, I would far rather be a tourist here in Ottawa. But then again….if we promote tourism here too much, then maybe it will become too big like Toronto….so for now I’ll keep it a secret!