Ottawa: A Capital Idea
Ottawa Travel Tale
by Lorry Patton
Canada's Parliament Buildings are the focal point of the Nation's Capital, dominating the skyline
against the shore of the Ottawa River. Ornate and traditional in design, they exude grandeur and
seriousness. We walked within the hallowed halls of Parliament, steeped in the trappings of a
royal heritage. The priceless paintings
illuminated by stained glass windows impart a certain dignity to the business of Canadian
One of the most
fascinating areas in this governmental complex is the House of Commons, where the elected
representatives of the
people ceremoniously and methodically applaud and assail each other. The debates are televised
for the world to judge, sometimes to the dismay of all Canadians.
A stark contrast to the noisy environment of the House of Commons is the Library of Parliament.
cathedralesque setting ne'er a word is spoken. The vaulted chamber that houses the nation's
miraculously escaped a fire in 1916, but fell prey to water damage in 1952 when a second fire
destroyed the dome. It
took four years to restore the library to a condition befitting the royal presence of Queen
Victoria's statue that
presides over the 600,000 volumes in the collection.
One other chamber on Parliament Hill is distinguished by dignified silence. The Memorial
Chamber is a quiet and
revered monument t Canada's 114,710 war dead. The names of Canadian soldiers, sailors, and
airmen who gave their
lives for their country are inscribed in five Books of Remembrance. The calligrapher of the first
Baldwin, faithfully entered 66,655 names of the fallen soldiers of the First World War. The task
spanned five years,
and as fate would have it, his name was to appear on page 113 in the second volume of the Book
This tribute to the Nation's war dead is a solemn bond linking generations of Canadians.
Displayed on five alters, the
books lie open for all to view, and each day at eleven o'clock a page is turned in each of the five
books, so that every
name will be on view at least once a year.
The Memorial Chamber is the only room on Parliament Hill that you can enter without a guide.
It is a deeply private
place, where you can be alone to contemplate the great sacrifice these Canadians made for their
overwhelmed by the thought of 114,700 fallen soldiers. I may forget the splendor of the
but I will not forget the Books of Remembrance.
Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the Nation's Capital in 1857. She ignored the big cities of
Toronto and Montreal and
chose Bytown, as it was then called, despite opposition from those who couldn't envision a cold
and miserable lumber
camp as Canada's grand Capital.
Granted, the winters are still cold and miserable but the crude community has grown into a first
class city. It didn't
happen over-night, in fact, the only change was the strange rocky building stuck on the hill. It
took Wilfred Laurier's
dream of a 'grandeur capital ' and years of planning to transform the rough and tumble village
into a modern moving
mecca--with an eye on history, of course, stored for future generations to view and understand
inside a plethora of
Ottawa is also home to scores of historical churches, the famous RCMP Musical Ride, and the
National Gallery of
Canada, a glass, steel, and stone structure, designed by Moishe Safdie of Israel. It is situated in
plain view of the
Parliament Buildings, a bold contrast between the old and new faces of Ottawa.
Safdie traveled the world to gather ideas for this beautiful building. He discovered that natural
light is the ideal
illumination for fragile works of art, and he designed the National Gallery to make the most of
The towering roofs are of double safety glass and the walls of triple safety glass. Computers
raise and lower shades
beneath the glass allowing just the right amount of light in. The lower levels get outside light
designed portholes and bridges. An ingenious architectural feat.
I've been to Ottawa twice now. Once in the summertime, when flowers, fruit and sunshine
mingled in the Byward
Market, adding a messy European flavor to the city, and most recently in the fall, when the
autumn leaves flashed
color of such magnitude no-one paid attention to the dull and dreary sky. Yes, it was fall, the
streets were sort of
empty, but, what the heck, the indoor malls were full. Especially, the sophisticated Rideau
Centre. I would guess the
over 230 shop owners appreciated the crowds.
We toured past the Prime Minister's residence on Sussex Drive (couldn't see a thing), and drove
Village where the world's ambassadors reside. The opulent mansions make life in the political
arena seem very
attractive, despite the need for security guards scrutinizing every vehicle that slows down to take
a closer look .
Three rivers historically governed the growth of Ottawa; the Rideau, the Gatineau, and the
Ottawa. They meet at the
banks of Parliament Hill. In 1826 a man-made river was dredged to enhance navigation; the
famous Rideau Canal.
The Canal was built between Kingston and Ottawa so that British gunboats might avoid
confrontation with the enemy
on the shores of the St. Lawrence. The hostility never took place, but today, a cruise on the
unique waterway of 49
locks over 200 km is a popular recreation excursion. To be sure, Ottawa's residents make use of
their 8 kms. In the
summer they splash about in dinghies and sailboats and when it freezes in the winter, they put on
their skates and go to
Because of all these giant ditches, downtown seems congested and the streets a conglomerate of
one ways and
confusion but after a few trips around the block they begin to make sense.
In May, during the Festival of Spring, tulips bloom over every inch of earth in and around the
city. The Visitor's Center
promotes it as the largest display of tulips in North America. These living carpets are gifts from
the Netherlands in
gratitude for giving refuge to Queen Juliana during the second world war.
I've seen pictures. The Parliament Buildings float on a sea of crimson and gold. The rough
blocks not quite as solid,
not quite as serious and not quite as dogmatic. It's a comforting thought.
For brochures and maps, write: National Capital Commission Visitor Information Centre, 14