Exactly one year ago, almost to this very hour, our family landed in Ottawa the night before the big Canada Day celebrations. We were excited and eager to have just embarked on a one-year family adventure of living in Ottawa.
As we look back on the year that was, we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to live here and to create many memories that will last a lifetime. (As a bit of recap, for anyone who is interested, I’ve included links to some previous posts below).
Sometime around December of 2010 my wife asked me if I would be interested in moving to Ottawa for a year. It didn’t take me more than a few moments to say that I was. After working for the feds for more than a decade, I had been to Ottawa a few times for work and also a couple of times for pleasure. I was familiar enough with the city to know that we would likely enjoy our time here, and that we would also gain interesting work experience.
Shortly after arriving we started to fall for the city. After only a couple months we began contemplating staying longer than a year, possibly indefinitely. For a young family that enjoys getting out and doing things, Ottawa is simply a great community. In addition, we were fortune early on to meet some great folks, as well as get re-acquainted with many wonderful people, especially my sister Gillian and her lovely family, and several of my wife’s old friends.
The decision to return to Edmonton (which still feels a lot like home in many ways) was not easy. To be honest, the decision remains a bit difficult, and we do wonder once in a while if we shouldn’t stay. However, there are many factors to consider when planning long-term with a young family and we are sticking to our original plans in returning later this summer.
For me, aside from spending a year in heart of a beautiful city, I will remember this year mostly as a chance to spend tons of time with our young boys and to have a fantastic year-long family adventure. It was an entirely different pace from the past several years for me and I loved it. I can tell that years from now I will look back on this time as a special opportunity to spend time with family.
We intentionally chose to live in a central location close to amenities and striking distance by foot for most necessities. Our living quarters was a bit small for a family however we are glad we made the decision to live centrally and to experience the benefits associated with super quick access to things like groceries, cafes, restaurants, museums, pubs, and the canal.
I also intentionally worked part-time (well, most weeks), and as a result I was able to meet the boys after school every day in the mid-afternoon and to spend hour after hour just hanging out (and also regaining some of my long-lost culinary skills from my bachelor days since for the first time in a long time I cooked super almost every night).
Without the usual long hours of work and the various volunteering gigs and the normal social commitments in Edmonton, we had much more time on our hands to get out and about and explore the area. During the winter, much of this time was spent in arenas as Alistair started hockey this year (I don’t think we missed a game or a practice), but we made a point of seeing and doing as much as possible whenever we had the chance.
It was sincerely a huge pleasure to hang out so much as a family and I already cherish many of the memories, some of which are captured through these blog entries. I am also fortunate I was able to work with a great group of people at my work and also that they accommodated my need for part-time work and the completion of courses at both Carleton and the University of Ottawa.
As great as the year was, of course it was not all roses. We had water damage in our condo when we arrived, our youngest fell and broke his arm, I’m pretty sure I had pneumonia for about two weeks in the winter, there were some challenges with sending our boys to a french school (although we are glad we did), my rickety but prized 40-year-old-bike was brazenly stolen from in-front of our place, and, oddly, I was almost in my first ever fist-fight, not once, but twice.
We also missed family and friends out west, and periodically struggled with the classic work-life (school-life) balance challenges that afflict all young families, especially those that are new to a community and working intense jobs.
On the whole however the year was amazing and I can say without exaggeration that it has been the best year of my life.
We are glad that I kept this little blog. Although I did not do our stay justice with it (since I am not that consistent of a blogger, nor did I have sufficient time to capture many of the nuances of living in Ottawa for a year), I am still glad that I kept running record of many of our outings and some of the notable experiences. It was fun to encounter people who had read and enjoyed the odd post and to share with grandparents out west.
To me the main purpose of this blog was/is to simply capture some memories that would otherwise be forgotten in the busy hustle-bustle life of young families, to have a little fun, and also to share slices of life with family and friends. I also hope our boys will enjoy looking back on some of the fun at some point in the future. Most little ones don’t remember a heck of a lot before they are seven or eight so this should help job their memories later, especially for Fin.
For those that might be interested, here, in no particular order, is a grouping of some highlights from this past year. You can click on the bold links to see older posts if you wish.
Canada Day 2011:
We landed at night on June 30th – (which happens to be our anniversary), and when we awoke the next day the sky was brilliant blue (see top photo above) and the heat was rising fast. The crisp colours of the flag were everywhere and stood in contrast to the deep blue sky. It was Canada Day in Ottawa and the mercury would hit 32 degrees. The city was buzzing. Over three hundred thousand people were crammed into downtown Ottawa to see Prince William and his new bride Kate. Here is a link to some photos and fireworks of that day.
Apart from our first trip on Canada Day 2011, because we lived quite close, and since it is intriguing coming from Western Canada, I made my way to Parliament Hill a number of times this past year. Once for Question Period in the fall, as well as a quick visit to pay tribute to Jack Layton.
I also took the boys for what I thought might be a nerdy but memorable trip to the Hill to see the 2012 Budget be delivered in the House of Commons. We also swung by the Hill on New Year’s Eve. Finally, I had the good fortune of having a behind-the-scenes-tour from a kind friend a week or so ago and I will likely post something on that soon.
Living in Ottawa this year did not exactly increase my interest in following politics, (I think it did the opposite), however it was interesting to see how the city operates as a government town.
Museums and More Museums:
As the capital city, Ottawa is renowned for its national museums. These are not rinky-dink museums, these are world-class destinations. Yes it might be uber nerdy to be museum hounds, but we enjoy it.
Here are links to our visits to the: Museum of Nature (which was our first museum visit), the Aviation Museum (with my pop), the National Art Gallery, and the Museum of Civilization, (A post on the War Museum is forthcoming). In addition, Mary Frances took the boys to a few other museum throughout the year, and revisited the ones above more than once.
Around the Rideau Canal:
We absolutely loved living so close to the wonderful Rideau Canal where we spent many an hour skating with the boys, we even skated to work during the short time it was open. The canal area is easily one of the best things about Ottawa (here are some summer-time views), and it is sooooo wonderful in the winter (here is a link to Winterlude).
It was fun to spring my boys a bit early from school one day to see the Stanley Cup being skated down the canal during the NHL All Star festivities. And just today we took a quick boat trip down the canal with some friends.
Outings Out of Town:
Not only is Ottawa itself quite beautiful, especially in the core areas, but the surrounding country side is awesome too. We enjoyed summer outings to the famous Meech Lake, and a nice trip to the Quebec Countryside. The boys loved loved loved their trip to Calypso (and so did I!). And later we did a winter skiing excursion at Nakkertok, just outside Gatineau, QC.
Perhaps the most memorable trip however was a little farther away – our quick trip to New York for my wife’s 40th B-day. There was also a quick fall trip to see my grandma and other family, including my folks, in Nova Scotia. (Living in Ottawa makes it much easier to hit the coast!)
Other Random Highlights of the past 12 months:
Seeing the Paul McCartney concert in Montreal with my son Alistair (his first concert ever) was a highlight. And while on the topic of music, we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the Ottawa Folk Festival last year.
It was also a highlight seeing the Oilers beat the Sens in Overtime with Alistair and Finley at their first ever NHL hockey. And speaking of hockey, another highlight was to later take Alistair to see his favourite hockey player, Sidney Crosby play at Scotia Bank Place.
Finally, three other notable excursions include our recent tour of some Foreign Embassies. an outing to the Ottawa Arboretum on mother’s day, and last but certainly not least was the trip to the stunning Niagara Falls just last week.
As you can tell, on this anniversary marking one year we are very happy for the time we’ve had here. Obviously I am very glad my wife suggested that we go for it!
A few more posts will be added before we head west, likely including some sights and sounds of Canada Day 2012.
Have a great Canada Day everyone!