Letters from the Americas 2005 (part 16) - Canada Ottawa

Algonquin Park - don't try and flag down a flower


Ottawa is the capital of Canada, like Canberra in Australia it was chosen as a compromise city as it lies between two major cities (Toronto and Montreal) plus it's on the border of Ontario and Quebec. I wasn't really expecting much as it never really gets much press among travelers, and it's not like travelers don't like to talk on and on and on about where they've been, I would NEVER do that ;op

Ottawa Parliament Building - Westminster looky-likey
Back to Ottawa, it is actually a smashing place, the parliament buildings are based on the English parliament, they even have their own version of Big Ben, which has the exact same bell chime as Big Ben (yeah, that was probably my most boring fact yet, I can't help it, I remember all the rubbish and forget the important stuff). 

Ottawa's locks rocks
Ottawa has a river running through it with pretty walkways and locks so in that sense it kinda has an Amsterdam feel about it. It was once one of the most dangerous cities in all of north america and although that was probably back in the last century there is still a gritty element to the city. There seems to be a punkish feral element, possibly better described as vagrants than homeless (as pointed out by Therese), they tend to be young French Canadians with mohicans or shaved heads, wearing doc martins and scruffy punk clothes, lots of tattoos, and always seem to have a pittbull dog on a choke chain with them, they lie along the sidewalks or in parks, brooding. Now, it's totally possible that there is only 3 people who fit the description I've given and I've actually just seen the same people over and over, this vagrant presence although noticeable it wasn't very big.

Beddy-byes Sharon, don't wait up
Our hostel in Ottawa was by far the coolest ever; it was a working jail up until the 70s and opened as a hostel within a year of the jail closing. You get to room in a cell and the furnishings are all original. Inspired by our spooky surroundings the girls and myself went on a "Ghost and Gallows" tour of the city and jail. The top floor of the jail is the only floor that the hostel doesn't allow people to sleep in, they used to allow people but apparently people saw ghosts etc and would always end up leaving in the middle of the night screaming and asking for refunds.
Skeleton marks the spot where death row victims were buried

The hostel even rendered the top floor free in the hope that people would stop running out of it and looking for refunds, allegedly people kept seeing ghosts and kept leaving, the floor is now left empty and locked. Why that floor? That was Death Row and at the end of the corridor stands the gallows from which people were hanged. Spooooky.

Although I had associated Irish immigrants with contributing to building a lot of the east coast American cities I hadn't really extended that to Canada. It seems the Irish were the main source of labourers used to build Ottawa. They were treated pretty badly and as a result formed gangs. I think it’s these Irish gangs that we can thank for giving Ottawa its old reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in north america. On behalf of the nation I'd like to say.. oops. Inbetween building the city and then turning on it the Irish did manage to cooperate with the fellow low income French and Italians and built a Catholic church. Because they couldn't afford gold etc, the church was built out of wood but in such a manner to the untrained casual eye the church does indeed look like its adorned with the gold and silver you see in European churches, uber impressive.

Therese is a fan, Sheilagh's not so sure
Away from Ottawa lies Fort Coulonge, it has a waterfall that is far far bigger than Niagara but Niagara is all about the volume, the Fort Coulange waterfall was pretty in a kind of junior school nature walk kind of way. We did however get to watch a movie on logging. Don't ask me why, I'm gonna randomly blame a past life, but for some reason I find the life of lumberjack intriguing. Don't get me wrong, despite a fashion mistake in my youth of lumberjack shirt, I don't have any desire to actually BE a lumberjack, I just find the whole thing interesting. Trees, nature, rolling logs down rivers, anyone else interested? anyone else awake? Oh, one amusing part of the logging video described the Irish workers (yes, we show up everywhere) as being strong (woo-hoo Go Team Ireland) but slow (we weren't sitting down, we was pushed I tell ya).

Algonquin Park is spectacular
Algonquin Park, great name, love it, makes me think of Dorothy Parker and her round circle at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. The park is an outrageous one and a half times the size of Wales, a quarter the size of Belgium, and a tiddlywink bigger than Narnia. Perfect for hiking, the scenery is sensational, but don't go expecting much from the beaches/sand boxes, that said you can swim and canoe to your hearts content. We had a surreal moment when a group of us sat in silence eating our lunch under the baking sun in a beached canoe, staring at Therese while she sat alone in the sand absentmindedly drawing a protective circle around herself.

Maybe it's time to get out of the heat.

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  1. Lol! Totally forgot that moment on the beach!! How weird was I?! Wonderful memories brilliantly captured as always....


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