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(2012 - Spring Issue)


With a popular festival and a well-known landmark both celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2012, this is a superb time to visit our nation’s capital.

The festival in question is the Canadian Tulip Festival, which traces its roots back to the Second World War. Ottawa provided a safe home for Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her family during the conflict. After the war, the royals sent Ottawa a thank-you gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs. The resulting showy flowerbeds quickly drew crowds of visitors, and the first tulip festival took place in 1953.

This year, the 60th annual event (May 4–21) will feature concerts, family activities, cultural events and more. In a new twist this year, events will take place at a wide range of local businesses and other sites. And, as always, hundreds of thousands of tulips will bloom in the city’s parks, including popular Major’s Hill Park next to the Fairmont Château Laurier.

A Century of Hospitality

The grand castle-like hotel is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with various special events and promotions. The fun has already started with a memorabilia amnesty program: the Château is encouraging people to bring back hotel items—anything from menus to furniture—with no questions asked. The collection will be put on display in June, when the hotel will also launch a Centennial Tea menu in the elegant Zoé’s Lounge. And as part of Doors Open Ottawa (June 2–3), a two-day event celebrating the city’s remarkable buildings, the Château will offer costumed tours and more.

Cultural Attractions

Whether you stay at the Château or elsewhere, you’ll find no shortage of things to enjoy in the capital. For instance, literature lovers can check out the spring edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival (April 26–30), and foodies can nosh at Bon Appetit Ottawa, a one-night culinary event featuring 90 caterers, restaurants, breweries and wineries (May 1).

Dance fans are spoiled for choice: not only is the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet performing Don Quixote at the National Arts Centre (May 23–26), but the NAC is also one of the hosts of the Canada Dance Festival (June 9–16).

Perhaps for you, the play’s the thing? Then check out a unique version of King Lear at the NAC (May 8–26). It’s set in 1608, the year Shakespeare wrote it, but the setting has been moved to Canada and the play will be performed by an Aboriginal cast. The following month, theatres across the city will draw fans of the funny, the disturbing and the just plain unclassifiable during the Ottawa Fringe Festival (June 14–24).

Fine-weather Events

Once the snow has melted, Ottawans take to the streets in droves—literally. During the Ottawa Race Weekend (May 26–27), some 35,000 fitness buffs compete in a wide range of runs, including Canada’s largest marathon. The scenery is certainly inspiring: most years, the scenic roads along the Rideau Canal are part of the race route.

That same weekend, the organizers of the Great Glebe Garage Sale (May 26) will be crossing their fingers for sunshine. The enormous event draws bargain hunters from across the city, all eager to score a precious heirloom from one of the neighbourhood’s elegant mansions or quirky row houses. Hundreds of homeowners usually set up shop.

Fine weather is also the signal for Ottawa to move into outdoor festival mode, and there’s an event for just about every taste. The Ottawa International Children’s Festival (May 30–June 3) offers theatre, music and other fun for kids aged four to 15. Westfest (June 8–10) has morphed from a neighbourhood street fair to one of the city’s most popular summer arts events. The Franco-Ontarian Festival (June 14–16) celebrates all things francophone, from literature to music.

One of the highlights of the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival (June 21–July 1) is bound to be Esperanza Spalding (June 27), who wowed the audience at this year’s Academy Awards. The jazz festival wraps up on Canada Day (July 1), when downtown Ottawa becomes a seething crowd of red-and-white-draped humanity focused on the free concerts and fireworks on Parliament Hill.

The city has just three days to recover from that before the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest (July 4–15) takes over seemingly every local conversation. This massive event has grown far beyond its blues roots to become one of the world’s largest international music festivals. Hundreds of thousands of fans flock to LeBreton Flats each year to groove to everything from gospel to electronica.

Those are just some of the highlights of the city’s summer music season, which also includes Chamberfest, the world’s largest chamber music festival (July 26–August 9), and the easygoing Ottawa Folk Festival (September 6–9).

Exhibits and Tours

Museum-goers will also find much to enjoy. Major shows include a survey of world religions—God(s): A User’s Guide—at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (until September 3), Van Gogh: Up Close at the National Gallery of Canada (May 25–September 3), and Whales Tohora–—an interactive exhibition on loan from New Zealand—at the Canadian Museum of Nature (until September 3).

At the Canadian War Museum, 1812 runs from June 15, 2012 until January 6, 2013. If military history is your thing, don’t miss the Diefenbunker, a genuine Cold War hideout that’s open for tours daily. It’s not exactly the Château Laurier, but it has its charms. 

Travel Planner

For more information on Ottawa and a wide range of hotel packages, visit ottawatourism.ca.

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