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Enthusiam for Ottawa's Museums


Canada surprises - it is the second largest country in the world, yet has a population the size of California. Even in bad weather, it's a great visit, because there are so many attractions.

Photography by the authors

Canada surprises — it is the second largest country in the world after Russia yet its population is the same as California’s.

The capital should be a great visit, even if we have come at the wrong time. Late May 2013 is too early for the summer Mosaika Sound and Light Show at Parliament Hill and too late for the Easter Canadian Tulip Festival. It is also raining hard this day we are going to take a cruise on the Rideau Canal, Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. In some locations this would have killed a vacation or at least had teenagers complaining. In Ottawa they would have had a ball. There are so many attractions.

We remember Jantine Van Kregten's, the director of communications for Ottawa Tourism, enthusiasm about her city’s museums — and, realizing not all the double-decker vehicles of the Gray Line On Off Bus are open to the weather, we are using them to get to the three better known museums.

Museum of Civilization

Even from the outside we know we are going to see something special. The museum, opened in 1989, was designed by a famous Aboriginal architect, Douglas Cardinal.

His perception and sensitivities created a roof that looked like a huge inverted boat. It was his message of peace to the world, because when the First Peoples came visiting their neighbors in maritime North America, they carried their boats upside down to show the boats didn’t contain weapons.

The museum columns that support the roof represent oars and the ceiling of the Grand Hall shows the empty inside of the great.

“There are no corners in this museum,” a guide tells us. “Aborigines believe evil lurks in corners.”

The six-story Grand Hall with its splendid, soaring totem poles demonstrates the culture of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, whereas a copy of the 1496 letter from King Henry VII reminds us John Cabot was given permission by the Crown to explore the New World. But it doesn’t tell us that when Cabot arrived in his 50-ton ship Matthew in 1497 and claimed this land for his king he thought he’d arrived in Asia.

We realize now we haven’t given ourselves enough time. Canada’s history includes its pioneer days across its vast prairies and its maritime past along its rugged coastline — and as we find out in our next museum, its embrace of the very beginnings of aviation.

The Canada Museum of Aviation and Space

Canada’s national aviation history museum was formed in 1964, moved here in 1988 and expanded in 2010 from three separate existing collections. You understand its origins when you wander its floor, a marvelous mixture of vintage airplanes and aircraft that served the Royal Canadian Air Force in two world wars.


p to bottom: A Rea Touring Automobile 1910 compliments a CCM Perfect Bicycle 1908. A French bomber, the Farman MF.11, introduced on the Western Front in 1914, sets the stage for a later era in aviation and the age of the bush pilot as shown by the de Havilland Canada DH-2 Beaver, a single-engine utility airplane still used by the Civil Air Patrol in the United States.

When the De Havilland Aircraft of Canada received design ideas from bush pilots for the DH-2 Beaver, the company complained that the pilots’ requests would create drag and a poor speed over land. The pilots answered, “You only have to be faster than a dog sled!”

The years between two world wars allowed civil aviation to flourish. During this time Admiral Byrd flew over the North Pole in his controversial claim to be the first to do that. Amelia Earhart’s chosen plane for her ill-fated round-the-world flight was a Trans-Canada model.

The bronze carving, The Falcon, a reproduction of what stands in Canada’s McGill University, guards a 1928 Fairchild FC-2W-2. The airplane is similar to the one allegedly flown over the North Pole by Byrd. The sculptor who carved The Falcon, R. Tait McKenzie (1867-1938), was, surely, Canada’s Renaissance Man — an over-used term, maybe, but McKenzie was an athlete, a pioneer in physical therapy, orthopedist and an artist highly regarded in Canada. In the center image a Trans-Canada Air Lines Lockheed Model 10A Electra is being loaded, the all-metal sleek, twin-engined model chosen by Earhart. And in a place of pride amongst the heavy bombers stands the mammoth Avro Lancaster with its four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

The Canadian War Museum

Canada exhibits its war years: French against English, English against Americans and Americans against the First Peoples in this museum that had its origins in 1880.

A new, vast sprawling building opened in 2005 to show how this remote part of the one-time British Empire answered the call in two world wars. At a time when it’s politically correct in the United States to agree our history is too Euro-centric, it’s refreshing to see this unapologetic Canadian pride and emphasis on “the human experience of war and the manner in which war has affected, and been affected by, Canadians’ participation.”

We had met Georgina Pope, the first matron in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, previously in the statues at the Valiants Memorial. She is represented in the War Museum also. Exhibits show the locations of wounds in World War I and examples of field kits carried by medical officers in that war.

Sobering exhibits take visitors through the Regeneration Hall designed to show “Canada’s hope for a better future.” The figures replicate those created by sculptor Walter Seymour Allward in his gigantic Canadian Battlefields Monument in France. Another exhibit in the war museum shows how artillery shells were filled with metal to create maximum damage. A photograph showing the awesome power of Germany in WWII is the background to a restored Mercedes-Benz where 19 pages of research done by librarian Ludwig Kosche prove the car was Adolph Hitler’s.

Those would be depressing memories to take away from the war museum, except the last object we see as we exit is a coat made in WWII by Canadian soldiers for a Dutch girl, Sussie Cretier, aged 10. A Canadian tank gunner from Alberta, 19-year-old Robert Elliott, donated an army blanket to a local seamstress in Christmas 1944, her present from Canada. Elliott and the Cretiers kept in touch after the war and in 1981 Elliott visited the Netherlands, met the Cretiers and fell in love with Sussie. They married!

And her coat is surely a happier memory for visitors to take away from Ottawa’s museums than thoughts about weapons of war.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.

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