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Hello From Ottawa - A Brisk Morning Walk To Parliament Hill

One of the interesting features of Ottawa is its architecture and Ottawa has many heritage sites. Parliament Hill with its historical neo-Gothic buildings was an area I wanted to discover in more detail.

Friday night, just after we arrived in town I was able to snap a few pictures, just before the sun went down. Saturday morning I got up and out by 7:30 am and it was a crisp morning, with perfect blue sky. It was definitely on the cold side, not a good idea to venture out ...

hello from, ottawa, travel

One of the interesting features of Ottawa is its architecture and Ottawa has many heritage sites. Parliament Hill with its historical neo-Gothic buildings was an area I wanted to discover in more detail.

Friday night, just after we arrived in town I was able to snap a few pictures, just before the sun went down. Saturday morning I got up and out by 7:30 am and it was a crisp morning, with perfect blue sky. It was definitely on the cold side, not a good idea to venture out without a hat or a thick scarf. So it was going to be a bad hair day again, but who cares….

I started off with the area immediately in front of the Lord Elgin Hotel, which includes the National Arts Center, the Government Conference Centre (the former Union Station, Ottawa's main railway terminal), the War Memorial and the Chateau Laurier.

Then I marched up to Parliament Hill from where you have an absolutely perfect view over to Hull and the Gatineau Hills. I admired the sculptures “ Women are Persons” (referring to women being recognized as their own human beings), and took a number of pictures and video clips of the Parliament Buildings.

Parliament Hill is the seat of Canada's Government and consists of the Centre Block, the West Block and the East Block. The Senate and the House of Commons are also located here. Free tours are generally available every day, except my own discovery was a little bit too early to take the tour.

Incidentally Canada's Parliament Buildings have an interesting history. Lower Canada (today's Quebec) and Upper Canada (today's Ontario) joined together to form the Province of Canada in 1841. The seat of government alternated for many years until Queen Victoria was asked to select a permanent capital in 1857.

To the surprise of many, the Queen selected the rough lumber town of Ottawa instead of the established cities of Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City or Kingston. One of the reasons was that Ottawa was close to both provinces and located at a safe distance from the American border.

The Parliament Buildings were built between 1859 and 1866 (not including the Library and the Tower). One year after they were finished, Confederation occurred and the buildings were immediately selected to house the government for the newly created Dominion of Canada.

The main building of the government buildings is called Centre Block and it is instantly recognizable with its trademark Peace Tower. Visitors can watch the House of Commons and the Senate from the visitor galleries, and free tours are also available. A tour to the top of the Peace Tower rewards you with a great view all over Ottawa. Canada's war dead are honoured inside the Memorial Chamber.

The Library of Parliament Building - the only part of the original Centre Block that survived the desastrous fire of 1916 - is currently undergoing restoration work to bring it back to its former glory.

The historic East Block has not changed much since the days of Confederation. The offices of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, have been restored and are available to visit on a public tour.

The West Block is not accessible to the public as it houses the offices of the members of parliament.

The Peace Tower is Ottawa's trademark and its name is a commemoration of Canada’s commitment to peace. The Memorial Chamber is located on the third floor of the Tower, and it honours Canadians who have died in armed conflicts since Confederation. The Peace Tower also holds an observation area and the Carillon which contains 53 bells weighing anywhere from less than 5 kg to more than 10 tons.

The Centre Block was affected by a large fire in 1916. Canada began rebuilding it while still fighting in the First World War. The new structure, designed in the Modern Gothic Revival style by John Pearson and Jean Omer Marchand, was completed by 1922. The Peace Tower was finished later in 1927.

In the summer Parliament Hill offers up a unique ceremony: every day at 10 am the Changing of the Guard takes place, and this year the ceremony will be held every day from June 24 to August 26 of 2006.

Parliament Hill with its big open square lends itself naturally as a meeting and entertainment venue. The Canada Day celebrations are held here and they include free concerts, spectacular fireworks, a flight demonstration by the Snowbirds (Canada's precision aerobatic team), and you'll only have to put up with short speeches by Canadian politicians.

Another event coming up for 2006 is a free sound and light show called "Canada: the Spirit of a Country", which will be performed on a daily basis after dark between July 5 and September 10, 2006. Images will be projected onto the Parliament Buildings. Obviously Parliament Hill is not just a boring place for politicians, it is an entertainment venue and meeting place for people from Ottawa, for folks from the rest of the country and for international tourists alike.

After my discovery of the Parliament Buildings I walked further west to have a look at the Supreme Court of Canada and the other surrounding buildings. What really fascinated me where the huge plumes of steam that come out of the smokestacks, I don’t recall seeing the same types of formations in Toronto. One person explained to me that the air in Ottawa is calmer as compared to Toronto where we always have wind blowing in from the lake which actually would disperse these clouds of smoke. An interesting sight....

This crisp morning walk was the perfect introduction to Ottawa and a good way to burn off calories from last night's carlory-rich evening at Fat Tuesday's. After a rather hearty breakfast at the Lord Elgin Hotel, we set off to begin our day of skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway, the main reason we had come to Ottawa.

This entire article including photos is located at http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/ottawa_parliament_hill.htm

 

Hello From Ottawa: An Authentic Aboriginal Dining Experience At Sweetgrass Bistro

As always, I like to focus on unconventional travel ideas and experiences, and food is part of this experience. So before I left for Ottawa I called up the ByWard Market Business Improvement Association to find out about any interesting dining establishments. Sure enough, they had a creative suggestion for me: an establishment named Sweetgrass Bistro that specializes in aboriginal cuisine.

So after my arrival in Ottawa and my initial explorations I made my way to the ByWar...

Ottawa,Ontario, Canada,Food, restaurant, cousine

As always, I like to focus on unconventional travel ideas and experiences, and food is part of this experience. So before I left for Ottawa I called up the ByWard Market Business Improvement Association to find out about any interesting dining establishments. Sure enough, they had a creative suggestion for me: an establishment named Sweetgrass Bistro that specializes in aboriginal cuisine.

So after my arrival in Ottawa and my initial explorations I made my way to the ByWard Market, Ottawa’s largest and most dynamic entertainment and restaurant area. Sweetgrass Bistro is located in a former private home on 108 Murray Street at the north end of the market area.

You walk inside and the place has a bar area with an open concept kitchen on the left and a dining room to the right. The atmosphere is calm and understated and aboriginal art is adorning the walls. I had a chance to sit down with Phoebe Sutherland, one of the co-owners of Sweetgrass. She and husband Warren opened this dining establishment in late 2003.

Phoebe has an interesting story to tell: she is of Cree origin and grew up in Northern Quebec in the James Bay area. She lived on the reserve until age 10 and spent her childhood camping, enjoying nature, snaring rabbits, and from a culinary point of view she got exposed to a lot of game meats including rabbit and moose.

At 10 years of age she moved and went to a private school in Quebec near the Vermont Border. She later attended Grenville Christian College in Brockville and after high school she enrolled at Algonquin College in Ottawa to complete a program in hotel and restaurant management. Following her graduation she wanted to expand her education in culinary arts and decided to pursue a degree program in this discipline. Since no Canadian university offered a degree in culinary arts she went on to attend the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont where she honed her practical experience in two internship programs. Her first internship was at a four star French establishment named Hammersly’s Bistro in Boston and her second one was at the Asticou Inn in North East Harbour, Maine. The cuisine at this historic inn focused on seafood which was a great learning opportunity for Phoebe.

She met her husband Warren in her second year of school where he was studying a year behind her. Warren had given up his studies in electrical engineering to pursue a career in creative culinary arts. After graduation, both Phoebe and Warren moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she studied transcontinental cuisine, a mixture of South-Western cooking and world fusion. Phoebe went on to say that she was the only female in an all Mexican kitchen crew and through the interaction with her co-workers she learned a lot about traditional Mexican foods as well. That also explained why Sweetgrass has a Mexican Tortilla soup on its spring menu.

After this experience Phoebe and Warren moved back to Canada and decided to get married. Less than a year later, at the young age of 27, they started their restaurant business with funding assistance for Young Aboriginal Entrepreneurs. I asked Phoebe about the name of their restaurant and she explained that at the time they were considering two names: “Sweetgrass” and “Smoke Signal”. Sweetgrass, the final choice, is a tall perfumy grass that grows mostly in marshy areas and it has a long tradition in aboriginal culture. It is used in prayers, woven into braids and baskets and also used as a tea by a variety of aboriginal tribes.

“Sweetgrass” is the only aboriginal restaurant in Ottawa and only the second restaurant specializing in native cuisine in all of Canada. Phoebe explained that they integrate foods from different aboriginal tribes from all over Canada, the United States and Mexico and they use a lot of herbs, grains and different types of meat such as elk, buffalo, duck, pheasant, rabbit and various types of fish. The menu changes seasonally to reflect the availability of specialized ingredients.

I had a chance to sample Sweetgrass’ unique cuisine and started off with “Wabush Dumplings” which are pan-fried rabbit dumplings in a honey mustard sauce with Bryson greens in a citrus vinaigrette. I am usually not a big meat eater, but the subtle flavour of these rabbit dumplings complemented by the savoury sauce was very pleasant to my palate. As a main dish I chose the “Rustic Mahnoomin Siipai”, a purely vegetarian dish consisting of wild rice dumplings filled with great northern beans, topped with wild greens and a spring vegetable sauce, a multi-flavoured, yet surprisingly filling dish. To cap off this exotic dining experience I had "Mom's Indian Buudin", a beautifully presented dense, dark-coloured cake, reminiscent of Christmas cake.

Phoebe had joined me for dinner and told me a bit about her childhood, growing up on a reserve and then moving away to small towns in Quebec and Ontario. She says she enjoyed the simple life on the reserve and as children they would always play outside. One of her favourite activities was to search for wild strawberries. Today the lodge in her village has been turned into a conference centre and although 8 or 9 hours northeast of Ottawa, the area where she was born attracts a lot more tourists.

Phoebe and her husband Warren, originally from Jamaica, share a passion for food. Every year they participate in the ByWard Market Stew Cookoff and this year they won the People’s Choice Award for best stew. They also regularly participate in a local food show in a small town outside of Ottawa which is a true collaboration between farmers, who provide local produce and meats, and chefs, who turn these precious ingredients into mouthwatering delicacies. Last year about 600 to 800 people attended the food festival.

Phoebe and Warren Sutherland’s creation “Sweetgrass” is a unique addition to Ottawa’s food scene and testimony to two young, talented and hardworking people who share an absolute passion for food.

 

Hello From Ottawa - First Impressions And An Overview

My partner in crime Theresa and I went to Ottawa 3 or 4 years ago in the winter to catch Ottawa's famous winter festival "Winterlude". Unfortunately that year the weather was too warm and the weekend was a total wash-out. Even the ice sculptures had melted.

Well, it was time to give it a second shot. So this past Friday we got in the car and once we drove through a few snow squalls past Oshawa it was smooth sailing all the way to Canada's capital. We got into town right ar...

Ottawa. Ontario, Canada, Winter, winterlude, Rideau Canal, skate

My partner in crime Theresa and I went to Ottawa 3 or 4 years ago in the winter to catch Ottawa's famous winter festival "Winterlude". Unfortunately that year the weather was too warm and the weekend was a total wash-out. Even the ice sculptures had melted.

Well, it was time to give it a second shot. So this past Friday we got in the car and once we drove through a few snow squalls past Oshawa it was smooth sailing all the way to Canada's capital. We got into town right around 4:30 pm, just before sunset.

Coming in on the 417 into town we caught a bit of Ottawa's rush hour, and traffic along Wellington Street was bumper to bumper. Funny, I had always figured that Ottawa didn’t have a rush hour, boy was I wrong. Just because some people may think that Ottawa is a bit of a bureaucratic backwater doesn’t mean it’s not a hustling and bustling place.

So I have since done some research about this capital of ours and have found out some interesting facts that demonstrate that Ottawa is a much more interesting city than expected:

* Ottawa is the fourth largest urban centre in Canada (behind Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver), with a population of more than 1.2 million people.

* Ottawa naturally is the home of government organizations such as the Government of Canada, Canada's Parliament, the Senate, and the Supreme Court of Canada

* Ottawa is a centre of high technology and home to technology giants such as Nortel Networks, JDS Uniphase, Cognos, Cisco and Alcatel.

* Other major companies like MBNC Canada, ING Direct and Clarica also make Ottawa their home.

* More than 65,000 people are employed in 1500 companies in the high-tech sector.

* Apparently Ottawa has the best-educated workforce in Canada. On a per capita level it has more engineers, scientists and PhDs than any other city in the country.

* Ottawa is one of the top 5 sites in the world for R&D.

* More than 7 million visitors come to Ottawa every year, and collectively they spend more than $1.3 billion.

* A Swiss-based management firm, Corporate Resources Group, ranked Ottawa sixth in the world for quality of life.

* Ottawa is a truly bilingual city and it also has significant number of people who speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic

So this little bit of research taught me that there is much more to Ottawa than what we commonly know. It's pretty evident that Ottawa has undergone huge changes since the early part of the 1800s when Colonel By came to build the Rideau Canal from 1826 to 1832. This initial settlement was called Bytown and in 1855 Bytown officially changed its name to Ottawa.

The city really grew around the canal and today, the Rideau Canal is one of the major centers in Ottawa for recreation, and comes alive in the winter as the Rideau Canal Skateway. Ottawa's first industry was derived from logging which grew around the Ottawa River. Rafts of timber were floated down the Ottawa River, and large sawmills were built during the 19th century.

Right from the start the ByWard Market became a major centre of action for the lumberjacks, and even today it has remained one of Ottawa's primary entertainment and commercial areas.

Ottawa's first electric streetcar service was opened in 1891 and a local pioneer, Thomas Ahearn, often referred to as Canada's Edison, was a driving force behind bringing electricity to Ottawa. He invented heating appliances and one menu of the day (in 1892) boasts that this was the first instance in history that an entire meal was cooked by electricity.

In 1877, the public got its first demonstration of the telephone. And Canada's first country-wide broadcast came through the radio waves from Ottawa in 1927. Tragedy struck Ottawa several times: in 1900, a huge fire destroyed entire neighbourhoods, and in 1916, the Parliament Buildings suffered the same fate.

Ottawa is a major tourist destination, and visitors to the city enjoy the cultural and heritage attractions, as well as Ottawa's festivals and special events.

Quite surprisingly, Ottawa has a number of world-renowned celebrities, including Paul Anka, Lorne Green, Margaret Atwood, Alanis Morrisette and Matthew Perry. So the history and make-up of Ottawa is indeed much more interesting and diverse than expected.

One of the great things about Ottawa is its unique heritage architecture. Being the passionate photographer that I am I requested Theresa to stop the car in various treacherous positions in the middle of rush hour traffic, just to hop out and take some pictures in the warm evening light. The temperature itself was anything else but warm, it must have been -10, -12 degrees Celsius.

I got out of the car near the Supreme Court of Canada and got out to shoot a few photos in the setting afternoon soon. My breath was freezing and walking around without a toque or gloves was not a good idea in this -10 degree weather. I definitely had to cover my trigger fingers on the camera with gloves since the biting cold was chewing at my digits.

Of course I wanted to catch a close-up of the Parliament Buildings as well, so we grabbed an illegal parking spot and I hopped out of the car and instructed Theresa to circle around the block in the event someone was going to shoo her away.

Then it was on to our next stop, the historic Lord Elgin Hotel, located right downtown, 5 minutes from the Parliament Buildings, right across from Confederation Park and the famous Rideau Canal, our destination on Saturday for some outdoor skating on the Canal, at 7.8 km the world’s largest skating rink.

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