Sep 16, 2013

First Visit to Ottawa

Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is a world-class city closer to Central New York than New York City. The architecture of the Parliament buildings and colorful changing of the guard brings to mind London. Local wits like to say Ottawa was picked as the capital because Queen Victoria threw a dart and claimed that was where she wanted the capital.  However, Ottawa was picked because it was nearly midpoint between Toronto and Quebec City and its location in the back country made it more defensible should their neighbors to the south decide to attack again plus it offered access via the waterways.

We stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier which is just a short walk from the Parliament and looks like a European castle.  In fact people often refer to it as “The Castle.” The Fairmont Chateau Laurier has free iPad tours of the hotel, one of the first tours of its kind. We signed out one of hotel’s iPads and following the easy directions toured the hotel. The Chateau Laurier opened in June of 1912. The opening was originally scheduled for April but the General Manager, Charles Hayes, was returning from Europe with some additional furnishings for the hotel on the ill-fated Titanic. His wife and daughter survived but he did not. Originally the hotel had separate sleeping quarters for men and women, as well as a separate entrance for female guests. The rooms were priced at $2.00 a night. The tour points out the Tiffany windows and other interesting points including the portraits of prominent people by Yousuf Karsh that grace the Reading Lounge. The tour took us through the public parts of the hotel including Peacock Alley lined with historic pictures of the hotel and continued down to the saltwater swimming pool.

Between the Parliament and the Chateau Laurier is the Rideau Canal where we visited the Bytown Museum housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building and watched boats lock through the flight of eight locks, the largest set of locks in the Rideau system.  The locks raise boats 79 feet from the Ottawa River to the canal. The Rideau Canal connects Ottawa with Kingston and opened in 1832. It was constructed because of the military threat posed by the United States. Lieutenant Colonel John By supervised the construction which, like the Erie Canal, brought workers from around the world creating a worker’s town, Bytown.  While the Erie
Canal predates the Rideau and the Erie Canal is longer the Rideau has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Erie Canal has not.  Mainly because the Rideau Canal can be traveled in its entirety whereas the Erie Canal has changed over the years and much of the original Erie Canal is not open to navigation plus the Rideau still has hand-operated locks. In the evening we took a ride on the Rideau with Paul’s Boat Tours. It passed the National Arts Center and other sites.

We returned to the Chateau Laurier to spend a little time at Zoe’s Lounge where there was a singer who sang our favorite songs. There were several unique cocktails on the menu. One was a Canadian specialty – a Triple-Pepper Caesar, a sassy cocktail that is based on a Bloody Mary but the Canadians use clamato juice instead of tomato juice and have spiced it up and garnished it with a red chili.  It was awesome just like our first day in Ottawa.