My day today so far had been completely dedicated to exploring nature: first I visited the Fatal Attraction Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about the art of seduction in the animal world. Then I had a chance to explore nature in a real-life setting in Ottawa’s nature playground: Gatineau Park.
At about 4 pm I headed back into the city, got changed and checked my messages at the beautiful McGee’s Inn and got ready to head out to my next stop: Major’s Hill, one of the official locations of Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. From the leafy neighbourhood of Sandy Hill I strolled through Ottawa’s ByWard Market area and explored a local landmark: the asymmetrical spires of St. Brigid’s have been inspiring Roman Catholics since 1890.
The towers of St. Brigid
Just a few hundred metres northwest is one of Ottawa’s most magnificent edifices: the Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral, Ottawa’s oldest surviving church. Its site is the location of the first Catholic chapel accessible to both Anglophones and francophones of Bytown.
Right across the Street from the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral is another architecturally imposing structure: The National Gallery of Canada, a masterpiece of modern architecture, designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 1988 to develop, maintain and make known, throughout Canada and the world, a national collection of works of art with special but not exclusive reference to Canada. Part of its mandate is to further knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of art in general among all Canadians.
Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral
Just oustide the National Gallery and facing the Notre Dame Cathedral is a monumental sculpture of a spider, created by French-born sculptor Louise Bourgeois. This sculpture, entitled “Maman”, features a sac of 26 pure white marble eggs protruding from the spider’s belly. With a height of 30 feet this enormous outdoor sculpture was designed in 1999 and cast in 2003, and it is the last in a series of six environmental sculptures by this artist. These sculptures have been seen in numerous high-calibre locations, including New York City’s Rockefeller Center and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I also saw a copy last year together with a smaller version in Havana, Cuba.
From the plaza in front of the National Gallery all I had to do was to cross busy Sussex Drive and I found myself right in Major’s Hill Park. This public space dates back all the way to 1874, although it was originally named after Colonel By, the creator of the Rideau Canal. As a matter of fact, the park is the site of the former residence of Colonel By who was succeeded by Major Daniel Bolton who ended up giving the official name to this public space.
The mother of all spiders, in front of the National Gallery of Canada
Major’s Hill is indeed one of the most prominent spaces in Ottawa, with perfect views of the Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and the National Art Gallery. It is just steps away from Sussex Drive, location of the Canadian Prime Minister’s residence, as well as Ottawa’s prime entertainment district, the ByWard Market. Today the park is managed by the National Capital Commission and one of the main venues for many of the city’s festivals and special events.
As one of the official events for the Tulip Festival, Ottawa’s largest festival, and the largest festival of its kind in the world, Major’s Hill was hosting a number of special attractions: the International Tulip Friendship Village, the Artisans Marketplace, strolling entertainers, the Family Zone and the Get Out! Ottawa Citizen Concert Series. I particularly enjoyed the 150 five-foot tall tulips, all of which are unique, painted by local artists. These sculptures were a great addition to the thousands of real tulips who were already a bit past their prime, considering Canada has had an early spring this year.
Real tulips, painted tulips
5 pm was still a bit early, but people were starting to come in to get ready for some of the concerts that were going to be held here tonight. I admired the real-life tulips, the artist-painted man-made versions and various photos and paintings of tulips in the Artisans Marketplace. The sun was peeking out occasionally and a beautiful view presented itself on the west side of Major’s Hill, overlooking the Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal’s lock system.
The Parliament Buildings from Major’s Hill