a peek inside the fishbowl

30 Nov, 2009

First time in Ottawa

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa

I had a family photoshoot on Saturday morning. The mom asked me if I was from Ottawa.

“I’m from the Toronto-area,” I said, because this is how I explain the sprawl I come from named Brampton/Bramalea. “I came to Ottawa for school and never left because Ottawa totally rocks.”

The lady laughed and told me she was born here.

“An Ottawa native!” I exclaimed. It’s pretty rare to meet someone who was born and raised here. Almost everyone I meet has come to Ottawa for work or school and just stayed.

She then said something about how people who are born here don’t often think that it “rocks.”

I didn’t think that it rocked either, at least, not when I was first introduced to Ottawa.

When I was in my last year of highschool I had to decide where I was going to apply for my post-secondary education. For some reason we were only allowed to choose three places. And so I applied to the English program at the University of Toronto, the Journalism program at Ryerson (that is a story in itself) and to the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University here in Ottawa. This was listed as my number one choice.

I was accepted at all three programs (with scholarships! That’s how smart I was!) but my heart was set on Ottawa. The journalism program was very well known and this is where I wanted to be.

As much as I love life in Ottawa I will freely admit that November is not exactly peak season for beauteous sightseeing. Spring has the tulips, winter has the Rideau Canal, summer and early fall have shades of Gatineau park, but there’s an inbetween time (namely late fall and early spring) that is grey and cloudy and stark. Unless your favourite colour is “monochrome” or you can overlook the lack of colour and sunshine, Ottawa isn’t a very cheerful place to be in November. And that, my friends, is when I decided to visit Ottawa for the very first time. My boyfriend (that’s a whole other post too) and I decided to drive up to Ottawa and check out the scene.

If you’ve lived in Ottawa you might remember a campsite right near the water purification plant near Lebreton Flats? YES. You could pitch a tent a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill! Boyfriend and I parked his Honda Civic hatchback in the campsite parking lot, tilted our seats back and slept (yes, we really slept). We awoke to angry knocking on the windshield. Apparently you can’t just park your car in the parking lot of a municipal campsite and sleep in it like that!

I’m not sure how that particular part of the story ended (where did we go after we were told to leave?), but I do know that we spent some time driving around aimlessly (we really had no clue) and didn’t see anything worth seeing other than Parliament Hill, which is pretty and all but for a teenager who’s moving out of the house for the first time it didn’t seem to be enough of a draw.

Now that I’m writing it all down I’m not sure if I’m combining the memories of two trips or just one, but do I remember the winds, those HOWLING WINDS, threatening to sweep me off my feet somewhere outside the  library at Carleton. The campus was deserted (it was a weekend) and we had no idea where the action was. Everything looked so dreary. I questioned why I wanted to come here to this grey grey place.

The kind of weather we’re having now reminds me of the time of The Howling Winds. I did eventually decide that I loved Ottawa and wanted to make it my home. And now I am open to Ottawa’s beauty, no matter the season.

7 Responses to "First time in Ottawa"

1 | Erica

November 30th, 2009 at 11:20 am


My first trip to Ottawa was in my [not-yet-boyfriend, eventually husband’s] Honda Civic hatchback, too. I remember seeing the lights of Parliament reflected on the water at night as we drove over a bridge and thinking how beautiful Ottawa can be. I’m so happy that we settled down here.

2 | Charles Hodgson

November 30th, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Winter, spring and summer you’ve got Gatineau Park too (though the bugs in spring…)

3 | Nat

November 30th, 2009 at 10:08 pm


I think Canada in November is just best avoided. There is just no reason to be here between the leaves having fallen and the first snow fall.

4 | lacoop

December 1st, 2009 at 7:45 am


OK, I’m feeling guilty at having slighted Ottawa (on this very blog) in the recent past. It may be a byproduct of having grown up here and taking too much for granted. It is a great town, although a little too cold for me for about 6 weeks. The people are nice, the surroundings are fantastic (lakes, hills, canal, etc), and it is just a good place to raise kids. I think my biggest beef is simply that a lot of Ottawa’s well being is built on the tax dollars of people from across the country. I think they should move a lot of the federal government jobs to smaller communities across Canada – share the wealth! Put a branch in Lethbridge, another in Port Alberni, and so forth. Imagine how much it would mean to those towns to have some stable, well-paying jobs.

5 | CarrieLou

December 1st, 2009 at 9:11 am


I fell in love with Ottawa the first time I visited; my boyfriend (now husband) was up here on business and I flew up to meet him. We stayed at the Chateau Laurier and had so much fun wandering around the market. Of course this was in the Spring so it was absolutely lovely. I came up with him a few times after that, then he got an offer to transfer up here with his company and we jumped at the the chance. Here we are, almost 11 years later and still loving it. I have to admit that the Winters were pretty shocking, especially seeing as we are both southerners (from North Carolina), but now we are used to the cold and snow, although I don’t think I’ll ever admit to loving Winter up here. LOL
I will say that I am thrilled that we are able to raise our boys in Ottawa because I find our community and schools so nurturing, relaxed, safe and just plain fun!

6 | Shannon

December 1st, 2009 at 11:55 am


I’m from Ottawa, born and raised. So many people that I went to school with always said Ottawa was SO BORING, nothing to do! I went away to school at U of Guelph for a year – let’s talk nothing to do! The uptown bus and the downtown bus….yeah. *yawn* I tend to lean towards all the outdoors stuff in/around the area. We are so lucky to have the Gatineau’s so close to us, year round – biking or skiing! Cross country or downhill. The leaves are so beautiful. As for people who are not outdoorsy, there’s still lots. But I guess it’s all relative…and what exactly you are into. I love Ottawa and plan on staying nearby for as long as I can. I live just outside Ottawa now, in Kemptville, but am in Ottawa often.

7 | Anne

March 19th, 2010 at 2:04 pm


I have never been to Ottawa, but since it is the capital city and as such is spruced up curtesy of the tax payers I would not mind taking a peek at some of the upgrades this city has to offer. I am aware that your 2Million spring bulbs are a gift from Holland which is precisely the reason for this note. It is the lack of Horticultural stimulation during those long and bleak winter months in boring Mississauga that I am searching for Info of when those Ottawa blooms may be at their peak.

comment form:


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Surface tension - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] book, and watched avian-related antics in the backyard. I will say once again for the record that expanding our bird feeder set up was one o
  • andrea tomkins: I'm happy to hear! Thank you for letting me know Inge. :) Merry Christmas to you!
  • Inge: Our family still uses our Advent Envelopes inspired by you! I think we are going on twelve years now. Thank you for the inspiration! Merry Christmas!
  • Mort: I'm usually very good but was gripped with mild panic at the drug store Saturday when I suddenly realized I'd forgotten my mask. Normally there's a ba
  • Michael: You could mix up all your ingredients and form the dough, cover the put it in the fridge. This will cause the dough to perform a slow rise, so if done
  • Sally Dowe Marchand: Wow. Well done. I too have done something as absent-minded as walking into a store and taking my mask off. Inside right so remove it. I immediately re
  • sassygirl: i like hearing your voice on the browser version. it’s well done! (:

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. 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.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


Connect with me at these places too!

On the nightstand

All hail the mighty Twitter