So you’ve done the Parliament Hill tour, checked out the Group of Seven paintings at the National Gallery of Canada, and shopped in the Byward Market. Think you’ve finished seeing Canada’s capital? You’ve made a good start, but you’ve just begun. Here are five spots you might have overlooked.
1. Mer Bleue Bog
If unusual natural areas are your thing, head to the eastern suburbs. Take the Innes Road exit off Highway 417 (or, as locals call it, the Queensway) to Anderson Road, then follow the signs for the Mer Bleue Bog. This little patch of land has a unique microclimate–akin to that in Canada’s Arctic–that supports all sorts of plants and critters you don’t normally see around Ottawa. There’s a boardwalk, too.
2. Rideau River
Sure, the Ottawa River is famous because it flows right by Parliament Hill. And the Rideau Canal is the glamor girl of Ottawa waterways: world’s largest skating rink, UNESCO World Heritage Site, blah blah blah. But the Rideau River offers quieter pleasures, whether it’s hanging out watching the swans and herons at Windsor Park (just east of Billings Bridge), or cycling the recreational pathway from Rideau Falls to Hog’s Back Falls. Because most tourists don’t know about it, it’s far less crowded on sunny summer days than the Rideau Canal, too. One word of warning: don’t attempt to canoe or kayak the river north of Hog’s Back Falls unless you are quite experienced; the waters get trickier the closer you get to Rideau Falls.
3. Henry Harper
Ottawa is choked with statues honoring statesmen, royals, generals, you name it. But whenever I’m on Wellington Street, I always spare a glance for the statue of Sir Galahad right in front of Parliament Hill. It honors a now largely forgotten local hero named Henry Harper, who drowned trying to save a young woman who fell through the ice on the Ottawa River during a skating party in 1901. Luckily for Harper’s grasp on posterity, his heartbroken friend William Lyon Mackenzie King launched a fund-raising drive to build him a nice memorial. King later went on to greater fame as Canada’s longest-serving prime minister.
Hands down, Pom-Pom is my favorite Ottawa store for funky, fashionable clothes and accessories. If it sparkles, glitters or in any way attracts attention, the owners of this fun boutique–with locations in the Glebe and the west end–will throw it on the racks and see if it sells. The place to go if you’ve run out of leopard-print tights or red vinyl platform boots.
OK, it may seem like a cheat to include a restaurant in the hopping Byward Market, but Foundation often gets overlooked because–true to its name–it’s in the basement of a heritage building, and the restaurant at the front gets most of the attention. You pretty much have to know Foundation is there to follow the courtyard path to the back of the building, and you get the feeling that the owners of this trendy lounge/restaurant like being a little hidden, thank you very much. Try the moules frites (mussels with fries).