Three Favourite (Green/Nature) Spots Downtown Ottawa

Ottawa is such a fabulous city.  (OK, maybe I'm biased since I grew up here!)

But it has so much to offer including tons of green space in every corner from west to east and even centrally.  Our capital gets its green from the canal and river corridors (which offer great linear green connections) and the greenbelt and it is also due to some fantastic planning which includes the arboretum and some great large parks. Plus it gets its green from some large unplanned parcels that are just being redeveloped now (with park space being key components).

If I had visitors who wanted to spend some time downtown but also wanted to enjoy the city's verdant side, I'd recommend the following places so that they could enjoy a couple of different experiences in the outdoors.


DOWNTOWN RIVER  LOOP

The National Capital Commission showcases important federal buildings and key historic sites along the famous "Confederation Boulevard" that links both Gatineau and downtown Ottawa.  The boulevard provides a great opportunity to enjoy a distinctive tour of this important region.  But I'd suggest taking the blue and green option and getting down onto the bike paths along both sides of the riverbank and seeing these two cities from a different angle.  Called the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Trail on the Ottawa side, this section of the riverside tour is even part of the Trans Canada Trail which comes from the north (down through Gatineau Park) and leading southwest through Stittsville, Carleton Place and then through Rideau Lakes.

But back to the short city trek.  This could take as little as half an hour if you just want to feel the breeze on your face (if you are on a bike) and enjoy the sweeping water vistas. Otherwise, if you want to explore a bit around you, this enjoyable loop can be extended for an hour or more as it takes you over to Victoria Island (where you could stop and explore the Aboriginal Experiences Centre) to the tip of Jacques Cartier Park (which offers various programming during festivals) and along the riverbank behind the Canadian Museum of History with its gardens and pretty waterfall.  If biking, you can cross the locks on the Ottawa side (near the Bytown Museum) by carrying your bike or if you want to avoid that option go through Major's Hill Park (or down McKenzie Street) and over the Rideau Street bridge and come down (slowly!) on Canal Lane.  This loop gets you close to the river and nature, providing great views and opportunities to spot some urban wildlife including waterfowl and possibly even some bold rabbits.  (Early morning or early evening are the best time to spot them).  You'll feel refreshed by the cool air off the water and be surprised with some areas of ruggedness and industrialization.  It's a great tour!

ADD A BITE TO EAT:

Mill Street Brewery (595 Wellington) - sit in the back room overlooking the falls!
Museum of History's Cafeteria Patio - beautiful under the spring blooms
Maison Des Auteurs (end of Rue de Verdun) - open May to October (small snacks)

Photo: Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

NEPEAN POINT

I'd definitely want my visitors to check out Nepean Point especially around sunset!  It's a bit of a hike from the Byward Market and Major's Hill Park but well worth it for the view.  It's an underutilized park that can be accessed from both sides of the National Gallery of Canada.  Visitors not only get to say "Hi!" to Samuel de Champlain and his famous astrolabe but they also can check out some unique modern sculptures including "One Hundred Foot Line" by Roxy Paine and "Majestic" by Michel de Broin (which has an incredible concept).  Details on all outdoor installations and gardens can be found at the National Gallery of Canada's website.   It also includes an amphitheater which hasn't been used for years but there's good news as the NCC is planning to revamp this area!  It's about a five to ten minute walk from the front of the National Gallery and (warning) mostly up hill but did I mention it's well worth the view!

ADD A BITE TO EAT:

Sandwich from La Bottega (64 George Street) - sandwich counter is at back of the store
Gelato from Piccolo Grande (55 Murray Street) - Zabaglione & Bourbon Vanilla are faves!


DUNDONALD PARK (Somerset between Bay and Lyon)

I'd also insist that my visitors enjoy a visit (or lunch) in Dundonald park as it's a great way to plug into the local vibe of Ottawa's neighborhoods.  Not only is it the home to the Centretown Outdoor Movies but it is also a few blocks away from the beautiful Chinatown Royal Arch installed in 2010. It has some unique Canadian history and has also enjoyed a bit of a revitalization due to the hardworking neighborhood volunteers and the Centretown Community Health Centre.  The CCHC received a 8-80 Cities grant in 2012 to help encourage programming to the park and the neighborhood stepped up.  Activities included yarn bombing, yoga, gardening, colourfully painted park benches and tai chi and this working group is still going strong in 2016.  Check out activities on their Facebook page.

ADD A BITE TO EAT:

Dosa Street Truck (parked right at the park)
Bubble Tea from My Sweet Tea (Somerset and Booth)

So those are my three recommendation for connecting to the green and natural side of Ottawa!

******


There are so many popular central locations including

Major's Hill Park, 
Confederation Park and 
Parc Jacques Cartier 

that I wanted to feature some possibly lesser known spots.  

What do you think?  

And definitely tell me where you'd send your friends for some green if they were going downtown!



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The Return of our Local Birds

American Robin (Turdus* migratorius) a member of the Thrush family.

It's spring, the snow has melted, the days are getting warmer and longer - much, much longer.  How could it be that a couple of months ago we had sun for a mere ten hours and now it's almost fourteen! And all that extra light at the end of the day - daylight savings is a great salve for the winter blues.  It's unbelievable that you can stay out until nine in the evening with the rays of the sun angling itself over the horizon.

Spring not only means more sunlight, green bursts everywhere and floral blooms but also there are a ton of familiar and not so familiar birds in and around the city.  Some are local birds that are working on protecting territory, finding mates, building nests and brooding.  Others are passing through, using our urban green space as a stopover (for both resting and refueling) before they continue on their journey to their summer grounds up north.  

American Robin (Turdus migratorius), largest of the North American Thrushes.

The sounds of all these birds are so welcome, they greet us as soon as the sun rises (although now that may be while we're still asleep at close to five in the morning).  And we can definitely here them as soon as we get out the door for our morning travels.  Whether you are up early to take the dog out for a walk or your rushing out late to get into the car their calls, trills and songs are there. We may not be paying attention but they are an auditory urban backdrop of which we are very accustom (although sometimes oblivious).
mnemonic (nəˈmänik): Assisting or intending to assist memory (link)  Many birders use this memory aid to recall various bird songs.
There's the familiar (American) Robin's Mary Poppins-like "cheer-i-up, cheer-ee-o"

and the (Northern) Cardinal's constant "purty-purty-purty"

and even the Blue Jay's self-serving  "jay, jay, jay"

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) of the corvid family (related to Crows).

Which all make for a lovely spring symphony... most of the time! (Aahhh that pesky constant chatter when you are trying to get that extra hour of sleep on Saturday morning!)

So which bird song is your harbinger of spring? 

Which call wakes you up out of your cold weather doldrums 
and announces definitively for you that 
winter has left the building?

What bird marks the arrival of warm days ahead for you?

For me lately it hasn't been any of the above birds - not the cheerful Robin or the insistent Jay.  It's not even the Mallard's nasal quack or the goldfinch's "potato chip and dip".  Ever since I spent a summer volunteering to do Chimney Swift roost monitoring, I've been fascinated by these small unassuming aerial insectivores and thrilled to hear them in the most surprising places - one being in the sky above my own home.  I found that there is a roost across the street and was shocked to realize that they had been there all along just waiting to be recognized.  (Once you are able to recognize the Swift's chatter - you'll never miss them in any city again!  Another thrill was hearing them above my head in an east end part of Washington D.C.!  It's like running into an old friend in an unexpected place.)

The Swift does take a bit longer to return to our latitude in Ottawa than some of the birds but when I hear that chatter overhead I know that winter is far behind us and that warm days are here!

So tell me what your spring bird is and whether it has changed over the years.  Are there a couple of bird calls that you don't recognize but want to learn?  It's a new layer of detail once you can hear different birds around you!

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) one of only three Cardinals in the Americas.

All bird photos taken by Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 px) Contributing Creative to Wild. Here.

* Yes Turdus, an unfortunate latin name for such a bright and friendly bird!

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Wild. Here.'s Intro to Urban Wild Exploring

Urban wild exploring can be done anywhere.

  • It can be as simple as being in the city park down the street and exploring the plants and insects that are just under your feet.  
  • It can be visiting a new green space that is just a bus (or bike) ride away, whether it's for scouting for the best park bench for reading or for trying a new multi-use path for jogging.  
  • It can be trying something new like stand-up paddleboarding and exploring the city's water routes allowing you to see the city from a new perspective.
  • Or it can be choosing a new subject for photography such as sunsets that can get you looking for the best locations and vistas.  

There are so many ways to explore the wild, green locations that can be found in the city.


Urban wild exploring can also be surprising.  

  • Surprising to find small pockets of untame areas right here in the city between streets and structures and paved over locations.  
  • Discovering areas that feel wild and hidden and unbelievably green without a structure in sight. Vast sweeps of green right in the city.
  • Surprising to go off path with friends and discover a small glade of flowers or an urban creek that is not on any maps.  
  • Incredible to witness various annual phenomena that happens only once a year or to visit a favorite spot and see how different things look with snow or in the fog.  



It's a great feeling to come upon a place that you've found on your own volition, to stumble upon something surprising and to feel like you are discovering something for the first time due to your own curiosity and adventuring spirit.

We miss quite a bit driving in our cars and taking our regular routes.  Sometimes it's even by changing our typical habit and checking out a new location or a different path that we find some place great that is worth exploring.

Tell me what you've found when you started to explore new wild spots in your own area!


I've got some tips and tricks that I can share with you in upcoming posts on HOW to find great places to explore, WHAT to bring including apps that will help you out and WHO to hook up with if you don't want to do all the groundwork of finding new places yourself.  (Every city has lots of experts who lead walks or do volunteer work to take care of the wild urban spots!) Stay tuned!


But first and foremost, feel free to refresh yourself in terms of the following...

TIPS FOR YOUR COMFORT AND SAFETY

Depending on how tame or adventurous your urban wild exploring is and also how far you go, how much time you plan spending outdoors and how familiar you are with the place you are exploring, you may want to review these common sense tips:
  • If you can, the best time in the warmer months to do exploring (especially if you'll be out for a few hours) is during the cooler parts of the day (morning or late afternoon, early evening). 
  • However the best time to go out during the winter months is mid to late afternoon when it is the warmest (and remember the saying - there's no thing as bad weather just bad clothes).
  • Urban exploring (especially in unfamiliar areas, off path or in secluded spots) should be done as a pair or a group - it is much more fun and safer with friends and a great idea also to let others know your plans and whereabouts.
  • Stay on city maintained paths especially if you are unfamiliar with off path situations such as being able to identify poisonous plants or being tick-aware.  Yes you can find these, even in urban area.
  • Explore off path areas at your own risk.  Even though you are in the city there are still many hazards that may not be visible under thick grass or covered by snow.
  • Confirm ownership of the area you are exploring.  Find out if it is municipally owned, owned by another government agency (Parks, National Capital Commission (in Ottawa), etc.) Do not go on private property.
  • If you are a photographer or overly curious, never risk your life for an amazing photo or for curiosity's sake.  Assess the situation and obey all signs and barriers.  Or buy yourself a drone!
  • Do not get too close to or in fast running water (especially in early spring).  Spring banks can be unstable, rocks can be slippery and water deeper than expected.
  • If you plan on being out for a few hours or more, know the general distance and/or time you plan to be outside and be familiar with the location of the closest public washroom.
  • Despite areas being urban, you still need to be prepared like you are going on a nature hike with bug repellent, sun screen, water, etc.  You'd be surprised with how many mosquitoes you can find in your local park!
  • Do you have any tips or tricks for safety and comfort for other urban wild explorers?


Photos 1, 2 & 4 taken by Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

Happy Exploring!
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