When someone who doesn’t live in Ottawa asks me where I live, I always say Ottawa. But to be honest, we live in a village quite a bit outside the city proper. And even farther, almost an hour’s drive, from downtown Ottawa, the old part of the city, the best part of the city, in my view. There are other lovely parts of Ottawa. Quaint, village-y bits, and old neighbourhoods which I love. But I’m still very partial to downtown, especially the area surrounding Parliament Hill.
When I first moved to Ottawa I worked downtown, on Sparks Street, just steps from Parliament Hill. I still remember eating my lunch on a bench in the summer and being able to see Parliament Hill from where I sat. Or sitting on the bus on the way to work the first day, speeding along a street just south of the Hill, a street lined with tall hotels and other big buildings, as I craned my neck unsuccessfully to see the tops.
This was big city living to me. I mean, the tallest building in Fredericton, when I moved away in 1979, was the six story Centennial Building where my mum used to work when I was a kid. That’s aside from all the many tall church spires that poked up through the tops of the elm trees that lined the streets of downtown at the time.
Back in the day, people from other big cities in Canada used to laugh at Ottawa: pokey, old-fashioned, stodgy, roll-up-the-streets-at-midnight Ottawa. But in 1979, I was excited to be living it up in the big, by my standards, city. Everything is relative, isn’t it? I think Ottawa’s reputation as stodgy must surely have changed by now. But how would I know if they roll up the sidewalks or not anymore? I’m rarely out and about after midnight. Actually, make that never. Ha.
But even though I never avail myself of the night scene in Ottawa, I am very partial to the day scenery. Especially on a bright sunny day like this past Thursday when I ventured downtown to meet my friend Susan for our yearly treat. Afternoon tea at Zoe’s in the Fairmont Château Laurier.
Once I’d parked my car, I decided to take the long way to the Château. So I crossed Rideau Street and walked along Sussex Drive. All the better to get a good view of the old Union Station building, below, which has morphed into the Senate of Canada Building, at least temporarily. The Senate has moved here until the renovations on Parliament’s Center Block are completed. This side of the building is less impressive than the front. But I love that old arched window, so reminiscent of historic train stations everywhere. According to the sources I read, the inside has been wonderfully restored in its original Beaux-Arts style. Maybe next time I’m down here, I’ll look inside. You can take a virtual tour of the art and architecture of the building here.
But on Thursday, I moved on. I did not have time to dilly dally.
I moved on down Sussex Drive, past the Métropolitain Brasserie. What a beautiful patio. Must be lovely when dusk falls and the lights come on.
At the corner of Sussex and George Street, I paused and contemplated crossing the street for a stroll past the shops of the Byward Market area. But I steeled myself against temptation. Besides, there would be plenty to tempt me where I was going.
So I turned my back on the shopping delights of the Byward Market and headed through these glass and steel arches.
And up these stairs to Mackenzie Avenue. That’s the Château Laurier straight ahead.
When I reached the Château, I skirted round the building to the west side and had a gander at the beauty of the Rideau Canal, and the eight locks which in the summer carry boats down to, and up from, the Ottawa River. They’ve drained the level of water in the canal now, in preparation for winter.
That’s the old stone lockstation building in the lower left of the photo, and on the hill behind the trees you can see a bit of the Parliament Buildings. At the foot of the hill, between the trees and the edge of the canal you can just make out the Bytown Museum, housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building. For those of you who “come from away” (as Maritimers say) Ottawa was originally called Bytown, after Colonel John By who was in charge of the construction of the Rideau Canal. The name was changed to Ottawa in 1855.
Past the museum you can see the Ottawa River, and the Alexandra Bridge, and across the river to Gatineau, Quebec. When I was a newbie transplant from “the wilds of New Brunswick,” as a former colleague once said, the downtown area of what is now the city of Gatineau was called Hull. And on the weekends, in the wee hours of the morning, there was some powerful partying going on over in Hull. Where the bars were open until 3:00 A.M. And where many, many young Ottawans migrated when the sidewalks rolled up on the Ontario side of the river. Or so I’ve been told. Ha.
But that’s a story for another day. Or days. Although my old friend Debbie, my roommate and partner-in-crime back then, may wish to place a moratorium on too much revelation of those days of wine and roses. Well, more wine than roses, to be honest.
But on Thursday, my hands were getting chilled, and there was no time for reminiscing. It was time for tea. After all the clock did “stand at ten to three,” or slightly past that. I hurried to meet my friend Susan, and we had a lovely late afternoon of convivial conversation, hot tea, and good food. So much food. We were, in fact, so stuffed when we arrived home that we texted that fact to each other later. I was so full, that I had only a small green salad for dinner, letting Hubby eat the homemade spaghetti all by himself. And Susan had “a clementine and some nuts and was still full.” Ha.
This is what I wore for my afternoon stroll and tea for two in downtown Ottawa.
My new leather pants from Aritzia. They’re called the “Melina pant.” And I am really liking them. They are not as edgy as my old biker-style ones from Holt Renfrew, but they’re more comfortable. That’s because the old pants had an elastic waist, and faux leather being slippery, and my having no hips to speak of, meant that they were constantly slipping down, and I was just as constantly hitching them up.
These ones have a high waist and a zipper and button fastening, which means they stay put. They are looser in the leg, so I am finding that they cannot be styled in the same way as my old ones. I’m still playing with them to find my best looks. But playing with stuff in my closet makes me happy, so I’m not complaining.
On Thursday, I knew that I would need to be dressed in layers. It would be chilly walking around downtown Ottawa, even with the sunshine. And Zoe’s can get pretty warm when the late afternoon sun shines through its huge windows. Not to mention the extra fuel of hot tea, and scones with cream.
So I wore my black light-weight cashmere sweater from Everlane, and this black zippered sweater/jacket from Lafayette 148, with the quilted front. I know, I know. It’s black on black on black. But I thought the varied textures of wool and cashmere against the sheen of the faux leather and the quilted portion of the sweater gave the outfit a bit of interest. I wore a couple of silver chain necklaces and silver hoop earrings. I wound my cream and grey scarf around my neck and carried my grey All Saints cross-body bag.
In truth, I felt pretty spiffy. I even remembered to wear my poppy.
Of course there are many, many more sights to see in downtown Ottawa than I’ve shown you here. But it was not my intention to take you on a full tour, just to take you along with me. Wherever I was going.
I’m very fond of my adopted city. In some ways I felt right at home here when I first moved from Fredericton. Both cities are government towns, capital cities, university towns. Fredericton has two universities, just like Ottawa. Both cities have lots of green space. Even though Fredericton has lost many of its “stately elms,” it’s still pretty green. Both are situated on a river. Or in Ottawa’s case two rivers, the Ottawa and the Rideau.
But Ottawa was many times larger than Fredericton. Here, where nobody knew me, I felt I could become someone new. Make my own way. And get up to all kinds of shenanigans without any danger of my parents finding out. That last part wore off pretty soon, I’m happy to say.
Since I began working in the cosmetics department at Robert Simpson’s on Sparks Street, and rode the bus to work, downtown Ottawa has changed a lot. Most of the restaurants my friends and I ate at, the stores where we shopped, and the bars we socialized in have gone. But the bones of downtown Ottawa are the same. Parliament Hill, Major’s Hill Park where we once saw the McGarrigle Sisters in a free concert (love them), the Byward Market, and of course The Château Laurier.
Now I feel equally at home in both cities. In fact, I’ve lived in Ottawa longer than I lived in Fredericton. Not counting the year I moved back to New Brunswick in the mid-eighties, I’ve lived in Ottawa 41 years. My god. That seems impossible. No wonder things have changed!
You know, Hubby and I are probably not going to be travelling for the foreseeable future. For many reasons… including the ongoing pandemic… but not only. That’s why I began to think I should write some stay-at-home travel posts. Non-travel travel posts, as it were.
Posts where I visit a part of my hometown and take you with me. Like this one. If you’d like to come along, that is.
So, my friends, let’s talk about where you live now. What parts of your hometown would you share with us if we came to town?
P.S. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have joined us for our virtual afternoon tea party during the pandemic. We were sick of lock-down and really needed a party. Even if it was a virtual one. If you missed it, you can read about that here.
P.P.S. There are a couple of affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a commission.
P.P.P.S. Here’s the link for the Melina pant at Artitzia. FYI this is not an affiliate link.