Let me take you on a tour of Canada’s capital in the autumn when leaves are turning shades of red, yellow and orange. We’ll hug the Ottawa River as we cross the city of Ottawa from east to west, then take the Champlain Bridge to Gatineau, in the province of Quebec, and travel through Gatineau Park before returning to Ottawa on the Alexander Bridge. It will be a hop-on-hop-off-bus sort of ride, passing many landmarks along the way that you can return to later and explore.
The first parkway you’ll drive along is the Rockcliffe Parkway in Ottawa’s east end. We’ll start at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (11 Aviation Parkway); the museum’s website tells you how to get there using Highway 417. The Ottawa River is on your right and there are places where you can stop and have a picnic. Soon you’ll reach Rockcliffe Village, famous for its embassies, private schools and magnificent homes, and Rockcliffe Park, the oldest and largest park in the region.
Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General, is just after the turnabout, on your left (1 Sussex Drive). Consider making a stop here; there are more than 10,000 trees on the grounds and some are older than Confederation (1867). You can wander around reading the plaques and discover which visiting head-of-state planted each tree. In the middle of all this is a totem pole that is topped by a thunderbird that can cause lightning by blinking its eyes and thunder by flapping its wings. Just park your car on a nearby street and walk in.
After the turnabout, the Rockcliffe Parkway becomes Sussex Drive. On your right is the home of the Prime Minister (24 Sussex). Next you will see the locks that take boats from the Rideau Canal down to the Ottawa River. The canal runs from Ottawa to Lake Ontario (202 km; 126 mi) and includes 47 locks, 16 lakes and two rivers — quite a feat and a UNESCO world heritage site.
The next landmark is the Royal Canadian Mint (320 Sussex), where you can go on a tour to see how coins are made.
Just ahead, on your right, is a large glass building with an enormous spider sculpture out in front. That’s the National Gallery of Canada (380 Sussex Drive) and you can take photos of the Parliament Buildings fronted by the colours of autumn from here. Inside the gallery there’s a painting by Tom Thompson appropriately called “Autumn Garland”.
Keep to your right and turn onto Mackenzie Avenue, passing Major’s Hill Park is on your right and the American embassy on your left. Further to your left is the Byward Market where you will undoubtedly find the city’s best selection of outdoor restaurants.
When you reach the Chateau Laurier hotel, which looks a little like a grand French chateau, turn right onto Wellington Street, the most historic section of the tour. On your left is the War Memorial. On your right are the Parliament Buildings: East Block, Centre Block (with the Peace Tower), West Block and Confederation Block. Across the street is the Langevin Block (80 Wellington), the Office of the Prime Minister. Just beyond is the statue of Terry Fox, a great Canadian hero who ran a Marathon of Hope to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
Then it’s the Supreme Court of Canada on the right, set back from the street by a great lawn. This final court of appeal sits on a bluff above the Ottawa River (310 Wellington). Library and Archives Canada is next (395 Wellington); it’s easy to spot because of the Secret Bench statue out in front. This is where you go if you’re in the Capital to research your family’s long-lost history.
Hug the left lane so that you don’t cross the bridge to Quebec and get on the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway for a scenic ride to Island Park Drive with the best views of the Ottawa River (in fact it is often referred to as the Ottawa River Parkway). First you’ll pass the Canadian War Museum (1 Vimy Pl) and then it’s protected green space. The bike paths and trails along here are extensive and at this time of year you’ll see large populations of Canada geese.
Since it’s harvest time you may decide to stop at the local market before crossing over to Quebec. Just take the Parkdale turnoff before you reach Island Park and drive south on Parkdale for three blocks. The outdoor Parkdale Market is open seven days a week from March to November.
You are now in Wellington Village, one of the trendiest areas of Ottawa, so consider picking up some goodies to go with the market produce. If you turn right onto Wellington Street and park near the Bagel Shop (1321 Wellington), where Montreal-style bagels are made in a wood-burning oven, you should find just about everything you could possibly want in the nearby shops (Sasloves Meat, Three Tarts, Parma Ravioli, and the Herb and Spice) for a perfect foodie-picnic.
Continue a short distance along Wellington until you reach Island Park Drive; turn right onto this parkway of grand homes and cross the Champlain Bridge to Gatineau, Quebec.
There is an exit to Bate Island off the Champlain Bridge, which is the best spot to see the Remic Rapids where paddlers come in spring to surf the waves. There’s lots of parking (and many Canada geese).
Cross the bridge, go up the hill, turn right and drive 2.1 km until you see the sign for Gatineau Park on your left. Gatineau Park is an extensive conservation area with 165 km of walking trails and 90 km of bike trails. There’s cross country skiing in winter, swimming and camping in summer, and the colour of the leaves in fall must be among the most breathtaking in the world. Former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King once had a summer home here that you can visit in the summer and early fall. The Park is part of the Canadian Shield, one of the oldest and hardest rock formations in the world. Bring a map so that you don’t get lost. There’s a visitor centre (33 Scott Road) in Old Chelsea.
If you are still hungry after your picnic lunch, consider stopping at Les Fougères, which is probably my favourite restaurant in the whole region. Then you can take the nearby Autoroute 5 back to Ottawa. The Alexander Bridge offers the best view of the Capital from the Quebec side.
There’s colour in the Capital at other times of the year. Thousands of lights decorate the downtown trees in winter and rivers of tulips flow across parks in spring. But it’s hard to beat the colours of Ottawa’s fall foliage, especially when the light is golden.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
Riding the buses 2013