Ottawa and Gatineau: Drizzly, cold, and incredibly lovely

Two weekends ago I went to Ottawa and Gatineau to visit family. As always, I was drawn to art in its many forms.

parliament hill and sculpture gardenThe view from Canadian Museum of History, looking out upon the Ottaw River and Parliament Hill.

I had intended to post this collection of images in the middle of last week, but then ‘the Ottawa Shooting’ happened.

Despite the number of people posting #OttawaStrong photos and memories about the City, to enforce the fact that the Capital City is more than a scary event, I decided to hold off until this week to show my own visual appreciation of a city filled with concrete architecture, symbolic monuments and a unique sense of history.

Time in Ottawa isn`t complete without a visit to the Byward Market, where local vendors and farmers sell their products inside and outside. That weekend was cold. Really cold.

Of course, I will always find some graffiti and experience appreciation of artful practicality:

We visited the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, which is formerly known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization. I like the change in name because, in my interpretation, it takes away the notion that there`s been a chronological evolution of becoming civilized. Instead, it`s a history.

Designed by architect Douglas Cardinal, the curves of the outside of the building are stunning. The curves continue into the landscaping around the building, including the fountain which is apparently quite beautiful in the summer:

Inside the museum, after purchasing your tickets, you are guided towards this:

The Grand Hall

This is the Grand Hall, with its curving, six-storey window wall, offering an “introduction to the history, cultures and beliefs of the First Peoples of Canada’s Pacific Coast. … Visitors will discover six iconic Native houses connected by a Pacific Coast shoreline and boardwalk, magnificent totem poles, the original plaster pattern forSpirit of Haida Gwaii by celebrated Haida artist Bill Reid, and Raven Bringing Light to the World, a gold-on-bronze sculpture by Robert Davidson,” (from the Museum website).

It may be difficult to see, but behind the house facades and boardwalk are two exhibitions that you can walk into and participate with: First Peoples of the Northwest Coast and From Time Immemorial – Tsimshian Prehistory.

  • First Peoples of the Northwest Coast offers a fascinating look at this renowned culture — a culture that is firmly rooted in history, but continues to thrive and evolve in the 21st century. Recently redesigned, the exhibition is organized by themes and offers a selection of historic and contemporary artifacts from the Museum’s pre-eminent collection.
  • From Time Immemorial – Tsimshian Prehistory reproduces the archaeological excavations carried out from 1966 to 1978 in the Prince Rupert region of British Columbia. In an ancient forest setting, the exhibition presents the way of life of the Tsimshian nation in prehistoric times and the role of the archaeologist in bringing the past to light.

On our way out of this exhibit and up an escalator, I looked up and saw this:

Morning Star, a ceiling mural by Alex Janvier

One of my favourite pieces in the museum is this Haida Gwaii styled statue of a whale by Bill Reid, above the main entrance:


A surprising educational experience happened for us while we were at the museum too. In a group of four, educated Canadians, none of us had never heard of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland on May 29th, 1914. It has been referred to as ‘Canada’s Titanic’ and remains the greatest maritime disaster in the history of Canada. The exhibition is a partnership with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax.

Empress of Ireland exhibit

On the foggy night of May 29, 1914, two ships collide in the St. Lawrence River. The Empress of Ireland, with 1,477 souls aboard, sinks in less than 15 minutes. An estimated 1,032 people — passengers and crew — perish.

Step aboard this once-splendid ocean liner and travel back in time to a pivotal period in Canadian history, when economic activity was booming, and when the Empress of Ireland and her sister ship, the Empress of Britain, brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to our shores.

Experience the atmosphere of celebration following the ship’s from the docks of the City of Québec, the confused encounter in the fog, the fateful collision with the collier and the desperate rush to escape the sinking vessel. Artifacts like the ship’s bell and compass, and eyewitness accounts like the memoir of an eight-year-old survivor, help bring to life stories of loss and rescue, despair and bravery, that were all part of the greatest maritime disaster in Canadian history.

A list of all the passengers, with the survivors in bold font.More than a thousand people died in one night and I had no idea. It’s an interesting way to realize how much our understanding of our history is shaped and framed by what is taught in the history books. This alone is a valid justification for field trips to many museums and art galleries.

The last gorgeous art form we saw on the weekend, (aside from the free porter wine on our 45min flight home), were the incredible changing colours of the leaves as we looked out from from the tops of the Gatineau hills. This view is from the Huron lookout. Spectacular.

a view of Gatineau from the Huron LookoutThank you Ottawa. You were good to us.


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