Big City Tales

Pomp and Circumstance in Ottawa

March 8, 2018
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When it comes to global capital cities, Ottawa, Canada is still a relative “young pup” next to the likes of London, England or Paris, France. 2017 was a significant milestone year, however, and there was no lack of fanfare to mark the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday, especially in its capital region. Indeed, the pomp and circumstance in Ottawa on Canada Day (and throughout the year) extended from the heights of the iconic Peace Tower to the far reaches of the Rideau Canal and beyond instilling a strong sense of pride within the hearts of all Canadians in our nation’s symbols, institutions and its historic landmarks.

The Maple Leaf

Canada may have declared itself a country in 1867 but its national flag, known as the Maple Leaf, wasn’t unveiled until nearly a century later in 1965. True, debate over using the maple leaf had been going on since 1895 when the idea was first suggested but subsequent committees struck to broach the subject in more depth could not reach a consensus. It wasn’t until Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was in office during the 1960s that the contentious matter was finally resolved and the maple leaf has been flown high and proudly worn ever since.

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Parliament Hill

The primary venue for Canada Day celebrations on July 1 is Parliament Hill (commonly referred to as ‘The Hill’), an area of Crown land located on the southern side of the Ottawa River. The Hill features a suite of three modern Gothic Revival buildings that make up the Parliament of Canada.

The main building of Canada’s parliamentary complex is referred to as the Centre Block. It contains the House of Commons and Senate chambers, as well as the Library of Parliament, administrative offices and ceremonial areas such as Confederation Hall and the Hall of Honour. The Centre Block is one of Canada’s most recognizable buildings, particularly because of the Peace Tower that fronts the building and dominates the downtown skyline. Standing nearly 100 metres high, it is both a focal clock and bell tower, as well as a memorial to Canadians who died during World War I.

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The other two buildings on The Hill are the East Block and West Block that contain offices for ministers and senators along with meeting rooms and other general administrative spaces.

The grounds surrounding The Hill cover close to 90,000 square metres and include a quadrangle where many public events are staged, a gazebo and a series of English-style gardens featuring statues and monuments mostly of famous politicians and monarchs.

Confederation Square

Located to the east of Parliament Hill, Confederation Square is noteworthy for its association with the City-Beautiful Movement that was prevalent around the turn of the 20th Century, as well as its central location and proximity to landmark historical buildings such as the Chateau Laurier Hotel, the National Arts Centre, the Central Post Office and Langevin Block, the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.

The square is considered to be the second most important ceremonial centre in Ottawa, after Parliament Hill, and is the proud home of the National War Memorial that commemorates all Canadians killed in past or future conflicts, as well as the Valiants Memorial.

The main features of the National War Memorial are a tall granite arch, bronze sculptures, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The bronze figures underneath the arch represent the branches of the Canadian forces called into war and who subsequently helped to forge peace, which is symbolized by the figures shown in movement emerging through the arch from war on one side to peace on the other.

The Valiants Memorial commemorates fourteen of Canada’s key military heroes and consists of nine busts and five statues. The figures chosen to be memorialized date back as far to conflicts that occurred when Canada was part of New France, and more recently to participants in World War II.

Rideau Canal

Operated by Parks Canada, the Rideau Canal is a waterway that connects Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The canal uses a lock system to transport boats through it between mid-May and mid-October. As the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

When the water freezes during the winter, a portion of the canal is transformed into an outdoor skating rink, the world’s largest in terms of width and second longest. The skateway is the focal point of the annual Winterlude festival that takes place in February.

Tulip Festival

Tulips may be the symbol of Holland and Amsterdam but Canada has also become famous for this beautiful bulb. The Canadian Tulip Festival held annually each May in Ottawa displays over one million tulips of all colours at five theme sites around the city:

  • Lansdowne Park – The Art & Culture Tulip Experience
  • Commissioners Park/Dow’s Lake – The Garden Tulip Experience
  • ByWard Market – The Urban Tulip Experience
  • Garden Promenade – The Community Tulip Experience
  • Zibi Gatineau — The Culinary Tulip Experience

Of note, Canada’s association with tulips dates back to World War II when the Dutch Royal Family sought refuge from the fighting in Ottawa, and Canadian troops helped to liberate the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. As a show of thanks after the war, the Royal Family sent a gift of 100,000 tulips and has continued to do so to this day. The Canadian Tulip Festival was established in 1953 to acknowledge this generous gift and showcase the flower as an ongoing symbol of friendship and peace.

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Taking the Tarnish Off of Toronto

August 19, 2013
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One of the fringe benefits of working in downtown Toronto is the close proximity to Lake Ontario.

From its boisterous and belligerent mayor to its beleaguered police force, the city of Toronto has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this summer, but don’t let these public stains tarnish your image of what is otherwise one of Canada’s safest and most vibrant urban centres. Indeed, despite the recent bad press, the city has many redeeming qualities and boasts multiple world-class amenities that are worth a look-see time and time again.

The CN Tower

Situated along the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto’s downtown core is an eclectic mix of modern and historical buildings with the iconic CN Tower being the star attraction. Rising over 1800 feet into the air, the tower remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western hemisphere, and attracts in excess of two million visitors each year.

While many patrons prefer to take in the 360 degree view of the city from the inner observation deck, the thrill-seeking crowd were delighted when the EdgeWalk feature was added in 2011 allowing access to an exterior platform at 1168 feet. As TV personality Rick Mercer and singer/songwriter Jann Arden discovered, even being tethered to an overhead rail system and accompanied by a trained guide doesn’t put the butterflies at bay, but there’s no denying the spectacular views!

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With its sleek design and mammoth height, the CN Tower dominates the Toronto skyline.

Museum Central

Those looking for a break from the stress of a Toronto traffic jam on the 401 or mass of humanity on the crowded streets can seek refuge in one of the city’s peaceful cultural institutions. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Hockey Hall of Fame, and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) are all found in the general vicinity of the downtown core and each has unique offerings:

  • ROM is well-known for its Egyptian, Japanese and Chinese exhibits, as well as its extensive collection of natural history artifacts numbering in the millions.
  • Fans of the National Hockey League will enjoy a stroll down hockey’s memory lane at the Hockey Hall of Fame where the exploits of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard and others greats of the game are celebrated in typical Canadian fanfare. The Hall of Fame is also the permanent exhibition site of the Stanley Cup and other significant league trophies.
  • AGO is one of the world’s largest art galleries and features an impressive array of works from Canadian artists, and a number of sculptures from Britain’s Henry Moore. AGO is also known for its many building expansions, with Frank Gehry being among the famous architects who have put their design stamp on the gallery.
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It may have an ultra-modern exterior, but the interior of the Royal Ontario Museum celebrates classical civilizations and timeless natural history artifacts.

Theatre District

As the world`s third largest English-speaking theatre district there are plenty of plays, musicals and festivals to take in on a regular basis in Toronto`s Theatre District. Be it a flashy West End or Broadway touring show production, or an uncensored Fringe Festival offering there is bound to be something that appeals to live theatre buffs. Canada`s Walk of Fame is also located in this area and the annual induction ceremony is a highlight on the Toronto high society calendar.

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The Royal Alexandria Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theatre in North America.

Yonge Street

As main streets go, Toronto has one of the longest in the world and one of the most culturally significant with Yonge Street playing host to street parades, performances, and demonstrations. The corner of Yonge and Dundas streets is often the site of free concerts and other public events at Yonge-Dundas Square, and is akin to the function and ambience of Times Square in New York City. Yonge Street is also a major transportation artery with the Yonge subway line running almost the full length of Toronto and connecting with most feeder routes.

For the city at the centre of the Canadian universe, Toronto often faces a lot of scrutiny from outsiders who delight in any blemishes that surface. It is a tall order to maintain a perfect complexion and it should be noted that the recent outbreak of unsavoury public activity is not a true reflection of what this city has to offer. Rather, Toronto is a dynamic and savvy metropolitan hub full of a palpable energy that fuels an air of excitement with every visit to its inner core – tarnished image or not!

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Yonge Street a.k.a. Main Street Ontario.