Celebrating Canada Day in the Capital
As a first generation Canadian, this country truly has a special place in my heart. My family moved here from South Africa the year before I was born in hopes of ensuring my brother and I had a future full of opportunity, freedom, and safety. That is exactly what Canada has offered me over the last 28 years. Because of my love and appreciation for my home, I wanted to do something special for Canada’s big 150th birthday. I figured there was no better way to celebrate this place I call home than in the nation’s capital, Ottawa.
Ottawa had been planning their Canada 150 celebrations for quite some time and planned to have events that were bigger and better than ever before. I figured being on Parliament Hill as Canada turned the big 1-5-0 with thousands of other proud Canadians would be a once in a lifetime experience.
While the drive from Toronto to Ottawa is only about 4 hours long on a normal weekend, 500,000 people were also heading to Ottawa for Canada. So instead of dealing with endless traffic, I decided to try a different form of transportation and I hopped aboard Via Rail.
This was my first experience with Via Rail, and I must say I was beyond impressed. From the comfortable seats, delicious food, and full bar I was able to get some rest and relaxation as well as a couple of cocktails to get my vacation started a little early. I even had a chance to do some last minute trip planning thanks to the on board wifi.
With nine trains departing daily to Ottawa, it was really easy to book at time that worked for me and got to avoid the stress and road rage that would have come with driving. While many spend over eight hours on the roads this long weekend, I arrived in Ottawa a little over four hours after I departed Toronto well rested and ready for Canada Day.
I arrived on Friday evening and decided to stay away from downtown since I knew it was going to be chaotic to say the least. I had heard of Wesboro Village and decided to make my way there instead. Wesboro is about a 15-minute drive from downtown Ottawa and it is a quaint and adorable town. There are plenty of boutique stores and family owned restaurants to explore. After filling up my belly on some delicious Italian food it was straight to bed so I would be well rested for Canada Day.
Saturday I got the day started bright and early. I made my way downtown, but after seeing the endless lines to get to Parliament Hill I decided to check out some of the other Canada Day festivities in town. Byward Market, which was founded in 1826 is a historic part of downtown Ottawa and had plenty of activities to celebrate the big day.
If you have never been to Byward Market before, it is a must. On any given day you can find local farmers, artisans, and of course plenty of restaurants for whatever your taste buds are craving. For Canada Day, the market transformed to a festive hub.
One area in particular was called Inspiration Village. Inspiration Village was created specifically for Canada 150. It was set up in May and will be taken down in September so there isn’t a lot of time left to explore. In this part of the market there were different exhibitors promoting Canadian tourism, local artists on display, and of course some fun photo opportunities including a giant Ottawa Sign.
After some pictures and some tacos at Sidedoor, I made my way to the one spot that I needed to see, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. When I worked as a news reporter, I covered some heartbreaking stories, but none left a mark more than the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Ever since I reported on his funereal, I really wanted to visit the area that he guarded. It was amazing to see this historic spot surrounded by a sea of red and white. Thousands of people were watching the festivities from Parliament Hill from this area, and this was a true reminder that Cirillo and those who serve this country are the reason every single one of us were standing free and safe in Ottawa that day. This was when the emotions of just how special this day was started to kick in.
I stayed put into the evening because this was also the perfect spot to catch the fireworks. I had heard that this was going to be a show for the books. Over $200,000 had gone into it and it would consist of 15,000 fireworks that would last for 20 minutes and 17 seconds. Bang after bang as firework after firework lit up the sky. The lights came from all angles (in fact they were set off from five different launching sites) and I can honestly say it was spectacular. An incredible way to end an incredible celebration.
My Canada Day weekend wrapped up on Sunday, and with the sun finally out and the crowds dying down, this was my golden opportunity to visit Parliament Hill. This was my second time here and while the first one consisted of a tour, this time I just walked around the grounds. There were still plenty of people wearing red and white and carrying around big Canadian flags. Everyone was waving, and smiling, and celebrating together and it was a real special moment to share with so many fellow Canadians. We all come from different backgrounds, ethnicity, educations, and cultures yet in this moment we were all friends. We were all here together to say thank you to the country that has given us so much. It was magical and unforgettable to say the least.
This Canada Day will be a weekend I will never forget for as long as I live. If you take away the parties, the fireworks, the artist, and the festivities this moment was an entire nation coming together to say thank you. Thank you Canada for opening your doors, for allowing us to live in freedom and safety. Thank you Canada for allowing us to follow our dreams and for giving us endless opportunities. I didn’t know this weekend would be so emotional, so raw for me but it was. I am so thankful that my family made that move 30 years ago. So with that Canada, I wish you a Happy 150th birthday.
What to do in Ottawa
Aside from Canada Day, Ottawa is an amazing city to visit and there is so much to do on any given weekend. Planning a trip to Ottawa this summer? Here are some of my recommendations of places to go and see.
- Byward Market: Taking a stroll down Byward market is so much fun. Pick up some fresh and local foods and people watch from one of their patios. There is so much to do on any given day at the market.
- A guided tour of Parliament Hill: Free guided tours are available year round. I learned so much about Parliament and about Canadian history on my tour. It is a must for anyone visiting Ottawa
- Picnic on the Bridge: Picnic on the Bridge was supposed to be just for Canada Day but due to high demand, this will continue all summer long. Friends and families can grab a picnic basket and eat on top of the Royal Alexandra Bridge. Take in the breathtaking views over some sandwiches.
- Visit the Canadian War Museum: The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. It has a lot of interactive areas which makes the museum fun as well as educational.
- Take a walk or a boat ride down the Rideau Canal: Get to see some incredible views of the city from the water. Fun fact, the Canal is transformed into the world’s longest skating rink in the winter.
Ottawa is a truly special place whether it is for a big celebration like Canada Day or just a weekend getaway and I hope you get the chance to explore Canada's capital one day.