Story and photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
Ottawa A Garden Of Delights
In May I traveled to Ottawa for the annual Tulip Festival only to find out that Mother Nature had other plans. While most of the tulip beds had been decimated by capricious weather, to my surprise I found Ottawa itself was a garden of delights, made even more so by the large wooden tulip flowers distributed throughout the city. The charming flowers were artfully painted and decorated and added immeasurably to the festive nature of the city. The Tulip Festival began with a gift of 100,000 bulbs presented in gratitude to the people of Canada by the Dutch Royal Family after World War II. To ensure the safety of the Royal Family during the war, they sought refuge in Ottawa, where subsequently Princess Margriet was born. In the intervening years Princess Margriet has returned periodically to Ottawa and in fact was there at the same time I was… sadly, she too missed the blooms.
Tulips originally came to Europe from Turkey and their name is in fact derived from a Turkish word for turban, the head covering the blossoms resemble. The first tulip bloomed in the Netherlands in 1594 and has since been an ambassador of good will associated with that country. The gift of tulips from the Dutch people to Ottawa continues until today there are over three million varied-colored blossoms spread over a 9 mile radius that winds along the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Anticipation that Ottawa, even without tulips, would be enchanting started for me at the people-friendly beautifully designed airport, and continued as we navigated the clean, pothole-free, access road leading into the city. Ottawa welcomes travelers with its lush landscaped greenways and sculpted flowering trees on the drive all the way into the city.
While Ottawa is primarily an English speaking city I found that most signs, directions, instructions, menus, monuments… just about everything, was expressed in both the English and French languages and that many locals were bi-lingual and could converse fluently in either language. This charming mix and match blend of cultures is not limited to language; architecturally too, the city captures the best of both traditions and makes Ottawa a truly distinctive and fun place to visit. As the capital of Canada, Ottawa is home to the magnificent grouping of Gothic Revival Parliament Buildings situated on Parliament Hill. During summer months there is a daily changing of the guard ceremony on Parliament Hill to add even more English-style color and texture to the downtown.
Actually Ottawa is a sprawling collection of neighborhoods – the downtown being just one of them - linked by greenways and walkways fronting the Rideau Canal which cleaves the city in two. The canal was built between 1826 and 1832, to link Kingston and Ottawa, by Lieutenant Colonel John By of the British Royal Engineers. By was sent from England to undertake the extraordinary engineering feat connecting the chain of lakes between Lake Ontario in Kingston, and the Ottawa River in Ottawa, through a series of 47 locks at 24 lock stations, which are all accessible by roadway. Although the canal was commissioned - in reaction to the War of 1812 - to provide safe and efficient access between the two cities during times of war, it was never needed for that purpose. Today the canal is the life blood of the city with its 112 miles of recreational pathways used for walking, biking, roller skating and jogging. In summer the canal is used for water activities and in the winter it becomes the longest skate-way in the world with 4.8 miles of skateable surface. In spring and summer you can cruise the canal from downtown to Dows Lake - one of the venues for the Tulip Festival - with Paul’s Boat Lines, located behind the old Railroad Terminal building, now the Government Conference Centre.
My introduction to Ottawa began at Afternoon Tea in Zoe’s Lounge in the elegant Fairmont Ch‚teau Laurier, a classic tribute to French Gothic architecture and style constructed in 1912. Positioned just east of Parliament Hill and the picturesque lock station on the Rideau Canal, the hotel was built to accommodate travelers arriving by rail on the British financed Grand Trunk Railroad system. General Manager Charles Melville Hays, envisioned creating a series of grand hotels and railway stations located at key points along the transcontinental route to the Pacific. No expense was spared in building the flagship hotel but alas C.M. Hays never lived to oversee the opening as he perished returning to Canada on the R.M.S. Titanic just days before the hotel’s inauguration. Over the years the hotel has hosted a veritable who’s who of royalty, heads of state, and celebrities such as King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, U.S. President Herbert Hoover, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Shirley Temple, Harry Belafonte and Roger Moore, to name just a few of the star-studded clientel. www.fairmont.com
It’s no wonder that the delightful English custom of “Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont” is the place to see and be seen in Ottawa. There are choices of Traditional, Canadian High Tea, Little Prince and Princess Tea, and in honor of the Tulip Festival, Tulip Tea. Cut tea is presented on a trolley to each guest by a uniformed attendant who makes suggestions and offers fragrant whiffs of exotic blends until a selection is made. The Canadian addition of fresh fruit begins the ceremony before a three tiered plate of finger sandwiches, de rigueur scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, and pastries made fresh in the Fairmont’s kitchens, is presented. A board of local Canadian cheeses completes the formal service.
Just across the street from the Fairmont along Sussex Drive is the picturesque ByWard Market neighborhood – By of Rideau Canal fame – an indoor/outdoor farmers market that is a must see in Ottawa. You can enter the area through any number of streets and wander through cobblestoned courtyards leading to great restaurants, clubs, bistros, boutique shops, handicraft stalls, and fruit and flower vendors. Here you can find the famous BeaverTails pastry, a home-grown whole wheat treat that has locals and visitors alike lining up for one of the dozens of versions made to order on site. At a whole other level of culinary experience is the Savour-Savourez Ottawa, a home-grown initiative that brings local farmers and producers together with local chefs. Ottawa chefs have a history of using and crediting sources of supply which thrusts the normally faceless producer into the limelight to share in equal measure with the chef.
This rich gastronomic dedication to quality is city-wide. A 10 minute taxicab ride west of the ByWard took me to an up and coming neighborhood called Hintonburg. Hintonburg is an area with theaters, art galleries, local designer shops and restaurants with agendas. One example is Savvy Selections located above Thyme and Again Catering on Wellington Street West, a Savour Ottawa establishment. Debbie Trenholm, Sommelier & President of Savvy, is presenting a series of wine and cheese classes to educate palates and broaden appreciation of the subtler points of fine wine and cheese. At the program I attended - “Great Canadian Cheese Discovery” - Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons offered complementary samples of Madawaska, Covecciu and Lankaaster Aged, cheeses all made locally from farms that Vanessa personally visited. www.savvycompany.ca
And while Ottawa can more then hold its own culinary achievement against the other renowned havens of Canada’s gastronomic scene, culturally they are in a class by themselves. There are many specific and targeted museums of world-class caliber, that it is difficult to cover them all. They range from the Bytown Museum that uncovers tales of passion and scandal of the people that built Ottawa, to the Canadian War Museum covering military history, to the Royal Canadian Mint where you can hold a bar of pure gold in your hands, to the National Gallery of Canada housing the largest art collection in the country, to the Canada Science and Technology Museum with its interactive hands-on exhibits, to name just a few. But for me the most spectacular was the Canadian Museum of Civilization that explores over 1,000 years of prehistory through Aboriginal village life to the world’s largest indoor collection of totally awesome totem poles and life-sized interactive townscapes. The stellar displays were visitor friendly with no prohibition on picture taking and lots to entertain the whole family. They also have a Children’s Museum, a Postal Museum and an IMAX® theatre on site, not to mention marvelous views of Parliament Hill and the canal from the outside plaza.
Many of the museums are housed in architecturally distinctive buildings, but none more so than the Canadian Museum of Nature. A massive restoration of the “castle” will reopen this month with dinosaur dioramas, a mineral gallery and a gallery of North American birds. A ‘9 Museum 7 Day Passport’ is available for a modest fee at participating museums as well as the Capital Infocentre across from Parliament Hill. www.museumspassport.ca
I stayed at the Westin Ottawa during my visit. The Westin is not only a beautiful modern hotel with all the necessities and quite a few luxuries; it’s also at one of the best locations in town. Directly across from the Rideau Canal and Paul’s Boat Dock; a block from Parliament Hill on one side and an equal distance from the ByWard Market on the other; connected by an indoor walkway to the upscale 180+ store Rideau Centre shopping complex; and will be connected to the soon to be completed Ottawa Convention Centre scheduled to open in April 2011. The hotel has recently been renovated with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow for a wonderful view of downtown and Parliament Hill. Many of the buildings and monuments are lit at night and both the daytime and nighttime views are beautiful. My room contained a sitting area by the window and a king sized bed with the most comfortable mattress, pillows and comforter. There was a full length mirror in the spacious closet with automatic interior lighting, sufficient good quality hangers, an ironing board and iron, an en-suite safe, flat screen TV with on demand movies, a magnified make-up mirror in the bathroom, a shower with faucet at the far end of the enclosure so that you can adjust the water without getting frozen or scalded, and plenty of fluffy towels. The only item that could use improvement was the breakfast buffet which was great to look at but too many of the selections lacked flavor. Their coffee however was splendid. www.westin.com/ottawa
Also see Holtz Health and Beauty Spa
For information contact:
Ottawa Tourist Board
© July 2010 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.