February 10, 2017

A capital idea

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Food, fun, festivals and one really, really big spider: Ottawa’s Canada 150 celebration will be the biggest party in the country

Travel
By  Joanne Sasvari

For the past months and years, Ottawa has risen each morning to the clatter of jackhammers and the rattle of power drills, its most famous buildings hidden behind scaffolding, its busiest streets a maze of construction and detours.

Now the work is done. The nation’s capital is ready to party. And what a party it will be.

In 2017, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday and the big shindig will be in Ottawa, which is hosting celebratory events all year long. If it’s been a while since you visited, or indeed, if you’ve never made the trip, this is the year you should go.

Culture capital

Even when it’s not in party mode, Ottawa offers endless reasons to visit, starting with its cultural riches.

Ottawa has so many galleries and museums, you could easily spend days, if not weeks, exploring the Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of History, National Gallery of Canada and Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, just to name a few. Seriously, you could do nothing but wander from exhibit to exhibit, awed by the bravery of our astronauts, moved by Tom Thomson’s sketches of the Ontario wilderness, chilled by the mournful mood of the War Museum’s Regeneration Hall.

For Canada 150, Ottawa will also be hosting a number of special cultural events, including the artsy hub Inspiration Village (May 20 to Sept. 4), the summer music fest YOWttawa and the year-long festival of light Ignite 150.

The two events that will be most talked about, though, are sure to be Kontinuum (June through September), a wild underground multimedia experience, and La Machine (July 26 to 30), which features two gigantic ambulatory machines marching through the streets, including a massive spider that could be sibling to the statue called Maman outside the National Gallery.

If it’s been a while since you visited, or indeed, if you’ve never made the trip, this is the year you should go

Action central

In winter, Ottawans skate to work along the world’s largest outdoor skating rink, the Rideau Canal. In summer, they flock to Parliament Hill for noontime yoga on the lawn. Year round, they explore the more than 150 kilometres of trails that meander through the National Capital Greenbelt, then relax in the steamy outdoor pools of the vast Nordik Spa-Nature across the river in Gatineau. When the weather’s just right, they might even hop aboard a Zodiac for some urban whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River.

This is a town that loves getting outside and getting active. It loves its sports almost as much as it does its outdoor activities. In 2017, there will be plenty to keep the city energized, from Red Bull Crashed Ice and Stanley Cup Tribute in March to the Grey Cup in November.

City on a plate

Long before farm-to-table became the mantra of hip eateries everywhere, Ottawa was already dining out on local produce. That’s in large part thanks to the central role the historic Byward Market has always played in the city. Even former U.S. president Barack Obama visited the market and enjoyed the famous fried pastry known as a Beaver Tail.

Credit for the city’s growing foodie reputation also goes to a large coterie of talented local culinarians, including sommelier-restaurateur Stephen Beckta and Marc Lepine, the only two-time gold medal winner at the Canadian Culinary Championships. It helps, too, that the city is home to Canada’s only Cordon Bleu cooking school.

In 2017, there will be even more deliciousness on offer: SkyLounge, a gourmet meal served at a table dangling high above the city in July; the Interprovincial Picnic on the Bridge on July 2; and a series of chef collaboration dinners featuring some of Canada’s biggest names, planned for September.

 State of the nation

Of course, one of the main reasons to visit Ottawa is simply because it’s our national capital (and for his many fans, there’s always the hope of glimpsing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, too).

 

If You Go

Getting there:

Both WestJet (westjet.com) and Air Canada (aircanada.com) fly direct daily to Ottawa, but a more scenic way to get there is via Via Rail from Toronto (viarail.ca).

Staying there: 

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is a property with great history and style—plus, it’s conveniently close to Parliament Hill, the National Arts Centre, Byward Market and other attractions. fairmont.com/laurier-ottawa

Dining there: 

Atelier, helmed by two-time Canadian Culinary Championship gold medallist Marc Lepine, is an indulgence of creativity and originality. atelierrestaurant.ca

Sommelier-restaurateur Stephen Beckta pours a glorious glass at his fine-dining Beckta Dining & Wine (beckta.com) and the casual Play Food & Wine (playfood.ca).

Fabulously housed in a 1920 art deco bank building, The Riviera offers casual fine dining and the best cocktail selection in town. dineriviera.com

Celebrating there:

The city is hosting Canada 150 and related events throughout 2017, from the year-long Ignite 150 and Agri 150 festivals to La Machine in July, the subterranean Kontinuum June through September and the Stanley Cup Tribute in March. Ottawa2017.ca.

For more information:

To plan your trip to Ottawa, visit Ottawatourism.ca.

 

Nothing stirs the patriotic heart like joining the 100,000 or so people joyfully waving red-and-white Maple Leaf flags on Parliament Hill each July 1. And it’s inspiring at any time to gaze across the city from the top of the clock tower in Parliament’s Centre Block, to peek into Rideau Hall or the Supreme Court of Canada, to stroll along the same avenues where our laws have been created, our rights upheld, our image as Canadians burnished.

In 2017, Ottawa will share that image with the world, welcoming them to a party like no other. Don’t you want to be there, too? •

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