a peek inside the fishbowl

15 Jul, 2017

Weekend reading: July 15 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

In my last post, I wrote about MosaiCanada, a free, must-see exhibition that’s going on right now in Gatineau.

After tromping around the park and admiring the sights my group continued our tour of Gatineau through the city core.* If you’re from the Ottawa-Gatineau region you already know that many government workers are employed on that side of the river. What you may not know is how much the city scene has changed over the years.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about Ottawa’s history, but very little about Gatineau’s history. It is time to remedy that! One good place to start to get to know Gatineau is called the “culture trail.” This 3km walking path (just follow the red line on the sidewalk!) passes by various points of interest such as public art, exhibitions, as well as main attractions such as MosaiCanada. Included along this route are information boards with maps and handy info. (There’s a good blog post about it right here that explains more!)

At some point you’re going to get hungry. Well, there is no shortage of restaurants to visit and there is something for every taste and budget. Our itinerary had us dropping by Le Cellier, which was a bit off the beaten path, but hey, I wasn’t complaining. I was more than ready for lunch and a cool drink.

We were seated on the rooftop patio. The ambiance was picture perfect and the food was pretty good too:

Lunch at Cellier in Gatineau

Lunch at Cellier St. Jacques

Also on the agenda that afternoon: a beer sampling at a brewpub called les Brasseurs du Temps. I’ve been to BDT a few before and recommend it often.

The last time I visisted with the family I ordered a beer called Le Pommier, that had a really refreshing addition of apple but it wasn’t technically a cider. Honestly, it was one of the best beers I’ve tasted this summer. Sadly, this was not on the sampling menu on this day. Ah well. We did get to sample a diverse selection of beer, which was really interesting. Food and beverage samplings are always better when you’re with someone who has the right kind of knowledge to go with it.

Beer 101 at Les Brasseurs du Temps

(It’s my understanding that restaurant patrons can also order flights of beer, but I’m not finding that on their website at the moment.)

The BDT building itself has a long and storied history and if you go you should definitely check out the beer museum downstairs. (It’s free!)

One of the most exciting updates to this particular spot is the addition of canoe rental right there, on the Ruisseau de la Brasserie (Brewery Creek). We split our group in half, got outfitted with lifejackets and paddles, and piled into canoes (in an orderly fashion, don’t worry).

Hey, there’s Becky from Bit of Momsense in the red pants!

History of Gatineau, by canoe

This was a highlight of my day. We are in the city core, yet the sounds of the hubbub and the traffic dropped away almost as soon as the paddles hit the water. Can you imagine? It is a remarkable and unique perspective on this historical city. It was a very easy paddle too. No experience necessary. As a bonus, we got a little history lesson too. What I learned is that I have a lot to learn about Gatineau, also, it’s amazing how fast you can go with lots of people in the canoe!

A history lesson, by canoe

attempted canoe selfie

(Note: the information about Gatineau canoe rental and guided excursions on the Gatineau en Plein Air website is in French only, in case you’re looking for info. I’ve been told the people who offer this service are bilingual, so if you’re keen, call them directly at 819-208-8815 and you’ll get the whole scoop by phone. In English.)

After that, we continued to The Fondarie (211 Montcalm Street in Gatineau), a former industrial building which was repurposed and became the Centre multisport of Gatineau. I’ve been here before, when it was converted to a temporary roller rink. This summer, however, it is home to a temporary art exhibit. There are a number of different artists participating, each with a large scale artwork. Here’s one, by Graeme Patterson, called Infinity Pool:

Infinity Pool, by Graeme Patterson

There are a couple of parts in this multimedia installation. There are resin starlings perched on wires over a group of seemingly typical swimming pools. As you approach, you notice that the inside of each pool is divided into quarters, and there’s a model of a swimming pool inside each one quarter. And THAT is when you notice the water in those smaller pools is discoloured and bubbling in a weird way. Look up. The starlings have been rigged up with their own plumbing to make it seem like they’re pooping in the water. (It’s not actual bird poop though, it’s recycled rainwater and the pumps are powered by small pumps.) This action is triggered by you, the viewer, with motion sensors as you approach. If there’s more people, there’s more poop. The pools eventually reach a maximum level and then the water cycles back into the system and the whole thing begins again.

I thought it was compelling, almost as much as the conversations that resulted. (Is it art? What is art? What does this mean? What is the artist trying to say? If I need the artist to explain it to me, is it still art or is it something else because I see it differently?) LOTS TO THINK ABOUT, for sure.

We finished off the evening with a raucous night at the Casino Lac Leamy – cocktails, snacks, and a turn on the slot machines – which is always more fun as a group. I hadn’t been in years and was happy to revisit.

I’ve had some time to think about my visit since then, in fact, I’m already hatching a plan to bring my family across the river on a sunny weekend. We’ll take advantage of the free park and ride and, depending on how we feel that day, follow the Culture Trail, take in the scenery and hit up all the attractions we’ve scoped out online beforehand OR bike and grab the free STO Shuttle so we can hop on and off wherever we like. That’s exactly the kind of family adventure I like.

Because of the posts I write here, I am often asked about things to do in Ottawa with kids. If you feel like you’ve done everything there is to do in Ottawa, I do recommend looking across the river at Gatineau if you haven’t already. There is really so much to discover there too.

* Transparency alert: I was not paid for this post but as is typical for media tours, my lunch, evening snacks, and any incidentals (e.g. bus fare) were covered by Tourism Outaouais.

Last week I was invited on a daylong media tour of Gatineau.* As I packed up my things and drove to our meeting point, I reflected on my relationship with the city that lies across the river from us.

I was a first-year student at Carleton and had just turned 19 when I was first introduced to Gatineau. It was called Hull at this time, and I have to admit, the name is so firmly entrenched in my brain that it’s hard for me to get used to the switch to Gatineau, even all these years later.

Back then, Hull was a place that people went to party, mostly for two reasons. (1) The bars and dance clubs were open longer so when things shut down in Ottawa, everyone piled into cabs and went across the bridge (2) The drinking age was 18, so this was a big draw for my younger friends.

And that was all I knew, for many years UNTIL NOW. Ok, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. We have been frequent visitors to the Canadian Museum of History, visited Gatineau in the winter to enjoy the festivities at Jacques Cartier Park, and of course, hiked in Gatineau Park and discovered some amazing and wild gems.

Spoiler alert: Our media tour was something completely different and has inspired me to spend even more time on the other side of the river.

Our day started on the STO shuttle, where we learned that visitors can take a free shuttle bus on weekends until October 15 (and that’s including stat holidays!) to do some sightseeing in Gatineau. It goes through the Vieux-Hull district and makes five key stops along a route where you can hop on or hop off. Park and go! I can’t tell you how much I love this idea. It’s convenient AND novel, and the timing couldn’t be better for both tourists and residents alike. (For details, map/schedule check out the STO website.)

Our destination: MosaiCanada 150 at Jacques Cartier Park. My family and I poked around the area back in May after a family dinner date, and so I had a little hint of what it was. It turned out to be much more. If I had to sum up what MosaiCanada was about, I’d call it the largest and most amazing topiary garden you’ve probably ever seen in your entire life.

Keeping with the Canada150 theme that’s going on this summer, MosaiCanada touches on some truly Canadian stories: whether it’s a story about hockey, Big Joe Mufferaw, Anne of Green Gables, or panning for gold. There’s something from each region in Canada.

MosaiCanada 150 in Gatineau

MosaiCanada 150 in Gatineau

MosaiCanada 150 in Gatineau

MosaiCanada 150 in Gatineau

MosaiCanada 150 in Gatineau

MosaiCanada 150 in Gatineau

It’s expected that a million people will visit MosaiCanada this year, and it’s easy to understand why. These are living, breathing, sculptures and they’re extremely well executed. The scale is enormous, nearly mind-boggling. We’re talking millions of plants – all annuals, chosen for their longevity – placed in a sort of soil sandwich on a metal frame. The topiaries are watered by a combination of internal systems as well as external measures (i.e. a guy with a hose). When we visited, a small army of gardeners was trimming and clipping. I couldn’t help but think my own garden could use a dedicated crew of horticulturists! At the end of the season, all plant matter will be composted and the metal structures carted away and reused. Extra trees that were planted in Jacques Cartier Park for the season will be uprooted and donated to other local parks. Have you ever heard of an exhibition of this scale getting recycled at the end of its life? I thought it was pretty cool. I half-joked that this is going to inspire legions of topiary artists across Ottawa-Gatineau. Mark my words! I think it’s going to happen.

There is a story at every turn. This giant topiary piano, for example, is a nod to the late Glenn Gould, a Canadian musical superstar and piano virtuoso. (There’s a great little article about Glenn Gould and his piano obsessions on the Globe and Mail website.)

MosaiCanada 150 in Gatineau

The musical notes – writ large, with plants, on the lid of the piano – are the same notes that are inscribed on his grave. They are the first few bars of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which you can listen to right here.

It’s just one of many fascinating details to be learned here. Who knew that topiaries could be a vehicle to share Canadian stories? And that they could act as a reminder of where we came from and that there is so much we need to learn about one another?

Parents: you can let your visit be a lesson in history and culture, or not, but I’m sure you’ll find your children’s interest being stoked at every turn in the path. I always liked to let the kids be my guide about how much they want to learn. This strategy has saved many tears, both mine and theirs. ;)

MosaiCanada 150 is definitely one of the highlights of 2017. Don’t let it pass you by!

What you need to know:

  •  Admission is free. (!)
  • There is parking nearby but in limited numbers. Public transit is encouraged! I’m already planning to bring the family, but we’re going to bike and park near the event area. (No bikes allowed on site!)
  • The route through the park is an easy 1km stroll, and it’s accessible for all.
  • There are plenty of shady places to rest and enjoy the view.
  • There are refreshments available for purchase on the site.
  • MosaiCanada is open every day until October 15, 2017 from 10 am to 7 pm, rain or shine.

Here’s a family field trip idea for you: Make a day of it by starting out at the Canadian Museum of History in the morning, grabbing lunch in Gatineau, and walking it off at MosaiCanada.

I have more to share about my visit to Gatineau right here.

* Transparency alert: I was not paid for this post but as is typical for media tours, my lunch, evening snacks, and any incidentals (e.g. bus fare) were covered by Tourism Outaouais.


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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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