I had a pretty big spot of the post-Montreal-blues when I arrived at the Backpackers Inn in Ottawa. It didn’t have the same charming enthusiasm for binge drinking that I had become accustomed to at Hostel Central. This was soon cleared up when I met a few of my room-mates, two guys from Switzerland and Chris from California. Fortunately, none of them seemed up for hitting the town so I was finally able to get off the beer-train. We hung out in our room, talked about the cities we had been to, the places we wanted to go and about how unreasonably hot the room was. This began some light entertainment in the form of “how many men does it take to turn on an electric fan?” The answer is; it doesn’t matter, it was broken anyway.
The Canadian Parliament
After a fairly restless and regularly interrupted night’s sleep I got myself up and dressed and headed into town to check out the Parliament of Canada. The buildings that make up Parliament Hill are of a Victorian-Gothic style, and the Centre Block has a large clock tower which when it chimes sounds very similar fashion to Big-Ben.
I found out that the Centre Block had been destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in identical style, if I hadn’t have read this I would never have guessed as it looks identical to the surrounding wings. In front of the building is an awesome fountain called the Centennial Flame, gas bubbles through the water and burns in the centre of the fountain.
Behind the Centre Block is a fantastic round structure; the Library of Parliament which was fortunately unaffected by the fire. From the back of Parliament you can look out across the Ottawa River and into the Province of Quebec. From here I could see my next destination; the Museum of Civilization.
Around the grounds are statues of former Canadian Prime Ministers and one of Queen Elizabeth the II. It’s still sort of strange to be walking around, listening to people speak in French and English with a North American accent, spending dollars and seeing the Queen as you hand your money over.
Having covered the grounds, I walked past The Response; Canada’s national memorial and home to their Tomb of the Unknown Solider and then down past the banks of the Rideau Canal which connects the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario. I then crossed the bridge and found myself right where I needed to be.
The Museum of Civilization
The Museum of Civilization is Canada’s museum of human history, the galleries and exhibits explore over 20,000 years of said history. The first point of call is the Grand Hall which houses several huge totem poles and reconstructions of North American aboriginal homes.
I’ve never seen totem poles before, or much in the way of art and I found it had striking similarities to Asian designs, and found myself appreciating much of what I saw. There is also a large gallery displaying artifacts from the Pacific coast, giving an idea of how the people who once occupied the area lived. One of the highlights of this floor though is a plaster cast of the sculpture Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Bill Reid. The sculpture consists of a canoe and it’s passengers; Raven, a traditional “trickster”, Mouse Woman, Grizzly Bear, Bear Woman, who is the wife of Grizzly bear and the mother of their two cubs; Good Bear and Bad Bear. Other passengers include Beaver, Dogfish Woman, Eagle, Frog and Wolf alongside a human shaman. That said, I preferred Reid’s simple Killer Whale.
First People’s hall takes you through the history of the North American aboriginal people from their origins until today. The exhibits deal with the cultural diversity, the achievements and the relationship the people have had with the land since prehistoric settlements. It then takes on the arrival of Europeans and the relationships and differences that arose between the varying cultures. The next exhibit is Canada Hall which is displayed like a walk through time, not all that different to Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.
The journey begins with Viking settlers on the East coast and travels west through the country as the time moves closer towards the present. One of the exhibits is of a life sized replica of a Basque Whaling station which reminded me of my time in Europe when I had the pleasure of reading Moby Dick, which had made up for it’s lack of entertainment by giving me an insightful education about the history of whaling. The final exhibit is called Face to Face which introduces important figures from Canadian history, from politicians and feminists to artists and writers. Having spent most of the afternoon there, I decided it was time to head back to the hostel find something to eat and maybe, just maybe find somewhere to drink.