Travel

How to survive Ottawa on Canada Day

A local’s tips, tricks and advice to making it through
the capital’s biggest bash of the year

  • Jun 29, 2019
  • 807 words
  • 4 minutes
Fireworks light up the Alexandra Bridge, the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill on Canada Day. (Photo: Destination Canada)
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If you haven’t been to Ottawa since your eighth-grade civics trip, there’s no better time to pay another visit than Canada Day. The party is in full swing wherever you go, the fireworks on Parliament Hill are top-notch and (sorry winter lovers) the city is at its most gorgeous. But to properly navigate the full range of festivities and get the most out of your capital Canada Day, you’ll need a little guidance. Here are five things that will help see you through the big bash. 

To go to the Hill or not to go to the Hill? 

If you’re venturing to the heart of the party, take transit and be prepared to wait as crammed OC Transpo articulated buses pass you by. Your ride will eventually come; to pass the time you can play Six Degrees of Tony Clement, which will last about 45 seconds because if you work in certain sectors — media, arts or politics, say — Ottawa can feel like a small town where everyone goes to the same parties. Except on Canada Day, that is. This time it’s a party with thousands of your sweaty besties — and their dogs. But if that’s not your cup of Timmie’s, you can always attend the smaller community celebrations in neighbourhoods such as Westboro Village, The Glebe, Chinatown, Little Italy or Wellington West (check here for more information on those and other neighbourhoods). Expect an even more chilled-out vibe — and that distinct fear-of-missing-out feeling one gets when the biggest party in town is so close, yet so far away.

The view from Nepean Point 

Ah, Nepean Point. It’s known for its panoramic view of Parliament Hill and as a capital make-out spot. Head to the point, located behind the National Gallery, to get an amazing view of the Parliament Hill fireworks reflecting off the Ottawa River. Or, head south of the Hill to Confederation Park to catch a few wisps and high-flying sparks. If you have a friend who lives in one of the many high-rises in Centretown, you may enjoy a balcony or rooftop view, or you can simply linger along Wellington or Rideau streets and crane your neck. This is the day where the sidewalks don’t roll up at 5 p.m. and everyone has shed the pallor and malaise of long winters. The geeky, the tenured and the truant come together to beam with civic pride. In a place known as a hub of public policy and the nexus of four layers of government (those three, plus the National Capital Commission), this is saying something.

Canada Day fireworks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Photo: Destination Canada)
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Street food for the faint of heart (and stomach) 

One Beavertail per lifetime is plenty, in my humble opinion. However, I can think of about 900,000 people who might disagree with me. There is a reason that they serve these on the Rideau Canal every winter. This flattened doughnut will give you much needed blubber and energy, and you can pick one up on Canada Day. It will hold you through hours of heartland rock on the Hill (“Hellloooooo Ottawaaaaaaaaah!”) and allow you to excel at the galumphing splayed arms and knees movement that seems to dominate on this particular day. Some people refer to this as “dancing.”

A Canada Day concert on Parliament Hill. (Photo: Ottawa Tourism)
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Be prepared 

You can whinge about the weather and feel like a true local. That’s because it can go from burning hot to massive downpours on Canada Day. Bring those touristy pocket raincoats or a backpack with gear — and don’t forget to be ready for sun. Many have removed a temporary tattoo only to reveal a maple-leaf outlined sunburn which, while patriotic, is still painful. Perhaps this is what author, columnist and professional crank Andrew Cohen was referring to when he called Canada Day a time of “crushing banality, a renunciation of the past … and a misreading of history, laden with political correctness and historical ignorance.” Sheesh. I think he could use a Beavertail.

Go with it 

The tacky Canadiana is out in full force on Canada Day because it’s a long weekend and it’s summer and everyone is feeling those warm vibes and forgetting that we’re the country that produced Nickelback. And that’s on a good year. Expect sightings of maple leaf boxer shorts worn as outerwear, or people busting out into group singalongs of “Bye Bye Mon Cowboy.” I mean, it could be worse. Imagine a stage production of The Full Mountie or a tribute piece called 50 Shades of Herb Gray. In comparison, that makes the big party seem not too shabby. So go with it: head to the Hill, rock out and get down for the Dominion!

There's no shortage of costumed Canadians strolling downtown Ottawa's streets on Canada Day. (Photo: Destination Canada)
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Fateema Sayani (@fateemasayani) writes regularly for Canadian Geographic Travel, Canadian Geographic and Ottawa Magazine.

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