Autumn and winter activities: The lesser-known gems

| October 7, 2018 | 0 Comments
Larose Forest is a magnificent 10,000-hectare treasure about 30 minutes east of Ottawa.

Larose Forest is a magnificent 10,000-hectare treasure about 30 minutes east of Ottawa.

Ottawa summers are short. That makes it way too easy to start cocooning or to slip into the usual social routine come October. Nothing wrong with familiar stuff, of course, but it doesn’t do much to broaden our perspectives or sharpen our brains.
To that end, we offer some lesser-known places and events in and around the city. They’re fun, readily accessible, and not exactly budget-breakers. Best of all, you’ll return home invigorated.

Overnight, the rustic way: Why sleep in your same-old, same-old city bed when you could be dreaming sweet dreams in a yurt, cabin or four-season tent as the snow drifts down over Gatineau Park? These structures sleep anywhere from four to 17 people, come furnished and equipped with basic needs such as kitchen utensils, and can be rented by the night. But be prepared, because they are rustic. That means outhouses, a wood stove and most likely a trek via skis or snowshoes to reach them. But hey, weren’t you looking for something different to do this year? Winter rentals start Dec. 1. Visit for more details.

A short jaunt south: Merrickville, 50 minutes south of downtown Ottawa, is a small-town gift that keeps on giving. When you visit, don’t miss the unexpected, sometimes purely whimsical creations at Gray Art Glass (classes also available) and the stunning display gardens at Rideau Woodland Ramble (open till November, with plants, shrubs and more for sale). Also on the must-visit list: the historic Blockhouse, built in 1832-1833 to defend the Rideau Canal against possible incursions by the Americans and now an enticing museum spotlighting local artifacts. The Blockhouse is open until Oct. 10. Boutiques and more also abound in Merrickville.

God bless us, every one: That iconic line is, of course, spoken by Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ much-loved A Christmas Carol. Few give better voice to Dickens’ ghostly story of seasonal redemption than John D. Huston. The Toronto actor has been presenting his one-person rendition of A Christmas Carol in Ottawa for more than 25 years, re-creating in everything from gesture to costume the public performances Dickens gave of his own story. Huston is a master of nuance and his show at The Gladstone Theatre, Dec. 16-22, will be a Christmas highlight. The Gladstone, at 910 Gladstone Ave., is close to Preston Street’s restaurants and pubs., 613-233-4523.

Mont Tremblant isn't just for skiing. You can also go dogsledding nearby. (Photo: @tremblant)

Mont Tremblant isn’t just for skiing. You can also go dogsledding nearby. (Photo: @tremblant)

Who needs skiing? Sure, Mt. Tremblant in the Laurentians north of Montreal made its name as a picturesque ski resort, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a skier to enjoy winter there. You could, instead, go dogsledding nearby, guiding your own team of Siberian huskies. Or strap on a headlamp for the evening ziplines and aerial games. Never gone ice climbing? Learn how from a pro. Mt. Tremblant also brims with shopping, dining and other enticers. and
All about art: The new Ottawa Art Gallery at 50 Mackenzie King Bridge is a multi-storey treasure trove of intimate galleries, fascinating collections and special exhibits. The collections spotlight painting, sculpture, photography and new media by everyone from A.Y. Jackson to Lynne Cohen. Exhibitions this fall and winter include international design darling Karim Rashid, who studied at Carleton University and whose creations include the Garbino waste can and the Oh chair. The OAG has a licensed café — soon to be a full restaurant — and it’s close to the ByWard Market and the highly walkable neighbourhood of Sandy Hill. 613-233-8699,

Upper Canada Village boasts cheery Christmas lights from late November to early January. (Photo: Upper canada village)

Upper Canada Village boasts cheery Christmas lights from late November to early January. (Photo: Upper canada village)

The real thing: An artificial Christmas tree is tidy and maintenance-free, but when it comes to a fresh, woodsy aroma, well, artificial doesn’t exactly cut it, does it? Speaking of cutting, if you celebrate Christmas, why not do the cutting yourself? Cut-your-own Christmas tree farms pepper the countryside around Ottawa, and an hour or so hunting for the perfect one on a crisp December day is a bracing Canadian family experience. Sturdy boots and gloves recommended. For a list of farms:

One very old bog: Mer Bleue in the east end of Ottawa is an oddity, a northern boreal landscape within striking distance of a large city. But at more than 6,700 hectares, the Mer Bleue Conservation Area isn’t just a treat for hikers, cross-country skiers, snowshoeing enthusiasts, birders and photographers, It’s also a 7,700-year-old bog that’s one of the most studied in the world, boasts a research station at its centre and features an interpretative boardwalk. Admission and parking are free.

Getting literary: Why should children be the only ones to enjoy sitting quietly while someone reads aloud to them? At the annual Ottawa International Writers Festival, Oct. 25-30, first-rate authors read from their books and discuss the writing life, discourse on topics ranging from science to history to politics, interact with audiences and generally celebrate all things literary, including poetry. This year’s lineup includes Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, whose newest book is In a House of Lies, as well as Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges on the unravelling of his native U.S.

River sculptures: Remic Rapids Park, just off the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and four kilometres west of Parliament Hill, wouldn’t be the same without John Felice Ceprano. He’s the man who’s been creating extraordinary balanced rock sculptures there for more than 30 years, using materials from the Ottawa River. The sculptures, which can be breathtaking at sunset, remain all summer. Winter puts paid to them, but then Ceprano returns the next year to create anew.

Touring delights: The Perth Autumn Studio Tour is marking its 27th year, and organizers know a thing or two about mounting a good event. During Thanksgiving weekend, Oct. 6-8, 33 juried artisans from Perth and the Ottawa Valley showcase their creations, including jewelry, etchings, canoes, pottery, furniture, stone sculpture and wood carvings. To minimize travel time and maximize engagement with the art, everything is grouped in eight rural studios near Perth, many of them within biking distance of each other. Some of the studios feature demonstrations and garden walks. Admission to the tour is free and a hearty lunch is available at Brooke Valley School. 613-267-5237,

Let there be light: Heritage-themed Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, about 90 kilometres south of downtown Ottawa, celebrates the Christmas season with Alight at Night from late November to early January. The village and its historic buildings blaze with close to one million lights, creating a magical backdrop for a horse-drawn wagon or two-person carriage ride, carolling or just a stroll. Overnight accommodation is available at Montgomery House, a historic log home with room for a large family. 1-800-437-2233,
The Diefenbunker: International sabre rattling earlier this year reminded us that the threat of nuclear war is alive and well. That same, growing threat six decades ago impelled the government of prime minister John Diefenbaker to build what’s now known as the Diefenbunker, a 100,000-square-foot underground facility in west-end Carp to house key government and military officials during a nuclear attack. Now a Cold War museum, the bunker — including the PM’s suite and the CBC emergency broadcasting studio — powerfully evokes a past that sometimes feels like the future. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom in Carp, as Christmas craft shows, Alice’s Village Café and the soon-to-open Ridge Rock brewpub attest. 1‑800‑409‑1965,

A desert transformed: A scant century ago, what is now the magnificent, 10,000-hectare Larose Forest about 30 minutes east of downtown Ottawa, was known as the Bourget Desert. Forestry, farming and fires had stripped the sandy soil of trees, leaving the land useless and, eventually, all but abandoned. A replanting crusade begun in 1928 under the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture’s Ferdinand Larose resulted in the transformation of the area into what it is today: a haven of pines, maples and other trees relished by hikers, cross-country skiers, dogsledders and birders. Nearby on Grant Road is the abandoned village of Grant, now just a small, secluded cemetery and some foundations. More on Larose Forest at

Music at The Laff: Partial to blues, folk and rock music with a side order of wit and stage smarts? Try John Carroll, who’s been performing at the Château Lafayette — AKA The Laff — in the ByWard Market every Wednesday since 2004. A consummate musician and a darn good songwriter, Carroll is a local gem who has long deserved a broader reputation. The Laff is Ottawa’s oldest tavern, in operation since 1849, and clearly favours longevity. Its other mainstay musician is Lucky Ron, who plays country music every Saturday afternoon and hasn’t missed a show since he started at The Laff in 1999. The New York Times dubbed his show a must-see for anyone spending a day and half in Ottawa. 613-241-4747,

Patrick Langston is an Ottawa writer who’s convinced there’s something new and fascinating to discover every time he leaves home.

Be Sociable, Share!


Category: Delights

About the Author ()

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *