The last few days we’ve been in Ottawa, Canada for a conference. Ottawa is Canada’s national capital, and it is worth a visit from Americans curious about our friendly neighbor to the north.
We are staying at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a hotel that is directly across a canal from the heart of Canada’s governmental complex. (More on the hotel later.) The Canadian federal buildings are very imposing, gothic-looking structures, somewhat blackened with age, studded with gargoyles, and separated from the street by stone and black iron fencing. Couple those elements with a gray, overcast day, such as we have had, and it feels as if you have stumbled into The Fall Of The House of Usher and Edgar Allan Poe will come springing out from behind a balustrade at any moment.
The federal buildings all are situated around a wide quadrangle of green grass, and the whole area has a decidedly British look. The federal complex is capped by the Peace Tower, a large clock tower reminiscent of Big Ben that is dedicated to the sacrifices of Canadians who have fought in various conflicts. The Peace Tower affords a commanding view of Ottawa and its environs and features a solemn, moving, and beautifully considered memorial chamber where the names of the fallen have been inscribed into large journals.
Ottawa is located on a wide river that divides the city into three parts, so there are lots of bridges and river views. If you walk past the federal complex to the rear of Canada’s Supreme Court building, there is a good viewing spot that allows you to get a river perspective on the city. In that view, the Canadian Parliament building appears framed by lush green trees, with the river sliding past far below.
In addition to the federal complex, we’ve also visited the Market District, which is a multi-block area of restaurants, shops, bars, and other businesses. We’ve had two good meals there — including a terrific dinner at a nifty restaurant called Eighteen — and enjoyed walking around the bustling area. Although we haven’t been there late in the evening, I suspect the Market District offers some good night-life options.
I’m ashamed to say that I am not well-versed in Canadian history or government, which is pathetic given our close proximity to this interesting and sprawling country. If you want to start to learn about Canada, Ottawa is a good place to start.