Thursday, May 21, 2020

Exploring Ottawa


We began our morning with a stroll through Ottawa's famous ByWard Market. Built in 1826 by Lt.-Col. John By, who also designed the Rideau Canal, the market is one of the largest and oldest in Canada. It consists of four blocks of cafes, specialty food shops, restaurants, boutiques, pubs, the oldest tavern in Canada, and more. We enjoyed a coffee outside one of the cafes, but most of the market remains closed, and only a few people were out and about.

As we made our way through the Market we stopped to admire some of the creative, colourful, covid19-themed street art that has sprung up on many of the boarded up buildings. We were heartened to see that much of it spoke of defiance and hope.


After visiting the market we wandered through the city, making our way past some of our capital's well-known landmarks. First we passed the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, which is the oldest and largest church in Ottawa, and also a National Historic Site of Canada. 

The Royal Canadian Mint was another landmark we passed, which we've visited in the past. The Ottawa mint is responsible for making hand-crafted collector and commemorative coins, the medals for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the Million Dollar Coin - the largest coin ever produced. Usually you can take a guided tour to see how coins are made, which is really quite interesting.

When we reached Major's Hill Park we were delighted to find the grassy, treed, oasis full of brightly coloured, blooming tulips. As we enjoyed the view of Parliament across the water we were serenaded by Song Sparrows and American Goldfinches. We watched as flustered European Starlings flew past with large beakfuls of food for their demanding offspring, and we enjoyed the the sight of a large Great Blue Heron flying calmly overhead.

On the west edge of the park we crossed the Rideau Canal, which is a 202 km long canal that connects Ottawa, on the St. Lawrence River, to Lake Ontario, at Kingston. We crossed at a magnificent flight of eight locks that together form a staircase, and provide a visual testament to the amazing engineering feat that this canal is. At the base of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Bytown Museum, which is housed in the oldest building in Ottawa: the commissariat building for the Rideau Canal, built in 1827.


As we passed the front of the Parliament building we were confronted with a powerful image. The Centennial Flame, which was lit in 1967 to commemorate Canada's 100th birthday, still burns out front. It sits in the middle of a fountain, whose ledge displays the shields of Canada's 13 provinces and territories. An aboriginal man was sitting alone on the edge of the fountain, with his eyes closed and his head bowed, a Tim Horton's cup standing at his feet. Behind the fountain stood two RCMP officers, chatting to each other and standing guard. Behind them all stood Parliament. This is our story, even if we struggle to understand it.

As our tour of the Capital City continued we paid our respects at a number of memorials and moments to those who have fallen to protect our nation and peace throughout the world. These included the Peacekeeping Monument, the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Fallen Soldier, and the Canadian Firefighters Memorial.  Each of these was humbling to stand before and grateful to those who have given everything to make our nation safe and secure.


We we also afforded the opportunity to visit the monument to Canada's Famous Five.  This series of statues represents the struggle of women in Canada to be recognized as 'qualified persons' and be allowed to serve in the nation's Senate. Owing to their work, in 1929 the government of Canada decided to change the legal interpretation of women.


As we continued towards the Ottawa River we merged with the trail system, and came across some inspiring Aboriginal Art hanging in one of the tunnels. The exhibit featured pieces on 'Taking Care of Oneself.' The works were designed to explore the moments between actions, when we can reflect on what we are fighting for, and to present love and self-care in a world that demands constant strength through resistance. The art spoke to the struggle Aboriginal Peoples face in many parts of the world, but it also seems highly relevant and appropriate to all of us right now.

We stopped at the National Holocaust Monument, which commemorates the 6 million Jewish people who were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. It also stands as a tribute to the survivors, and acknowledges their contributions to Canadian history. The modern architecture of the monument, which is all jagged angles and uncomfortable spaces, seems well-suited to the memorial. Colourless scenes are etched in grey on walls of white concrete, and painful events are shown on walls that are tilted to keep the shameful acts in shadow.


Walking past the Canadian War Museum we made our way along the river to Lemieux Island. This Island is just inside the Lac Deschenes - Ottawa River Important Bird Area. This IBA covers a 45 km long stretch of the Ottawa River, and is located in both Ontario and Quebec. It includes quite a few different habitats, including wetlands, riparian zones, and forested areas. It supports quite a few different species, but high numbers of Brant, Chimney Swifts, Rusty Blackbirds, as well as nesting colonies of Little Gulls and Herring Gulls are among the reasons it was designed as an IBA.


As we walked out to Lemieux Island we saw several smaller islands with Double-crested Cormorant nests perched atop dead trees. We also saw quite a few small islands with nesting gulls, both Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls. Other birding highlights included a large number of baby Canada Geese and Mallards munching grass along the trail, and watching a pair of Cedar Waxwings courting. The two birds spent about 5 minutes passing a berry back and forth between their beaks, repeatedly hopping apart on the same branch, then hopping back together again to transfer the prize. Shows what they know about social distancing!


As we made our way back downtown, rather badly sun burnt but also content, we discovered that the Mill St. Brew Pub is actually located right on the Great Trail. Even better - they were offering cold beer for take-out! How much better does life get?


It was a lovely day, and the relative emptiness of the streets and tourist attractions in our nation's capital gave Sean some once-in-a-lifetime photography opportunities. However, we are left with the sense that we are passing through without actually touching or interacting with much.
Hopefully it will be safe to do so again when the trail brings us back here.

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