Friday, May 21, 2010

Ottawa: Full Day #2

Due to an odd scheduling conflict, I had a choice between spending a day/night in Montreal before heading to Halifax, or spending a third night in Ottawa before heading to Montreal to head to Halifax. Since I was already scheduled to stay two nights in Montreal on my way to Vancouver, I decided to add one more night in Ottawa but in a different hostel - the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel.

(The lavish interior at the hostel. Those are the cell blocks, er... rooms on the left.)

(The original suicide bars welded on the stairs to prevent inmates from either a) jumping over the railings and falling through the gap, or b) throwing a guard over the railing.)

Ottawa's Carleton County Gaol was a "model prison" when it was made in 1862. After 110 years without much upgrade though, it became one of the worst prisons in Canada, and was closed down in 1972. One year later it was turned into a hostel, and is now said to be haunted by some of the spirits of the prisoners executed there including Patrick Whelan: the supposed assassin of Thomas D'Arcy - one of the Fathers of Confederation - and the last criminal hanged publicly in Canada.

(The original gallows. I actually saw this from the outside, and it's just an overhanging balcony. The prisoner stands on the trap door, and when the foot pedal on the left is pressed, the gate opens. The prisoner dangles in the air outside, much to the delight or chagrin of the crowd gathered below.)

Because check-out at my other hostel was at 11:00 AM, but check-in at the Jail Hostel was not until 1:00 PM, I had some time to kill, but also two full suitcases to drag around with me. Fortunately though, the hostel allowed me to check my suitcases so I could enjoy the rest of Ottawa in a less encumbered fashion.

First up on my itinerary for the day was to visit Parliament Hill and take one of its free tours. The Parliament Buildings were built over a period of seven years between 1859 and 1966, after Ottawa was declared the capital of Canada in 1857. Unfortunately, most of the original Centre Block was destroyed in a fire in 1916, when a cigar butt left in a trash can caused a fire that burnt down everything but the library. The library was saved because a quick thinking librarian ran back to close the fire-proof iron doors, making the score Librarians - 1, Smokers - the biggest threat to Canadian democracy ever.

Unfortunately, a number of parents decided to bring their children along for the tour, and naturally these babies/toddlers started making loud, incoherent babblings and crying. I'm not sure why parents think that they get to have a life once they have kids. I know you really wanted to see the Parliament Buildings, and go on that tour. "Guess what?" though. So did everyone else; and they can't hear anything because of your screaming kid.

(Grown men/women have been fighting like children here for over a century. No, it's not a MMA ring, it's the House of Commons.)

(The Senate chambers, where your non-elected Senators "debate" proposed bills from the Lower House, or even propose their own bills. There are three thrones at the back. The lower throne is for the Speaker of The Senate, while the larger throne above, on the left, is for the Governor General, and the smaller throne on the right is for his/her spouse ("consort"). The gallery above the thrones at the back are for the public to sit and observe any discussion or questioning period.)

* * * * *

After the tour I saw a lone PETA activist protesting the baby seal massacre on Sable Island. I might have walked by him in Saskatchewan, but because I caught "The Hippie" in Winnipeg I found it impossible this time, so I took some information from him.

It turns out Sable Island is in Nova Scotia, and so if I "write my MP" it might actually do some good. Apparently MPs consider each letter or phone call to represent the opinions of 1000 people; so get off your butts and get phoning. I think when I get to Halifax I'll even throw some red paint on some one's fur coat...

* * * * *

Upon leaving Parliament Hill I noticed it was still early in the morning, so I walked up Laurier St. to building of The Supreme Court of Canada. It was only 12:35 at this point, and the next tour would not start until 1:00 PM, so I went walking around downtown looking for something to eat.

I couldn't find any restaurants, but I did find a number of hot dog vendors (Canadian "street food"?). As I ate my spicy Italian sausage on some steps and watched the Ottawans go about their business in the afternoon sun, I felt a strange feeling but could not put my finger on it.

As I walked back to start my tour it dawned on me that the "problem" with Ottawa is that there are no fat people. For certain there are people who can "pinch an inch", but it's nearly impossible to find a morbidly obese person, or four people even close to obese in a given day of walking around. To be fair (to the rest of Canada?) I was in the business district, and I may find the poorer sections of Ottawa full of obese people, not to mention the drivers in their cars I couldn't see, but I noticed a similar trend towards being people being lean in Toronto's downtown area as well. Consequently, it would appear as though there is some correlation between the planners of a city making it convenient to walk/ride a bicycle on the streets, and the BMI of said city's population.

* * * * *

(The Supreme Courtroom. The nine chairs at the back are for the judges. Can you believe at one time we only had six judges on The Supreme Court? The thirty-odd chairs with laptops in front are for the lawyers.)

My Supreme Court tour was quite short, as the Supreme Court only contains two rooms: those for the Supreme Court and The Federal Court of Appeals. I stayed around afterwards though and had a very pleasant conversation with a retired American couple from Maine, who owned a used motor home and made a habit of living for five to six months in Maine during the summer, and then travelling around the U.S. and Canada for the other six to seven months of the year. If the other people in Maine are even one-tenth as friendly as this couple, I may have to lift my ban on travelling to America and visit sometime.

At this point I was quite tired from walking around Toronto and Ottawa for four of the last five days, and so I decided to go home and rest for the night. However, on the way I noticed a sign for the famous locks of Rideau Canal - the oldest continually operating canal in North America, the best preserved example of a "slack water" canal in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site - designed to create a continuous waterway from the Ottawa River to Kingston, Ontario.

The Canal itself was built to provide secure supplies for the British Army, in the event the Americans blocked the St. Lawrence River. It is 202 km long, containing 45 locks, and at the time of construction it was the largest public works project in the world.

(The locks of the Rideau Canal. In the distance is the Ottawa River. The building on the left is the oldest building in Ottawa, the old Commissariat.)

Whilst taking pictures of the locks, I noticed the building on the left in the picture above, and decided to walk over and investigate.

The building in question is the old Commissariat, built in 1827; the oldest building in Ottawa. It was built to store store the gunpowder, liquor, money, etc. for the soldiers and workers, and its walls were built 0.76 metres thick to protect its valuable supply against cannon ball fire in event of an attack. Today it is one of the most interesting museums I've ever seen, if only for its excellent audio guide. Furthermore, because today was National Museum Day, I got in free.

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From the names of the streets, it is obvious that Ottawa has a strong Scottish heritage, so for supper I decided to check out The Highlander Pub, downtown on Rideau Street. Although this pub is independently owned, I actually remember there being many Scottish Highlander Pubs in Scotland, and seeing this pub brought back fond memories of my vacation there in my youth (and by youth I mean two weeks ago). Either that, or the pub used the same lettering for its sign as every souvenir shop along The Royal Mile... yes, that must be it.

(My first opportunity to dine in the open air, on the patio of The Highlander Pub. The weather during my stay in Ottawa could not have been more pleasant.)

Oddly enough, there was no haggis at the "authentic" Scottish Highlander, but I suppose there isn't much of a market for pig's heart/lungs in Canada. I contented myself with a Shepherd's Pie, which I wolfed down, before finishing up with what looked like a double portion of apple crumble. After settling the bill, I waddled home a happy man with a stomach ache and went to bed.

(Random picture of a fire escape leading to nowhere.)


  1. Typical Nazi/Communist/Big Brother Canadian government trying to limit your freedom to burn down Parliament. That is why we need smaller government.

    News from Grande Prairie:
    John and I played our first game of the season and he scored the first goal and I got the second. Also it is snowing as I write this.

    Keep up the cool posts and Dwayne Head and AJ might be reading your blog now.

  2. Oh no, I might have to censor some of my stories now.