Ottawa, Part I: Tulips & Pretty Little Flowers

May 27, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Two weeks ago I made my usual trip to Ottawa to visit family friends, eat German food, and relax for a few days before returning to the grind. There were three  places to hit while I was in the nation’s capital: the nation’s capital (duh) and its blankets of flowering tulips, and the Diefenbunker.

The Tulip Festival stems (sorry) from Holland’s annual gift to Canadians for sheltering Holland’s royal family during WWII, and for temporarily designating a small section of a hospital flooring as official Dutch territory so baby Princess Margriet could arrive as a genuine Netherlander and still qualify as a Alternate Head of State #3.

Some might find the idea of travelling to another city to see bright flowers a bit silly, but think about it: it’s one country saying Thank You with one of their greatest gifts that also perk everyone up when they stroll past blocks of multiple varieties of flowers. Yes, you can grow tulips in your backyard, but it’s also the context: swathes of flower beds literally glowing under that bright clean Ottawa sunlight.

I’ve described this scene many times to friends: when you drive to Ottawa and take the tail end of Highway 7 into the city border, you start ascending a large hill, and as it crests the Ottawa valley opens up, and there lies this city surrounded by lots of green, a massive expansive sky, and the Gatineau mountains in the background. It’s really quite striking, much in the way every city has a specific sweet spot where it looks grand.

If you’ve travelled to Centre Island and looked back at Toronto, that’s ours – one elegant cluster of tall buildings punctuated by the CN Tower and the Dome (er, the Rogerswhatevercentre). Pity the condos are taking over, but hey, that’s part of my city’s fine, far-sighted, intelligent planning plan of plans.

Ottawa’s use of space – for cars, people, cyclists and architecture – also feels rather European; big buildings aren’t placed where they don’t belong, clashing with existing architecture.  Perhaps the city has what Toronto doesn’t: enforceable laws against the destruction of heritage buildings, and a philosophy to re-use rather than save a façade as a kind of ‘There, we conserved the old building, now shut up and go away.’ (If developers in T.O. has their way, the downtown core would be a sea of banal, cheaply built condos with starter closets selling for ‘the low $200,000.’)

I’ve gathered some of the tulip pics in my Flickr gallery, which also includes a few shots from 2010 prior to Full Battery Failure, an annoying little syndrome that’s quite un-fun. Most of the 2011 pics are near the parliament buildings, and I’ve tossed in some images of the new Ottawa Convention Centre which is really quite feat of engineering & design.

In light of the curious who wander into the building for a peek, the management engaged a security man for double-duty as an informal tour guide, because levels 2 and up are reserved for already-booked events.

Every glass pane is uniquely thick and cut differently from all the others, and the overall curve in front gives a great view of the canal and government buildings. The left side also curves up in the form of a tulip, which is a nice touch. Our tour included the two main rooms on the second floor, one of which had just housed Rogers’ 50th anniversary bash, and included a complete midway that had been carted up piece-by-piece. I took a few quick snapshots of the glass before we started to dash home and avoid something called ‘rush hour traffic.’ For some factoids on the new Convention Centre, feel free to browse the official website.

I’ve also got a related gallery featuring a few snapshots of flowers grown in the garden where I stayed. Don’t ask me what they are, because I think in colours and textures. Names mean nothing to me except ‘the pretty blue one from Austria’ or that greeny thing with the stamencular eucalyptonium kronkeitis eublakis.

Coming soon: pics of the Canadian War Museum, and a photo essay on the Diefenbunker.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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