Out and About in Downtown Ottawa

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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.

Rideau Street Ottawa with Chateau Laurier and Parliament Buildings in the distance.
Downtown Ottawa on a sunny November Thursday.

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.

Old Union Station, now Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa.
The old Union Station, reconfigured to temporarily house the Senate of Canada.

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.

Patio of Metropolitain Brasserie on Sussex Drive in Ottawa.
I’d love to sit here for a coffee. Where is everybody?

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.

Corner of Sussex Drive and George Street in downtown Ottawa.
Shops along Sussex Drive from the corner of George Street.

So I turned my back on the shopping delights of the Byward Market and headed through these glass and steel arches.

Love the mix of old and new here.

And up these stairs to Mackenzie Avenue. That’s the Château Laurier straight ahead.

Stairs from Sussex Drive to Mackenzie Avenue with Chateau Laurier. Ottawa, Canada.
To quote Carole King, “That’s where I’m bound.”
Chateau Laurier and Senate of Canada Building from Mackenzie Avenue, Ottawa
View of the Senate Building from Mackenzie Avenue
Me in black and cream on Mackenzie Avenue in downtown Ottawa.
View of me on Mackenzie Avenue

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.

Views of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, and the Rideau Canal locks beside the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa.
View of the Rideau Canal and beyond from the west side of the Chateau Laurier

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.

Woman in black faux leather pants, black zippered sweater, black boots, cream scarf and grey bag.
Don’t forget to wear your 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.

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54 thoughts on “Out and About in Downtown Ottawa”

  1. When in Ottawa, there is one shop I absolutely have to get to: Muriel Dombret. (1258 Wellington West in Westover/Wellington Village.) If you do not know it already, I think you’d love it (and her pieces are all made right there, or they are other Canadian brands!) Westover has some great little pubs and coffee shops, too.

    I really like your all black with the textures!

    1. Yes, I’m familiar with Muriel Dombret. I used to call in there regularly. The school where I taught for ten years was in the Westboro area. Great places to have lunch when we were in exams, and had time to leave the school at lunch time. I try to get down to that area of the city two or three times a year, but parking and traffic can be a nightmare so I choose my days and times carefully. What with living outside the city and not having to commute any longer, I seem to have lost my tolerance for sitting in traffic. 🙁

  2. Well I feel like I’ve been whisked over to Ottawa for a tour . What a grand city & lovely to see . I enjoyed the mix of old & new buildings alongside the waterways & trees with their autumn colour. Such a beautifully bright clear day too – sparkling . I think it’s a really good idea to show us more of your country . It might make you view places with a fresh eye too ?
    I get that big city feeling when I visit Leeds with my sisters . Coming from York with its narrow , twisty streets filled with many higgly , piggly , medieval buildings the switch to mainly Victorian Leeds with its very wide streets & rather pompous buildings is quite a contrast . I feel like a little country mouse come to town .
    Here in York I’d take you on the ‘ alternative ‘ tour . We’d walk in along the river & cross through the riverside gardens passing one of the museums , then onto the medieval city walls that circle the centre . There’s over two miles of them so we’d dip off to cut through the little alleys, ginnels & snickets which have always been shortcuts for the locals & still are . You would see the intricate backs of the old buildings & there are lots of secret places hidden along the way where there’s evidence of previous inhabitants , including Roman & Viking . We’d be sure to walk the stretch of the wall by the Minster ( our cathedral ) which surprises with it’s presence , it’s very big for our small city . There are lots of shops , old pubs & trendy little eateries on route . We could manage afternoon tea in a fancy hotel but I don’t think we can match the Chateau Laurier . That’s seriously posh .

  3. What an enjoyable post Sue! I grew up in Ottawa, and had my first professional job at the Canada Council. My favorite place to go for lunch with colleagues was The Brokerage restaurant. It was such an exciting time! I loved living there and seeing all your photos made me so nostalgic. I moved to Boston 41 years ago–it’s a wonderful city too, but I truly do miss Ottawa and my family there. I believe when circumstances permit, I may get to spend my (very old) years back in my home country. OH, CANADA…

    1. The Brokerage was our favourite spot too! Although we had to hustle to get there and back on our lunch hour. It was all the way down at Kent Street, I think. So we ran there and back. But it was worth it. Their wraps and salads were a revelation to me.

  4. I lived just outside Ottawa for two years, as my husband worked downtown. It is a wonderful, walkable, clean city. Being busy with work and three kids we never had the opportunity to really see the highlights of the city so just before we left we played tourist, hitting all the must sees – the Parliament buildings, the National Gallery, the War Museum, etc. I would love to see more of your travels through the city of Ottawa.
    Your #OOTD is spot on for tea at the Empress on a chilly fall day. You are having a lovely autumn with mild temps for November in Ottawa.

    1. I had to make sure that the sweater I had on underneath my coat sweater was light enough. The last time I had tea there I wore a chunky turtleneck and just about died of the heat. Our waiter took a photo of my friend and me and I was totally red in the face. Ha. The view from outside the National Gallery in the early evening is so lovely. It’s one of my favourite spots in the city.

  5. What a wonderful tour! I’m sorry I never got to Ottawa in all of my Canadian journeying.

    There’s something pretty swell about playing tourist in one’s own town – whether you’re with a visitor or on your own, it’s a delicious way to see a familiar place through new eyes.

    And I love your outfit – I’m one to combine different textures of black as well, and then to add a pop of color, so this one is right up my alley.

    I’m sorry travel is off the table for the time being, but non-travel travel sounds like fun for all of us.

  6. I grew up in the Toronto area and visited Ottawa for the first time as a 19-year-old to meet my boyfriend’s (now husband of many years) parents. One of our sons, who did his master’s degree at Carleton, is currently an Ottawa resident. Ottawa is one of my favourite Canadian cities and I could happily live there, but life has taken us in other directions. At least we get to make frequent visits, and maybe you have sensed me saying a quick hello to you as I pass the highway exit that I believe would take me to your village.

  7. Thank you for the tour. I may never get there but who knows,where,or when!
    Seems the Union Stations must have had a standard architectural plan. The one here in Jacksonville,Fla. Looks so much like yours-the columns, the high storied arch in front(although ours is on the side of the building). I grew up in south Florida, So Miami was always poopooed as the dumpy no-nothing town! Have things ever changed! It is great to take these visual tours of other places and cities,we are all not so very different after all. To me it looks very European which is nice and different from our type of architecture.Keep the pics coming.

    1. I’ve seen train stations in Europe that have the same big, grand windows, and the main concourse is beautiful. Wish ours was still a train station. Our new one is paltry by comparison.

  8. What a lovely tour of a city I’d like to visit! With all unravel suspended for the near term, we won’t be getting to Canada soon but it was to be the next trip before the world changed. To see the sights, listen to the French and shop for antiques. To is a great intro to your capital city – thank you! And would love to see more of the smaller towns near you too.

    1. Debra, you might very well hear French speakers in Ottawa but it is not a French province. Quebec is French and New Brunswick is the only truly bi- lingual province. To experience a truly French experience you should visit Quebec City. It is the next best thing to visiting France. Montreal is a fun place, as well. I lived there for three years but must admit my French is terrible. In spite of studying it, I just never perfected it.

      1. Ottawa is the capital city of Canada it is not a province unto itself. It is in the province of Ontario. Our Federal Government conducts business in both official languages and there is constant back and forth between Gatineau, QC and Ottawa, ON. As well we have a French hospital ( l’hôpital Montfort)and the bilingual UOttawa. Students have French Immersion education available from elementary level to high school level. As well we have two French school boards ( Separate and public)My sons are fluently bilingual educated in French and English, both found employment here where they are required to speak both languages.
        Ontario does not have a mandate for bilingualism but does recognize and support the large francophone populations in many areas of the province.
        You are just as likely to hear French spoken in urban Ottawa as you would in Montréal.
        In fact probably more so in certain quartiers of the city!

  9. Nostalgia, it’s seems so very long, it has been, that I have not returned to Ottawa. I had to ask my husband to orient me to some of the streets. The Chateau, was THE place to go for special occasions. In fact, over dinner in the dining room, was it Zoe’s, he asked me to marry him. True story.

    I use to run along the canal, winter and summer, and the turrets of the Chateau were always a sight for sore feet and body. I could turn around and retrace my steps.

    Maybe next summer I shall venture back for a visit. It really is a gorgeous city. Just too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer.
    Ali

    1. I ran along the canal as well, back when I lived in the Glebe in the eighties. Such a great route. I guess you have a found a new home that is more temperate? It certainly is cold in winter and hot in summer here.

  10. Thank you for the “mini” tour of Ottawa. It is a city I would love to visit. Being in the U.S. it is nice to learn about Canada.

  11. So lovely to actually see your Ottawa,such a wonderful tour indeed. Such a lovely city….Love the photos and afternoon tea!
    Well,you’ve seen already a lot,definitely Old Upper Town and Cathedral,Theatre Square,Lenuzzi’ s(or “Green”) Horseshue(name for connected Squares and Parks in Centre),Ban Jelacic Square,(little) lakes….there are a couple of new coffee and pastry shops….I visit them rarely now….
    Dottoressa

    1. You city is the perfect size as far as I’m concerned. Enough of everything, including history and culture… and good shopping. Hopefully the historic parts can make a comeback after the earthquake.

  12. I’m sorry your link isn’t monetized as I bought the pants! I’m tall like you and I like that they’re a little looser. Although I’m in good shape, tight leather (or pleather) pants on a 61-year-old woman is perhaps…not appropriate, at least for this (hopefully fashionable but conservative) Midwesterner.

    I don’t know how I found your blog but I am really loving it – perhaps because I am a teacher, too (a university lecturer and still at it). And the area you live in is SO beautiful, it’s always a balm to see your photos. I’m also a reader so…a trifecta, I would say.

    In any case, this post was lovely, as are all of your posts. Merci mille fois!

  13. I enjoyed your Ottawa tour, Sue, and I live in Ottawa! Well….a suburb of Ottawa proper, which really has nothing to do with downtown Ottawa. I haven’t been to downtown Ottawa in almost 2 years (which is how we date everything these days – thanks, Covid!) My next downtown Ottawa trip will likely be during the Ottawa Race weekend, but even at my pace (middle-age shuffling) I will be running too quickly to really enjoy the sights. Perhaps I should add in a walking tour after the race.

    It’s funny how we often don’t enjoy our own communities and nearby areas. Last summer I tried to visit a few local places to satisfy the travelling itch, and re-discovered that Ottawa is blessed with lots of lovely little towns. If you haven’t been to Perth in a while, go for an afternoon – and take your camera so we can come along!

  14. Loved your tour of Ottawa. It looks s to be a lovely city. Hopefully we might make it there one day. There must be many Union Stations around the world.
    I have found the best way to see your own town/city is to show visitors around. Several of my relatives of various ages have come to visit NZ and we have enjoyed showing them around. Sometimes just around our city but we have also take
    n a few of our visitors on trips around the country.
    One of my favourite spots would have to be an Auckland waterfront restaurant, sipping a well chilled pinot gris and watching the boats and world go by. Or perhaps a tramp up a river valley and then sitting in the shade of a tree or two with a hot cup of tea.
    There was a lovely advert here a few years ago – ” don’t leave home til you’ve seen your country”.

    1. You’re right, I think there must be numerous Union Stations. I know of a couple at least. Love your Auckland waterfront… and Auckland in general. Lovely, lovely city.

  15. This was fun, and a much needed virtual vacation. Ottawa is a place I have never visited, although there were plans afoot to visit a friend who was stationed there at one point. She always said that before it got too cold it was an unheralded gem. Maybe some day!

    ceci

  16. I’ve lived in Ottawa since 1990 and have always thought of it as a little jewel of a city. Sadly, I’ve not been downtown much since our commuter trains stopped running in September. Sure hope that gets fixed soon. In the meantime, I enjoy easy access to numerous walking trails and have been exploring the more rustic parts of our city during this glorious autumn.

  17. Thank you for the delightful tour of beautiful Ottawa and the Chateau is stunning. You look fabulous and edgy in your blacks.

    I also don’t think we’ll be travelling overseas for a while but I’m lucky to live in Sydney, where I was born, and which I adore. My tour would take us to sparkling Sydney harbour to see our beloved Opera House and Harbour Bridge. We’d probably jump on a ferry or two to explore some of the gorgeous inlets and bays from the water. We’d also visit the historic Rocks district, a small but delightful mixed residential and commercial area nestled under the bridge and right in the CBD. Next stop would be the 200 year-old Queen Victoria Building for some shopping. Its four levels of sandstone splendour take up a whole city block. And of course, we’d have to visit a beach or three, like Bondi, Manly and Balmoral.

    I missed being able to move freely around my city during our recent four-month lockdown. I almost cried when I saw the harbour again and I’m loving being able to get out and about more.

    1. We’ve been to Sydney twice. Such a wonderful city. We’ve explored the Rocks district and the harbour and I’ve gotten lost in the shopping district… all those underground tunnels. Ha.

  18. thank you for the little glimpse of Ottawa and your lovely afternoon tea. Canada has been on my bucket list for a long time so maybe one day I will see it all in person. Afternoon tea is my favourite eating out adventure. Living close to Melbourne I love to go to the Windsor Hotel. If you have read the first Phrynne Fisher book that is the hotel she stayed in when she first came to Melbourne. It does a wonderful afternoon tea with an atmosphere of just the right amount of faded grandeur

  19. Thanks for the journey! I’ve visited Ottawa twice and really loved it. I especially liked walking along the canal. Next time, I’ll go for tea.
    You looked very smart for your afternoon outing.

  20. Thanks for the tip about Tea at Zoe! Visiting my sister in law in Ottawa and booked for this afternoon at 3 after reading your post. Also found a lovely little shop, Isabelle mode at 457 Sussex on my way to the National Gallery yesterday. Sara Pacini among other designers.

  21. Dear Sue,
    lifelong I live in Cologne/Germany. It is a peculiarity of the people of Cologne, that most of them are homesick, when far from home. Although Cologne is not so uniquely beautiful due to the destruction of the ww II.
    I know you have knowledge of the german language 😉 and you will have no problems to get in touch with the people in Cologne. Just change the words “dry white wine” into “Kölsch Beer”. Easy living…
    Thank you for your introducion of Ottawa.
    Susa xx

  22. What a good post! I’ve always very much liked your travel blogs – especially when they feature towns and cities.
    We drove through Ottawa one autumn afternoon about 50 years ago and thought it was lovely. Now that overseas travel is off my agenda, I think I will have to plan to see more of your beautiful country.

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