I am just back from three splendid days in Ottawa. I was attending the annual Rendezvous Canada marketplace where I meet with many of our suppliers learning all about their plans for the next twelve months. It is a marvellous opportunity for what I would call catching up with old friends, but what the professionals would undoubtedly tell me is networking. Whichever, it was great fun.
However, the icing on the cake was the fact that the conference coincided with the Ottawa Tulip Festival which takes place every May for about three weeks. What I did not know was that the festival was established in 1953 with the gift of tulips from Holland.
Canada provided a safe haven for the Dutch Royal family during the war, Princess Margriet was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, which was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Government of Canada, to ensure the princess would hold exclusively Dutch, rather than dual nationality. (Princess Margriet remains the only royal person ever to be born in North America.) As a thank you for this and for the Canadian troops fighting for Holland’s freedom in WWII, the Dutch gave thousands of tulips to Canada from 1953 until Queen Juliana’s abdication in 1980. There are now over a million tulips flowering in the city every May and the sight is truly spectacular.
It was ages since I had been to Ottawa; it really is a splendid place for a long weekend. The totem gallery in the The Canadian Museum of Civilisation made my jaw drop in awe when I went in. The sheer height (6 storeys) with a glass wall lit the line of totem poles. The room also houses the original plaster pattern for Spirit of Haida Gwaii by celebrated Haida artist Bill Reid which is one of my all time favourite sculptures. In its way, it is as moving to me, as Michelangelo’s Pieta in Rome.
Ottawa is a good walking city: the Rideau Canal runs through the city providing lots of green space full of runners in the early morning but later in the day makes for a pleasant stroll. It freezes in winter making it the longest skating rink in the world! You can discover its history in the Bytown Museum, this being the original name of the settlement here, named after Colonel John By. The colourful Byward Market is full of boutiques selling everything from jewellery to roller skates as well as farm fresh food and aromatic spices by day and a cornucopia of attractive, restaurants in the evening. The Parliament buildings and Peace Tower, reminiscent of Big Ben, are well worth a visit too.
Ottawa, in the east of the country, is the capital of Canada and hosts around 7 million tourists a year. This isn’t perhaps surprising as in 2010 it received the ‘World Festival and Event City’ award. And the list of festivals is long, varied and at times, unexpectedly quirky, the Ottawa Turkish Festival or the International Chicken and Rib Cook-Off anyone? Music, theatre and art events are both mainstream and specialist, with Canada Day on July 1st being a serious highlight and deservedly internationally famous for the late night pyrotechnics.
Summers are warm, winters very cold, with cross country ski trails in the heart of the city and downhill runs just an hour away at Mount Pakenham. The architecture is stately and formal as indeed befits a capital city. Roads are in a grid layout, incorporating the meandering river and Rideau canal, which is, truth be told, the reason the city exists at all.
For holidays and travel to Ottawa, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Frontier Canada.