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Ottawa - Capital Of Compromise?
Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
House of Commons and Senate Building
Phil Hopkins, known to many readers as one of the YT's principal theatre reviewers, has written extensively about his international travels during a writing career spanning more than 35 years.

Today, we hope you enjoy the sixth of his Canadian articles as he winds his way from Quebec City to Toronto, via Montreal, Ottawa and the famous Niagara Falls.


In Toronto there's unspoken indignation that Ottawa is the Canadian capital that should never have been......for who could possibly ever 'outdo' the CN Tower, the (Ice) Hockey Hall of Fame or its spectacular Chinatown?

But say this to Jantine Van Kregten, Ottawa's Director of Communications for over a decade, and she will smile, roll her eyes and quickly set the record straight.

The stunning House of Commons Library
But, before I let her get a word in edgeways, I did point out that I had been bowled away by the capital in a way I simply had not expected.

A capital worth visiting

"Why," I asked "did everyone who heard I would soon be en-route to Ottawa, seem to want to warn me away from spending more than one night in Canada's capital, let alone three?"

"Because," my genial bi-lingual host said, "most of those who have an opinion probably haven't visited us for many, many years and are still judging us on their eighth grade visit!"

For the uninitiated grade eight is when Canadian children hit the age of 13 or 14. It is also the time in their education when they learn about the political niceties of democracy, invariably starting with a visit to the capital and Parliament Hill, home to the House of Commons and Senate.

National Gallery of Canada Ottawa - an architectural gem
"Somehow we find ourselves being judged by adults who last visited Ottawa when they were in their early teens. Don't get me wrong but wasn't that when they either got into trouble with their teacher or were put to bed at 9pm?" Bottoms thoroughly slapped, critics chastised!

Ottawa, argues Ms Van Kregten, is not only a beautiful place, but a backdrop in which to chill out, relax and enjoy something very different to that on offer in Montreal, Toronto or Quebec City.

An unusal ice rink

For instance, not only is it home to the democratic function, but Ottawa also boasts something else a little out of the norm; the largest ice rink in the world!

But, before you all dash to the Guinness Book of Records, this particular 'structure' isn't housed in a spectacular building. The so-called ice rink in question is also known as the Rideau Canal, a 202km man made engineering spectacle, that not only links Ottawa to the St Lawrence River, but also freezes over in winter to form probably the biggest temporary ice rink known to man!

The Rideau Canal
"It's on many bucket lists because countless people like the idea of skating from their back door to the office five, six or seven kilometres away. And yes, we do have some skating Members of Parliament," she quipped! Boris Johnson cycling through London just didn't seem quite the same!

To this simple Brit Ottawa, if it does attract undue criticism, doesn't deserve to. Personally I was blown away by what I saw within the first hour- clean, open spaces, spectacular architecture and the promise of plenty to do, even for those with only a few dollars in their pocket.

Within walking distance

Far from being the cultural wasteland that I was led to believe, my hotel, the historic Lord Elgin, was literally minutes walking distance from everything and, if you are out of the blocks sharpish, you can join the queue to get your free ticket to tour the House of Commons and climb the Peace Tower, but get there early the queues can be long from 8am onwards!

Alexandra Bridge linking Ottawa in Ontario with Quebec a few minutes away
In more ways than one Ottawa is an interesting city. It is in Ontario, however, cross the Ottawa River via the Alexandra Bridge - a short walk - and you find yourself in French speaking Quebec and that, many would argue, is why Ottawa was picked as the capital in 1867, a compromise if you like between French speaking Canadians and their English speaking cousins. Even now both languages are required in the capital if you want anything resembling a career.

The Exhuberance of Byward Market
But does that lessen its appeal? Not at all. There is the customary hop on hop off bus, the Byward Market area which is not only spirited and vibrant, but you also know what you are buying thanks to a simple but clever colour coding system; local produce or out of province? Provenance guaranteed!

Notre Dame - stunning on the inside
And, somehow, Canada would not be Canada without a customary Notre Dame Cathedral! The capital has a spectacular one and it's right opposite the biggest spider you have ever seen outside Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada, creation of Louise Bourgeois and standing at more than 30 feet tall!

National Gallery of Canada Ottawa - not for arachnophobics!
Spectacular riverside walking and cycling, a cultural visit to the Museum of History, or chilling in one of the many restaurants, bars or fast food eateries, Ottawa has it all. Less frenetic than either Montreal or Toronto, this city has been learning its trade as the country's political seat of power for well over a century and, during that time, it has become more than a place for intrigue and fiddled expenses! Time perhaps to give it a break?

Ottawa's Museum of History
My only complaint about Ottawa? I didn't have long enough to see it all. Ms Van Kregten was right, those schoolboy adults do need a slapped bottom and sending straight to bed! I'd happily recommend it!

OTTAWA FACT BOX
Visit: www.ottawatourism.ca
Email: info@ottawatourism.ca
Twitter - @Ottawa_Tourism
Hotel - www.lordelginhotel.ca

Look out for Phil's final article on Toronto

More articles in this series...
TORONTO - An 'Almost' Canadian Yorkshireman Says a Fond Hello!
A Yorkshireman's Eye - Train Travel in Canada
Montreal - The 'Fusion' City
In Bed With Lennon & Yoko
Quebec City - A Heavenly Experience!
Betty's With A Dash Of French Sophistication!
Ottawa - Capital Of Compromise?, 31st October 2015, 18:58 PM