A Winter Weekend in Ottawa

English: Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada, Janua...

Image via Wikipedia

Leaving Toronto on a blue-sky crisp frosty and unseasonably snowless morning we embarked upon the three hour journey eastwards to the capital.
Unlike Toronto, Ottawa had been visited by winter and although canopied by the same brilliant blue sky, there was about 2-3″ snow-cover and the Rideau canal, the world’s longest skate way was frozen….
This was my Xmas pressie so we stayed in Chateau Laurier a Disney turreted fairytale building flanking the Rideau canal and competing for photogenic rights with the government buildings on Parliament hill directly opposite. In fact if you arrived at this spot directly from space, you might think you,d arrived in an oversized version of a medieval stronghold.
Got an incredible last minute deal on this normally out-of-our-league hotel.
Still dressed in Xmas decorations the great hall was both cozy and imposingly impressive- all rich wood wainscoting and panelled ceilings; sumptuous oversized arm chairs and sofas. Huge marble side corridors with gothic barreled ceilings and Christmas trees everywhere. The conservatory restaurant serves cream teas cocktails and hot bits and bobs – very 1920’s feel with all the huge ferns and glass.

First on the agenda was a spot of supper at a French eatery- chez Lucien, a little off the main Byward market drag, it beckoned with it’s unusual exterior- a curtained bay door sticking out at an angle adjacent to the pavement – Decor – old bistro French without anything fancy; good hearty Fayre and packed to the gunnels. Not able to book ahead and a very arbitrary waiting list system, however once we got seated in the upstairs gallery we spent a lovely evening just listening-in to the general buzz in both French and English. No dressing up required here, far too cold; everyone bungled up and jumpered.

Breakfast in a bakery next morning – we know how to live!
Then a short drive to Rideau Hall at 1 Sussex Drive- home of the Governor General, to you and me the Queen’s representative in Canada.
A staggeringly beautiful.building set within a huge wooded-park in a quiet, unassuming but nevertheless high end neighborhood. You do need to book this in advance as although it is free, there is a strict limit on tour size and few tours. We arrived too early and so had to kick around by the fountain meeting place in sub zero temps for 15 minutes or so. There is nowhere to wait inside. All the time we were there, shadowy limozines drove slowly up the drive, paused at security, surveyed us, were told we were tourists and with a nod and a wave, they went on their way. From our vantage point we had a view of the whole drive and as we were watching for approaching visitors – we noticed a sea of black garbed men approach, walking briskly and with purpose towards the building . These were no tourists, and again at security our presence was remarked upon and on hearing we were waiting to visit we were once again waived and nodded at as they passed down the side of the building. Raybans rule!!!!!
Enthusiastically shown around by a university intern working here just for the season. There was nothing she didn’t know about the history and constitution that gave rise to the role of Governor General, it was a delightful tour. She’d keep throwing out questions so you had to keep your wits about you but interactive guiding is a much better informative tool.

Afternoon spent at the National Art Gallery. Renowned for it’s architecture a much as for the art it houses, this was a magnificent glass turreted concrete structure, cavernous and morgue- like inside. The museum cafe which is an all glass structure has the most wonderful view of Parliament Hill and at dusk on a watery winter-sun afternoon, the space is incandescent with sunset light

Popped up to Parliament Hill to see these beautiful gothic buildings dressed in snowflakes courtesey of enormous banks of projectors.

Next day spent the morning doing a free tour of the Houses of Parliament:
You can get reams if information about the history of the buildings, the government process, the difference between the two halves of the building split between the Senate and the Commons and do an online virtual tour simply by clicking on:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/visitors/planning-e.asp
Fast facts:
The Centre (excluding the Lubrary and Peace Tower) East and West blocks of the Parliament Buildings were built between 1859 and 1866.

One year after their completion, Confederation was brought in, and the buildings were immediately chosen as the seat of government for the new Dominion of Canada.

Then in 1916, what started as a small fire in the Commons Reading Room in the Centre Block devoured all but the northwest wing and the Library. Fortunately an employee had the presence of mind to close the Library’s iron doors in time saving thousands of irreplaceable books
Modern Gothic Revival style by John Pearson and Jean Omer Marchand, completed by 1922.
The Peace Tower was finished later in 1927.
The interior, simultaneously stately and cosy despite the imposing vaulted ceilings and marble floors and despite the fact that you are being watched by the thousands of faces embedded within the stone walls that are also exquisitely embellished with carved birds, animals and flowers and fruit.

East block houses the Senate Chamber, resplendent with red carpeting and upholstery and a ceiling of gold leaf. This is the place where our Head of State meets Parliament. The names of former Governors-general are carved in the ceiling. The Chamber’s upper walls are lined with murals depicting stirring scenes from the First World War.
At the west end of Centre Block is The House of Commons Chamber. In the tradition if The British House of Commons this is decorated in green, with the rectangular Chamber built in white oak and Tyndall limestone from Manitoba.

This Chamber’s ceiling is made of softly coloured linen canvas, painted with symbols from coats of arms. The floral emblems of Canada’s provinces and territories as they existed in 1967are depicted in the stained glass windows.

The high point in terms of exquisite design is the Library with its high Victorian gothic revival architecture.

The Peace Tower, so called as it represented Canada’s commitment to peace. The 92.2-metre tower also contains an observation area and the Carillon a series if 53 bells.

For guided tours of the residence, you need to call ahead at 1-866-842-4422 to reserve a time for a tour.

Thoroughly recommend taking this tour. You are in Ottawa the seat of The Canadian Government after all.

Spent the afternoon in the Canadian War Museum which is a “celebration” of the Canadians involved in the Wars of the last century. Again an astounding building in itself- you actually feel you are entering a first world war bunker as you enter the claustrophobic confines of the entrance hall. Low low poured cement ceiling the colour of a stormy sky engenders a feeling of dread about what is to follow.

Would have loved to have visited the
Museum of Civilization again but this needs most of a dag to visit – it has the most amazing “sets” depicting the history and homes if all of Canada’s people’s complete with a domed starry sky

Oh well will have to go back next winter and maybe there will be enough snow to take a cheesy sleigh ride…….
Over and Out

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