25 Hours in Ottawa
I’ve travelled a fair amount since I’ve lived in Canada, but last weekend I took my travels to the next level with the epitome of a whirlwind trip. I went to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, for just 25 hours! Why? To volunteer for Reconciliation Canada at the second Walk for Reconciliation. I stopped contracting with Reconciliation Canada at the end of last year, but have kept in touch with the team and volunteer when I can because it really is the most worthwhile cause I could ever imagine (more about why I first took the job here). The highlight of my previous contract was the Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver in September 2013, which I was so privileged and proud to be a part of, so I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to volunteer at a second Walk in a province I hadn’t yet visited! The Walk was on a Sunday and I had to fit my volunteering around work, so off I went on Saturday morning and back I came on Sunday evening. I’m so grateful for the experience not only to participate in such a historic occasion as the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Closing Events, but to see the nation’s capital too!
This opportunity came together last minute, so by the time everything was confirmed the direct flights from Vancouver to Ottawa had all sold out. This meant that I was flying via Toronto, with an hour’s layover each way. Luckily I had some company in my very good friend and co-worker, Cristina. The time difference on the East Coast kills you when you fly out that way, as you lose an extra three hours of your day. Our flight left Vancouver at 9am, but stormy skies and delayed (and very bumpy) flights meant that we didn’t get to our hotel until almost 8pm Ottawa time – a whole day gone! We checked into our room at the Delta and helped with some last-minute Walk errands before heading out for a team dinner. We went to an area called Byward Market (known as just The Market) which I really liked. Think cobbled streets, outdoor patios and lots of fairy lights. I didn’t get to see much of Ottawa, but was happy just to spend time with my team again!
I had my first opportunity to really see Ottawa at breakfast on Sunday morning. We went over to eat at the Marriott Hotel with the rest of the team, and the view from the salon was stunning! Being close to a moving body of water is important to me in a city, and I had a great view of the Ottawa River / Rivière des Outaouais which separates Ottawa (Ontario) from the city of Gatineau (Quebec). The river marks the border of the two provinces for most of its length, and it was fun heading over the bridge to Gatineau and entering Quebec (two provinces checked off in one day, great!).
Once Cristina and I had set up our tent at the Walk for Reconciliation finish site, we had a spare hour to do some sightseeing before starting our shift. The weather that weekend was pretty wacky (27 degrees and thunderstorms when we landed, 8 degrees and cloudy the morning after) and I was freeeezing cold on Sunday morning! So much so that I tried to go and buy a pair of jeans and some gloves, but all the malls were closed because it was Sunday. Instead, we walked really fast to warm ourselves up as we headed past the canal and the National War Memorial to Parliament Hill. The parliament buildings were easily identifiable with their stone walls and green roofs, and they all face a large grass lawn in the centre. At the entrance to the lawn was the Centennial Flame (erected on 1 January 1967, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation) which I was very happy to warm my hands at.
When we’d finished taking pictures of the Parliament Buildings, we wandered the long way back through downtown Ottawa. The city centre was very, very quiet compared to Vancouver; even the Shoppers Drug Mart didn’t open until 11am! The city had a nice feel to it though, it was scenic with a relaxed feel, just like a smaller version of Vancouver (without the water, beaches and mountains). Unfortunately that was all I had time to see, as I spent the afternoon promoting Reconciliation Canada to Walk participants and members of the public outside Ottawa City Hall. It was an amazing experience, and I got to be right at the front when the 6000+ residential school survivors and supporters finish their 5km journey from Gatineau. Waiting for our (delayed) flights at both Ottawa and Toronto airports was made all the better by watching all the news footage on the TVs at the gate. It was definitely worth the 3am arrival home, at which point my body thought it was 6am and was dreading work in the morning!
I’m so so glad that I had the opportunity to see Ottawa, even if it was just a flying visit. I’d heard a lot of negative things about Ottawa being ‘the city that fun forgot’, and I can tell just from my 24 hours that it isn’t party central, but I’d definitely go back for longer when the sun is out to explore the museums, the different neighbourhoods and the waterfront. I definitely feel that little bit more Canadian having seen the nation’s capital with my own eyes – here’s hoping Citizenship & Immigration Canada read this post and decide to fast-track my citizenship!