No place like home

| July 1, 2017 | 0 Comments
The Central Experimental Farm's heritage greenhouse is home to many exotic tropical plants. (Photo: Canadian Agricultural museum)

The Central Experimental Farm’s heritage greenhouse is home to many exotic tropical plants. (Photo: Canadian Agricultural museum)

You could holiday in Spain, rent a cottage in P.E.I., or spend your vacation hauling yourself and the kids around New York City. Or you could savour the neglected delights of Ottawa and surrounding areas — not to mention saving a bundle in the process — with a staycation. Sound tantalizing? Here are some possibilities.

Explore the urban forest
A staycation in Vanier? You bet. Start with a bracing tromp through the four-acre urban forest at Richelieu Park (address: 300, avenue des Pères Blancs.) And yes, that sugar shack produces maple syrup every year. More trees and exercise beckon at adjacent Beechwood Cemetery. A gorgeous spot, it’s the final resting place of former prime ministers, veterans and others.
For an exceptional deli-style meal, swing by Bobby’s Table, 255 Montreal Rd.
Do all this on a Monday and you can attend the free culture night at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, 299 Montreal Rd. Designed by architect Douglas Cardinal, the magnificent centre serves the First Nations community, but once a week welcomes all for drumming, storytelling and other events. Information:

A great escape
Do you have what it takes to save the world? Then Ottawa’s Apocalypse 2.0 needs you. It’s one of the multiple themes that comprise Escape Manor, where you and others are locked in a room and have to get out. That room could be a Wild West saloon, a pharaoh’s tomb or Apocalypse 2.0’s doomsday space. With the clock ticking, you use observation and deduction to escape. Or not. The experience is “an emotional roller coaster … a chance to escape the doldrums of everyday life,” says Steve Wilson, co-owner of Ottawa’s Escape Manor. Tickets start at $21. Information:

Marvellous marble caves
Round up a safety helmet, flashlight and old shoes for your expedition into Gatineau Park’s Lusk Cave. Formed 11,000 years ago, the marble cave near Lac Philippe is wet, twisting and totally alluring. An occasional insect or frog appears, a fish sometimes flickers by in the low stream that continues to erode the interior, and other spelunkers are generally respectful of the cave’s quiet dignity. Lusk Cave is on an easy-to-navigate trail about five kilometres from Parent Beach parking lot. Information:

Some archery games
Archery tag is exactly what it sounds like. You fire foam-tipped arrows at your friends — temporarily your foes — they do the same to you, and everyone gets big, bouncy objects to hide behind. It’s all the rage, and Ottawa’s on board at Archery Games, 1860 Bank St. Sessions run 75 minutes, including training. Both archery novices and children over 10 are welcome. The $24 admission includes a protective mask. Let fly, Robin Hood! Information:
A farm in the city
The Central Experimental Farm is a gem we all know about, but rarely frequent. We should. The farm’s Arboretum boasts 1,700 species and varieties of trees and shrubs dotting 26 hectares of rolling land. The ornamental gardens and Fletcher Wildlife Garden are a blaze of colour and texture. And the farm’s heritage greenhouse is home to luxuriant tropical plants. The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is part of the farm, and the lively restaurants and bars of Little Italy are nearby. The farm, at 960 Carling Ave., is free and open daily, dawn to dusk. Information:

Get on the beer bus
Big on beer? Then Brew Donkey is for you. It hosts bus tours of breweries that include education on craft beer, samples of brewski (the true raison d’être of these events), food and more.
In the case of the Sip, Axe and Relax tour, that “more” includes axe-throwing, a trending game that involves, unsurprisingly, an axe and a target. Would-be woodsmen and women get training on throwing correctly. The tours run four to eight hours or more. Tickets start at $69. Information:

Navigate the canal
Limber up your biceps and go canoeing down the Rideau Canal. All the way down, from Ottawa to Kingston. The occasional yahoo in a power boat aside, it’s a relaxing adventure spread over 200 kilometres and six to 10 days. Moving at canoe speed lets you drink in the varied land and waterscapes, the wildlife and the fun of going through the locks that pepper the canal, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pack a tent for camping on lockstation grounds or find a B&B or inn along the route. Park your boat for a walking tour of delightful towns, such as Merrickville. And bring a fishing rod for Big Rideau Lake. If Ottawa to Kingston sounds onerous, try this helpful guide ( for one of its partial routes.

Shaw Woods is a 200-acre nature preserve a 75-minute drive west of Ottawa. (Photo: Courtesy Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre)

Shaw Woods is a 200-acre nature preserve a 75-minute drive west of Ottawa. (Photo: Courtesy Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre)

Nature at its best
Lace up your hiking boots. You’re going to Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre, a sumptuous, 200-acre nature preserve in Eganville about a 75-minute drive west of Ottawa. On display: towering, old-growth maple, beech and hemlock trees; slow-paced Canadian yew that have grown just a couple of feet above the forest floor over the past two centuries; a “boulder garden” of hulking stone left by retreating glaciers millenniums ago; and more. You’ll need about five hours to hike the entire trail system (it’s easy to moderately difficult) and to enjoy the wildlife, including eagles. Admission is free, although there are donation boxes. Information:

A spot o’ tea
If contemporary life feels overly coarse, high tea in the Château Laurier’s Zoe Lounge offers the salve of refinement. The Great Canadian Afternoon Tea, $44 per person and available daily, includes a blueberry and buttermilk scone with clotted cream (did you expect anything else?), a selection of dainty sandwiches, and fruit-based desserts. A tea sommelier guides your selection, then prepares your refreshment tableside. There’s also a junior menu at $25. Dress is casual, but you need to reserve your spot at 613-241-1414. Information:

A good book
Sometimes a staycation need consist of nothing but a book, a waterside park and good company. Black Squirrel Books & Espresso Bar, 1073 Bank St., can provide the first. Nearby tiny, perfect Brown’s Inlet Park at Craig Street and Holmwood Avenue offers the second. You can find the third yourself. Simplicity = bliss.

Roaring waterfalls
Like so many other towns, North Nation Mills in Plaisance, Que., vanished long ago. What remains are the waterfalls, plunging 67 metres with a thunderous roar. It’s well worth the 50-minute drive from Ottawa along Highway 50 to experience that roar and to sneak down from the walking trail to the base of the falls where you can bask in the sun or watch people fish. The Plaisance Heritage Centre in the nearby village of Plaisance interprets local history. Information:

A prime minister’s project
William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, not only had séances with his dead mother, but also built ruins at his beloved Kingsmere estate in the Gatineau Hills. Salvaging material from the Canadian Parliament buildings, destroyed by fire in 1916, and elsewhere, King constructed idiosyncratic structures with names like Window on the Forest. The ruins represent King’s singularity and his passion for posterity, and you can enjoy them when you visit his estate with its cottage museum, tearoom and gardens. Admission is free; parking is $11. Information:

Shakespeare en plein air
Watching a play in a darkened theatre is fine. But sit in an outdoor amphitheatre where you can see boats on the St. Lawrence River and folks strolling along the boardwalk, and the play suddenly connects with real life in a whole new way. At least, that’s what happens at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Prescott, south of Ottawa. The festival presents Antony and Cleopatra and The Three Musketeers from July 8 to Aug. 12. Get to Prescott early and visit the Fort Wellington National Historic Site. For nformation, see

Get out of town
Tourists celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial will make it tough to find a romantic overnight staycation in Ottawa this summer. Consider renting a cosy tent in Gatineau Park ( or making the short drive to historic Perth for a hotel or B&B stay, a tour of the town’s museums and architecture and a stop at the Stewart Park Music Festival July 14-16.

A ‘religious’ experience
A holiday abroad can put life at home into perspective. But so can an hour alone in a vast and quiet space like St. Patrick’s Basilica at 281 Nepean St. Even if you’re not religious, the 19th-Century Gothic Revival landmark with its high ceiling, symmetrical columns and bas-relief Stations of the Cross suggests permanence beneath the exhausting flux of daily life. The church, whose cornerstone was laid by Sir John A. Macdonald, is open every day.

Patrick Langston is a long-time fan of staycations. He likes their affordability, but more important, he’s found that human nature is as fascinating in his own ’hood as it is in far-flung places. Besides, he doesn’t like being separated from his dog.

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