a peek inside the fishbowl

10 Jul, 2017

Rediscovering Gatineau this summer (part 1)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Ottawa|travel talk

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.

6 Responses to "Rediscovering Gatineau this summer (part 1)"

1 | Bob LeDrew

July 10th, 2017 at 3:26 pm


We were there on Sunday, and I have to say this is the first Canada 150 event / feature that has well exceeded my expectations.

We found parking quickly, saw a LONG line, were intimidated, then reassured by volunteers that “ca va vite”, and it dead. In five minutes we were in the pavilion and pretty much amazed.

C is already thinking about doing a small-scale experiment next year in the garden, and we’re planning on going back to see what a couple of months of growth does.

Quite an amazing and pleasant way to spend some time.

2 | andrea tomkins

July 10th, 2017 at 4:09 pm


Our group arrived just before it opened but as we were leaving saw that the lines were moving quickly. Once everyone got past the gate the crowd spreads out quite a bit so it didn’t really ever seem too busy. And you’re right it is a very pleasant way to spend some time! It’s nice to be able to wander at your own pace and to go back and revisit if you like. I’m looking forward to a return visit!

3 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Rediscovering Gatineau (part 2) - a peek inside the fishbowl

July 14th, 2017 at 9:04 am


[…] my last post, I wrote about MosaiCanada, a free, must-see exhibition that’s going on right now in […]

4 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Dinner in the sky (a.k.a. Sky Lounge, the Ottawa edition) - a peek inside the fishbowl

July 23rd, 2017 at 10:59 am


[…] Canada History Hall, attended the Picnic on the Bridge, poked around Gatineau (you can read part one and two here), and I can’t even remember what else. What’s left on my list: Kontinuum […]

5 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Day one of 45 - a peek inside the fishbowl

August 22nd, 2017 at 11:26 am


[…] right at the foot of the Museum of History and went to see MosaiCanada. If you recall, I was there just after it opened earlier this summer but I was SO glad to see it a second time. It’s changed! And by changed, I mean, things have […]

6 | Stephanie Henderson

January 24th, 2021 at 10:39 am


Thank you very much, you’re an outstanding author!
Maintain providing us with excellent stuff later on.

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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 offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). 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, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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