Story by Lisa Gervais
OTTAWA, ONTARIO — Think Ottawa is a sleepy government town with little to offer other than politicians? Think again. Three friends and I embarked on a weekend road trip to take in the food, entertainment and history that the city and outlying area have to offer. Ottawa did not disappoint.
Live Music in Downtown Ottawa
Our first stop on Friday night was D’Arcy McGee’s Irish Pub (44 Sparks Street, 1-613-230-4433) for some live music. The pub is located on the corner of Elgin and Sparks Street, across from the National War Memorial. We got up close and personal with The Mahones, an Irish punk band on a world tour. The pub is housed in a beautiful, historic building and is named after one of the Father’s of Confederation who was the victim of Canada’s first political assassination. We enjoyed dinner, drinks (I recommend the raspberry blood orange cosmopolitan, $8), the music and the friendly atmosphere.
On Saturday morning, it seemed only fitting to visit the former gaol where James Patrick Whelan was tried and hung for the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee. The jail was built in 1862 and closed in 1972 because of inhumane living conditions and a series of suspicious inmate deaths. The building was considered for demolition but its historical significance was recognized and was instead converted into the HI-Ottawa Youth Hostel (75-77 Nicholas Street, 1-613-235-2595 / 1-866-299-1478). The original Carleton County Courthouse is located next door and has been converted into an art space called The Arts Court. If you are not inclined to spend an evening in the slammer, you may tour the goal with Haunted Walks Inc., Ottawa’s Walking Tour Company and there’s a pub on the lower level called Mugshots that is open to the public.
The Diefenbunker Museum in Carp, Ontario
It just so happened that, on the weekend of our visit to Ottawa, Haunted Walks was also offering a special zombie-themed tour of the Diefenbunker Museum in Carp, a suburb about 35 minutes by car from downtown Ottawa. You may recall that the Diefenbunker was featured this past year on The Amazing Race Canada.
[box_info]Discover the Diefenbunker’s exhibit on “The Spy Who Loved Canada”[/box_info]
We joined our tour group and headed down into the secure bunker that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker commissioned in 1959 at the height of the Cold War. The intention of the bunker was to house key members of the government and military in the event of a nuclear attack on Canada.
Before leaving Carp, we stopped at Alice’s Village Café for hot refreshments to warm us up. We also shopped next door at The Hive In Carp, a stunning home that is the former Anglican Church Rectory. It has been converted into a multi-service commercial hub that includes a home décor and gift shop, a florist, a consignment-clothing store, a wellness centre and much more.
Where to Dine in Ottawa
Saturday evening we were in the mood for something a bit more modern and upscale from the prison, the bunker and zombies so we made our way to The Albion Rooms (33 Nicholas Street, 1-613-760-4771), a rustic contemporary lounge, charcuterie and restaurant located in the Novotel Ottawa Hotel (33 Nicholas Street, 1-613-230-3033 / 1-855-677-3033). For those of you who travel with furry friends, the hotel welcomes pets as guests.
The Albion Rooms’ personable general manager, Stefan Wener, was pleased to share the stories that inspired each of the craft cocktails on the menu. For example, Sen’s Eleven ($14), a blend of small batch Canadian Club, in-house spiced maple syrup, Waupoos cider berry shrub and cranberry juice, pays tribute to the original Ottawa Senators hockey team, which won 11 Stanley Cup titles from 1903 to 1927. The entire menu pulls inspiration directly from history while the quality and variety of menu items is excellent. Chef Stephen La Salle lives by a “farm to table” philosophy, sourcing only local ingredients.
Ottawa Farmer’s Market at Brewer Park
Sunday morning we were up and out early in the fresh chilly air to take in the Sunday Farmer’s Market at Brewer Park, located across from Carleton University on Bronson Avenue. The market boasts a wide variety of vendors selling everything from artisan cheeses and range meats, baked breads, fresh apple cider, seasonal fruit and vegetables to British pasties and pies. We left with shopping bags full to the brim. Mine contained broccoli, Brussels sprouts, heirloom carrots, maple pecan butter tarts, pastries, a loaf of rosemary garlic focaccia and two types of artisan cheese.
Where to Visit in the ByWard Market
No girls’ weekend would be complete without a bit of retail therapy so we made our way down to the ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. The street vendors were set up along William Street, George Street and ByWard Street selling both local and internationally made wares. The retail boutiques throughout the four-block market area and along Sussex Drive consisted of fashion, home and specialty stores interspersed with restaurants, cafes and clubs. I bought a cute wallet at Zone and found a lovely pair of fashion boots at Wolf & Zed. While there we enjoyed a cinnamon-sugar and lemon BeaverTail.
Sweet Treats in the Nation’s Capital
The last stop on our agenda before leaving town was a visit to The Scone Witch (150 Elgin Street, 1-613-232-2173). I’ll just say it now — these are the best scones I have ever enjoyed in my life. The café has a comical, modern flair with a baking witch as their mascot. The menu consisted of savoury scones (feta, herb and onion, or cheddar) and sweet ones (pumpkin, currant-ginger, vanilla-cream). The café has recently moved from 388 Albert Street to 150 Elgin Street and is going through some growing pains. The group unanimously agreed though that the scones are heavenly and multiple take-out boxes were purchased for the ride home.