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Ottawa's Capital Treasures

Down on the Farm: A sign posted by the dairy barn suggests “Come on in and meet the girls.” But here, the females on display are beautifully colored Holsteins with long lashes and earing tags and the exhibit is only part of this research station belonging to the Department of Agriculture. Besides the barns of pigs, sheep and nurseries of just-born farm animals, this Central Experimental Farm offers some 1200 acres of ornamental gardens and rare trees making it a popular spot for wedding photos on many summer Saturday afternoons. Afterward, hitch a ride on the Tally-Ho horse-drawn wagon through this working urban farm open to the public May through October. Tel 613-995-5222.

Horse Sense: Mounties train for their famous Musical Ride in Ottawa and you can watch the training sessions atop the sleek, black mounts during certain periods of the year.

Fly away: The National Aviation Museum’s collection of historic aircraft is now displayed in its own $18-million showplace at Rockcliffe Airport. View the reconstructed La Vigilance, Canada’s first bush plane recovered from a northern Ontario lake and the famous Sopwith Snipe, used by flying ace Billy Bishop. Children will enjoy climbing into the cockpit of the controversial Avro Arrow and seeing the Canadarm in simulated action. Tel 613-993-4243.

Gatineau Park: Just 15 minutes outside of Ottawa is the people-oriented playground of the Gatineau, home to some 88,000 acres of scenery. Lined with hiking and mountain biking trails and some 40 lakes, the park is also known for its intriguing ruins of William Lyon Mackenzie King’s summer home. You can stop for tea or even dinner on the grounds. During the winter, rent cross-country skis or snow shoes at the homey pit stop restaurant of Gerry and Isabel’s. They will even pack you a gourmet dinner and breakfast that you can serve up later in a heated hut surrounded by evergreen trees. Call 819-827-3405.

National Museum of Civilization: Just across the bridge in Hull is the curvy, spacious museum that mimics its setting of rock and river. While the Grand Hall filled with totem poles is impressive, it’s the details of the aboriginal homes and lifestyles that satisfies a visitor’s curiosity. Check out the new exhibit of Inuit artifacts celebrating the birth of Nunavut, or the excellent Children’s Museum that takes kids around the world in one afternoon. Try to book the ever-popular Alice in Wonderland tea held on the first of every year. Call 819-776-7000.

National Gallery: This glass cathedral-like building is stunning as is the country’s largest collection of paintings, sulptures, drawings and photographs. But hidden among the more than 42,000 works of art is a restored 19th-century chapel with simple wooden sculptures and a large collection of silver objects from Quebec.

To market, to market: The Byward market used to feature farmer’s produce by day and another kind of trade by night, but these days, the area features trendy restaurants, street performers, farmers’ produce and fish markets year round. Check out Domus, a kitchen specialty shop that serves up recipes from its extensive collection of cookbooks, Zaks Diner for hearty meatloaf, shakes and juke box tunes or Clair de Lune for fine French bistro fare. On Saturdays, the area farmers still set up stalls of live poultry, flowers, maple syrup and other produce from the Ottawa Valley on the market streets.

Parliament Hill: Few views are as magnificent as the one from behind the gothic-looking Parliament Buildings. Looking out onto the giant river that separates Ottawa from Hull, one can imagine the scene of the floating logs from the former “sub-Arctic lumber village” as one British essayist called the settlement. Take a free tour of the Centre Block and the magnificent library, then take the elevator up to the top of the Peace Tower whose stone floor collected from the battlefields of Europe. Watch your local MP in action at the daily question period (2 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m. on Friday) when Parliament is in session; during the summer, the beaver-hatted Governor-General’s Foot Guards march about and every evening at dusk, the hill lights up with a Son et Lumiere show featuring 600 spotlights and soundtrack of Canada’s historical moments. Visitors flock to the Peace flame but few know that you can also visit Canada’s tomb dedicated to the Unknown Soldier in the Memorial Chamber. Huge books of calfskin parchment record the names of those who have fought in Canada’s wars.

Winterlude: Leave it to the second coldest capital city on earth (after Ulan Bator in Mongolia) to stage the continents’ largest winter festival. Each February, Winterlude attracts some 750.000 people to glide down the worl’ds largest skating rink, admire the ice sculptures and play in the snow. Those who don’t skate can be pushed along in hand-painted sleighs.





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