Our timing was slightly skewed, a few days ahead of Canada elections, a lost opportunity to watch Justin Trudeau stride into Rideau Hall as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister. The imposing Parliament buildings, the East, West and Central wings straddling the Autumnal landscape compensate for lost opportunities.
We are in Ottawa, a city demarcated into two categories: the Capital and the Downtown. Ours was a selective tour so we saw the ‘official’ face of the ‘Capital’ situated on south bank of Ottawa River and in center of connections…Toronto and Kingston to the West and Montreal and Quebec City on the East. The genealogy of the city, a mix of Anglo-French and First Nation histories, lend it authenticity as a history buff’s delight. But nature is not shadowed by antiquity as during winter months the Rideau Canal, connects Ottawa with Kingston and Lake Ontario, turns into a four-mile long natural skating rink and Ottawa into a winter carnival city.
Our first stop, Canadian Museum of History (100 Rue Laurier, Gatineau)*, explores Canada’s 20,000 years of cultural and civilization history. The entrance to the museum, resembling ‘turtle heads’, is set in a wind-landscaped sweepness including Ottawa River and a fabulous view of Parliament Hill. Nature is incorporated in every aspect of presentation of the Public and the Curatorial wings, the surrounding plazas connected by rounded impressive staircase leading down towards Ottawa River, the Zen Garden and other buildings.
I preferred the early morning surroundings to a history tour of the museum, wanting to cross the waters like the ‘Wolf in the Boat’ (To Travel in a Boat Together) sculpture by Mary Anne Barkhhouse, of the Kwagiulth First Nation. The sculpture reflects the story recounted by the artist’s grandfather of how he helped a wolf cross ‘a treacherous piece of water on a boat on the West coast of Canada’ and how she relates the tale ‘to help negotiate cooperation with the ‘other’ and inclusion of the wild.’ The copper and bronze sculpture explores human relationships with the natural world.
The Grand Hall, on first level of the main building, is an extension of the exterior with six-storey ‘Wall of Windows’ framing Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. In continuation, on the opposite wall, is a large colour ‘forest scene’ providing an ideal background to the world’s largest collection of Totem poles and to the First Peoples Hall highlighting the historic, cultural and artistic achievements of Canada’s First Nation. The Museum, home to Canadian Children’s Museum, a 295-seat IMAX 3 D movie theatre along with permanent and virtual exhibitions, was a beehive of activity on this Sunday morning.
Back on the bus and we drive past the National Gallery of Canada with its spindly spider sculpture, ‘Maman’ by Louise Bourgeois (1999), outside the main entrance; the official residences of the Governor General and that of the Prime Minister, Harper was still in saddle, towards Parliament Hill and the majestic Gothic architectural symbols, the Central, Eastern and Western wings of the seat of power, the Parliament of Canada. Time constraints restricted our entry inside the Central Hall, the East and West wings were under renovation, and we were given time to walk around the massive lawns, for selfies in front of Centennial Flame with the buildings as backdrops. The Centennial Flame, enhanced with shields of 12 provinces and territories, commemorates Canada’s 100 years as a Confederation.
The lawns are a tourist hangout, some with tickets to walk inside, and probably thinking about the same thing, the election results. Used to the high decibel levels of Indian elections this was a ‘sleepover’ of elections, unless I watched news channels and followed newsprint stories.
A short lunch break and we were on our way to Kingston, on the confluence of St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Cataraqui River (south of Rideau Canal), 120 miles from Ottawa and midway between Montreal and Toronto. The Limestone heritage buildings and houses dotting the city are a reminder of its short-lived status as Canada’s first capital in 1841. The city lost out to Ottawa as Queen Victoria felt that its closeness to the border made it vulnerable to American attacks. A major fire in 1840 had destroyed most heritage landmarks, the Victorian mansions and the City Hall and to prevent a repeat scenario, limestone and brick were designated construction materials leading to a ‘Limestone revolution’ and the city being named the “The Limestone City“.
Present Kingston lives up to its ‘elevated status’ preserving its historical sites, its many museums, the Royal Military College, the Queen’s University founded in 1841, the expansive waterfront with its marina and bobbing boats and luxuriant gardens. On face value the city comes across as a sleeping old English town with its educational institutes and hospitals and was surprised to read that the city was voted one of the best cities to live and retire in.( moneysense.ca)
- The 3rd best place to live in Canada (2012)
- The 6th best place to retire (2015)
- ‘Instagram’ considers it the ‘Happiest City in Canada’ (2014) and in 2013 BBC listed Kingston as one of the ‘top 5 university towns in the world”.
The accolades along with 21 National Historic sites of Canada, the excellent cruising and boating facilities, easy access to Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and Thousand Islands makes it a city worth visiting for an extended stay.
We bid adieu to Kingston and move on to our starting city, Toronto, and a closure to our Four Cities and an Island bus tour.