We spent Canada Day in Ottawa this year, and I’m back and raving about the city as a destination for a holiday with young kids. I’ve been a few times before, but never with all three boys in tow.
Here is how we prepared: hotel reservations. We thought we might need them on this of all weekends. My husband also arranged for a spectacular view of the fireworks from the Ottawa office of his firm, which has a great balcony on the 20th floor, and he booked us a tour of the Parliament buildings.
Our days were more of a drift than a drive. It’s easy to wing it in Ottawa, even for folks like us who usually have things planned out minutely. We are big fans of Lists, Planning, Thinking Ahead. This trip was not at all minutely planned, and a big part of the break for me was not planning, not observing the usual bedtimes, not clock-watching. Sometimes the best vacations are the breaks we take from being our usual selves.
We stayed at the Sheraton on Albert Street and were within easy walking distance of lots of attractions:
- the Parliament Buildings and Supreme Court (my favourite example of Art Deco architecture in Canada)
- a sunset boat tour on the Ottawa River
- the footpaths along the Rideau Canal
- the National Gallery, with the lovely massive spider sculpture, Maman (which makes me think of Anne Lamott’s fantastic essay about motherhood and anger in which she describes herself as a tarantula)
- fresh and delicious deli sandwiches from la Bottega in Byward Market
- feel-good, fair-trade, organic, shade-grown coffee from Ottawa coffee house chain Bridgehead ( I love Canadian small business success stories. There were loads of these coffee shops around, and it made a welcome change from the usual chains.)
It was great to be able to load the younger boys into the stroller and just head out the door. It was also great to be in a hotel with a pool, which we used almost every day. What a blessing when three boys need to burn off steam.
We used the car to get to the Museum of Civilization, which also houses the Children’s Museum. (Do any of you remember the Children’s Own Museum that used to live in the Planetarium building in behind the ROM? I miss that place…) The Children’s Museum is an amazing resource, and our kids spent hours in there, shopping at the grocery store, exploring the pyramids, using the cranes on a cargo ship, building with intricate wooden blocks, riding and driving planes, trains and automobiles. They also got to experience themselves being dwarfed by the awesome assortment of totem poles in the First Nations exhibit. Griffin took one look at Bill Reid’s “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” and said, “Hey, that’s on our $20 bill.” I love it when kids make connections.
Also a car ride away was the Museum of Aviation, where there was more riding in planes. (For a fee, you can also go up in a real helicopter or bi-plane, though we did not.)
Another car ride took us to the neighbourhood near Carleton University, where our friends led our little party to an amazing water park/splash pad and then led us home again for cold, cold beer and mounds of the most delicious Indian food.
We woke up on Canada Day and just aimed the stroller towards Parliament Hill. A bit more planning might have ensured a better spot from which to see the Queen, but we were still within 20 meters, and have her on our very own camera(s).
Parliament Hill ended up being a homing beacon, and we would wend our way back to it each day.
We watched fireworks from a balcony that had a spectacular panoramic view over the river and Parliament Hill.
(Photo credit: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
The day after Canada Day, we did our tour of the Parliament Buildings, and I was amazed that each of the kids enjoyed some aspect of the tour. (I must admit, I did not have high hopes of this part of the trip working out well with the kids, but they did really well.) For Youngest, 2, it was running through the James Bond tunnels that connect the various buildings. For Middlest, 5, it was the view from the top of the Peace Tower. And for Eldest, 9, it was the memorial chamber in the Peace Tower, with its massive books of the names of the war dead inscribed in beautiful calligraphy. They made quite an impression on him. He also liked getting full marks on the questions our guide kept asking him. (He knows his Canadian geography better than some law students, apparently.) Go early to avoid long security line-ups. It’s like going through security at an airport, but, happily, without the surly security officers. Everyone we met was unfailingly kind, cheerful and helpful.
On the last night of our trip, after an evening boat ride on the river, we played tag in the dwindling light on the lawn under the Peace Tower. We strolled home when it had finished striking ten. A great end to a great weekend.