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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

Ottawa: More Than a Government Town

Ottawa offers more than just government workers and history. As Canada’s capital city, it has many unique attractions. Ottawa’s beautiful green spaces are wonderful biking areas. If hungry, you can find classy restaurants, microbreweries and cheap eats.

A black spider statue with the backdrop of a blue sky with clouds and a city. Construction crane is in the distance.

In the pavilion of the National Gallery of Canada is Maman, a massive, black spider crafted by Louise Bourgeois. This statue draws differing opinions from people. It is enigmatic, scary and beautiful. There is a pouch on the terrifying spider’s body, which carries, presumably, the female spider’s eggs. These clairvoyant eggs create an odd juxtaposition. The terrifying mother spider becomes beautiful for her sacrifice, while the eggs become horrific for what they’ll become.

Inside the gallery, the halls are monolithic and grey with lots of natural light and high ceilings. It has a certain brutalist influence that is appealing in modern times.

Most of the collection at the National Gallery is from Canadian artists. It includes a vast collection from the Group of Seven and from Emily Carr. I was particularly impressed by one of the Group of Seven members, Lawren S. Harris. There are also interesting displays from Barry Ace and Zacharias Kunuk. It takes a good afternoon to explore the full gallery. Don’t miss the Rideau Chapel at the centre of the gallery, which is displaying Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet, a sonic experience.

After or before visiting the gallery, take a walk around the building to find the Tavern at the Gallery where you can eat some light fare and have a drink. This patio-garden hangout is a quiet slice of peace, which is surprising considering Byward Market is only a few blocks away.

If you’d like to do something else, visit the parliament. Tours are usually available and there is a tour office at the parliament where you can inquire about tickets. However, it is probably better to check online first, as they have a detailed webpage where they show the available times and dates for tours. While visiting, you may notice the portraits displayed of each previous prime minister. The portraits are painted at the end of each prime minister’s reign. They are a fascinating collage of caricatures that express the artistic sensibilities of each leader’s time.

The Rideau Canal is an ideal spot to get some fresh air. This can be walked or biked or bladed. Bikes can be rented on Sparks Street. The staff at Retro Rides were happy to point me in the direction of the canal. If you stay on the canal pathway, you’ll be treated to a wonderful loop around the Rideau Canal, Rideau River and Ottawa River. Of course, you may become curious and want to venture off through the houses of diplomats and project farms near the city. Both are good options.

For a nice dinner, Mamma Teresa is an Italian haunt in a house on O’Connor St., one of the many straight-shot roads that connect downtown Ottawa to the highway. You eat in what was seemingly once a living room. The tables are white table clothed but the tone is familial.

For something more casual, Beyond the Pale Brewing Co. is a nice spot west of Chinatown. It’s in an industrial area and serves great beers and great food. The food is served up from The Smoque Shack, which shares the space with the brewery. I had the brisket sandwich along with a couple of local ales. Sports were on the TV and the place was quiet. Although industrial, it was comforting.

When looking for something later than the average dinner hour; when you find yourself in deep Chinatown at 2 in the morning, check out Pho Bo Ga 2. This little hole in the wall serves pho late and will happily seat you during afterhours.

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