Ottawa, the Capital of Canada

Canada > Ontario

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04 June 2011

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Today we start our Atlantic Canada journey proper. Soon after picking up our car at Toronto Pearson International Airport, we are cruising along Highway 401 East, skirting the northern shore of Lake Ontario. In Ontario, car headlights must be switched on even during daytime, hence the line of headlights coming our way.

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It’s a rather boring 460km drive to Ottawa, but it is fun driving among the occasional convoys of big bikes, especially with their strict observance of the 100km/h speed limit. No weaving, no speeding and no irritating, self-appointed ‘marshalls’. Wishing the same here in Malaysia.

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Some three hours later, we take a break in the delightful British-like town of Kingston, at the northeastern tip of Lake Ontario. In 1841 it was the first capital of the British Province of Canada, and currently more than 60% of its population boast of British ancestry, which is twice the Canadian average.

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Kingston is famous for its Queen’s University, founded 1841 under a royal charter from Queen Victoria, now one of Canada’s best. Modelled after the older Scottish universities, the limestone buildings date from mid-19th to early 20th century.

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University Avenue is the main thoroughfare cutting right through the heart of the campus, lined with elegant old buildings, such as Ontario Hall (1903) and Douglas Library (1924).

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Impressive tower of Grant Hall (1905), the site for the annual convocations.

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Kingston is the spot where the historically famous St Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. It passes through Montreal and Quebec, before emptying itself into the Gulf of St Lawrence some 1,500km away.

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Across the St Lawrence River, huge turbines on Wolfe Island take advantage of the strong winds — 86 of them there, 2nd biggest wind farm project in Canada. They produce up to 6MW of power, enough for 1,000 homes.

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Nearby, the historical Murney Tower, built 1846 to fortify Kingston. It was key in the defence of British North America of the 19th century. It’s also one of the finest ‘Martello Towers” in North America — these are small defensive forts built by the British Empire in their colonies all over the world in the 19th century.

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And of course a World Heritage Site now, much to our pleasure. We are, by the way, WHS buffs!

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Back on Highway 401 heading for Ottawa. Sections of the highway are uneven, and with the official speed limit at 100km/h, I try to push it by setting the cruise control at a constant 110. Should be safe as the police will fine only if you hit 120 and above.

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Entering Ottawa city, and it’s getting interesting … note the use of both English and French in ‘Rue Metcalfe Street’. Odd but ingenious? Imagine us using ‘Jalan Ampang Road’!

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Wow, I’m impressed already! Entering downtown Ottawa and we have a European castle smackbang in the middle of the road? This is one cultured city. Btw, it’s a posh hotel – The Fairmont Château Laurier – built 1912 – but said to be haunted by a Titanic victim.

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We turn into the high street of downtown Ottawa – Rue Rideau Street.

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After leaving our car at the Rideau Centre, we stroll along Wellington Street, lined by fine old buildings, towards Parliament Hill.

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At Parliament Hill, “The Symbolic Heart of Canada” — yes, the Parliament of Canada, with the Centre Block and Peace Tower, completed 1876, being the most prominent.

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Next to it, the East Block.

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The clock at the Peace Tower of Parliament, whose tip is 92.2m above ground. The glass windows just below the clock is the observation deck. The gargoyles are cute, aren’t they? Built 1916.

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The driveway underneath the Peace Tower is crowded with visitors. It leads to the Centre Block, which contains the House of Commons and the Senate — completed 1927 in Gothic Revival style.

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I glance back at the beautiful lawn and the East Block, and across Wellington Street, the sandstone Langevin Block which houses the Office of the PM. Completed in 1889, it was the first federal govt office building to be constructed outside Parliament Hill.

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A plaque on the Parliament Buildings at the Peace Tower driveway.

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The East Block again, built 1866 in Victorian Gothic style, now Senators’ offices.

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I wander to the Speaker’s Office, but nobody’s home.

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Behind the Centre Block, I find the Library of Parliament, built 1876.

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Next to the library, a beautiful wooden pavilion for the weary visitors to rest, especially on a hot day like today’s. In winter this place can be down to almost -40C, with wind chill. With a hot summer in the high 30s, the annual temperature range can easily be 70C!

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I turn back and there’s Ottawa River upstream — a frontier separating Ontario to the left, Quebec right. It’s like a border between two countries, with one totally culturally French.

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Across the river, the border town of Gatineau in Quebec Province.

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There must be something interesting here, obviously not senators.

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Yes, people are admiring the Royal Alexandra Bridge across Ottawa River, connecting Ontario here and Quebec on the other side. If war ever breaks out between Quebec and rest-of-Canada, the Parliament could be the first in the line of fire. Not good.

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Something I also notice in this part of Canada — metal-gilded spires. I’ve never seen this style elsewhere I’ve been to.

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It’s the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, dedicated 1853, neo-Gothic design, steeples covered with tin.

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Elsewhere in the Parliament grounds, a youthful-looking QE II still rides her horse amidst the maple trees, whose leaf adorns the Canadian flag. She is still Canada’s Head of State.

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This would look awesome in autumn colours.

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Nearby a display of the flags of all 10 provinces and 3 territories of Canada.

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We leave Parliament Hill and head back downtown. From this vantage point, there’s a huge nondescript federal govt building (except for the ubiquitous ‘Canada’ logo), and to the right, the Confederation Square. Maybe the federal govt workers would rather not let the public know where their offices are. Tell that to Putrajaya!

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Anyway I stumble upon another World Heritage Site. Not a terribly exciting subject, but I am thrilled nevertheless by the chance discovery.

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That’s the Ottawa River, and more than 200km behind me, Lake Ontario. Completed 1832, the Rideau Canal was an engineering feat for the era — it’s a British military project to fight the French. Wars are good to spur technological innovations, right?

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The mechanical stuff to operate the numerous canal gates.

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At the Ottawa River end, a canal buff inspects the works.

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The canal goes under Wellington Street, and 202km away, it reaches Kingston, our stop earlier today (see above).

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Above the Rideau Canal, the ever busy Wellington Street.

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An open-air display piques my interest — scenes from all over Canada at various times of the day.

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I particularly like this pair — left, 6.00am at the foot of the Rockies in Alberta, and right, 5.00am at the easternmost tip of North America, at the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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I vote this one as #1. Wish I could visit Newfoundland and Labrador one day.

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Quick Ottawa visit done, we find our way out but I still think this dual language thingy is odd.

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Along the way, we overtake a slowish Pontiac Solstice. Not bad this roadster, the driver too.

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Our sole direction-finder — free Google Maps on a Blackberry — very handy.

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And in no time we are having a delightful dinner in suburban Ottawa, many thanks to our hosts Annie, Scott and their wonderful kids!

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> THE END 

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