Bucket List Worthy
When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, he shocked Ottawa by vowing to make his Liberal cabinet 50 percent women “because it’s 2015.” Has this all-out assault on traditional male privilege resulted in the complete feminization of the Canadian capital?
As a vigilant white middle-class heterosexual male travel journalist, I felt a moral obligation to visit Ottawa – even with snow blanketing the city and temperatures below -10 Celsius – and find out if there were still appropriate ways to vent my oh-so-marginalized old-school testosterone as a tourist in 2016.
The official answer is, “Yes! Oui!”
From historical sights to beer to sports, here are seven ways you can man up in Ottawa’s winter wonderland — in and out of the cold.
1) Feel the Power at the Peace Tower
Let’s face it: historically, male Canadian prime ministers have a 22-1 lead over their female counterparts. And we won’t even touch the Freudian implications of the 92-metre, clock-adorned Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. So, in the heart of Canadian democracy, men are still somehow hanging on.
Take a free guided public tour of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block. You’ll learn about the Gothic Revival edifice’s quirky features, from a fossil in the Tyndall limestone walls to a spelling mistake on a stained-glass ceiling. One highlight is the gorgeous, Harry Potter-esque Library of Parliament with its domed ceiling and decor in gold leaf and white pine. Go up the Peace Tower for a sensational view of the snowy capital, including the 1912-built Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel and the National Gallery.
Get in there now, because in 2018 the Centre Block will close for renovations, with the House of Commons relocating into the West Block and the Senate into Ottawa’s old railway station. Tour tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis across from Parliament at 90 Wellington Street. It’s entertaining and educational, man.
2) Drink Till You’re Wonky with Brew Donkey
How can a self-respecting dude get a proper belly unless he consumes enough beer? Brew Donkey, Ottawa’s only craft brewery tour company, will help you get there. On the five-hour “Rideau Rally” route, which includes three beer samples at five different breweries (i.e. about a pitcher in total), you can prove your manhood.
The variety is incredible. Try the flagship Ten12 blonde ale at Nita Beer, or the Star Wars-inspired line of brews like Princess Lulu and Cherrybacca at Broken Stick. Owner Brad Campeau hands out carrot cake doughnuts from local bakery SuzyQ, and liberally peppers the afternoon with jokes about Albertans, Hair Club For Men, and other guffaw-inducing topics, as Led Zeppelin plays in the background on the tour bus.
If you need a hangover cure, the classic BeaverTail pastry in the Byward Market (fried dough coated with cinnamon, sugar, and butter) does the trick nicely.
3) Don’t Get Cocky, Watch Senators Hockey
The original Ottawa Senators franchise won 11 Stanley Cups between 1903 and 1927. The modern NHL franchise, which debuted in 1992-93, has come no closer than losing the 2007 final to the Anaheim Ducks. But watching the Sens in action still makes for a great boys’ night out.
If timing or finances preclude you attending a game at the 20,041-capacity Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, don’t despair. Ottawa abounds with top-notch sports bars.
Located in the Byward Market, Sens House is ideal, with huge TVs everywhere and Sens bobbleheads, T-shirts and other memorabilia for sale. It’s even attracted current Senators like Marc Methot and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and sits right next to Lowertown Brewery’s craft beer and comfort food.
In the revitalized Lansdowne Park area, you can try to emulate Senators captain Erik Karlsson’s smooth skating on the free outdoor Skating Court (through March). It has a heated changing room and gets regularly resurfaced by a Zamboni. Afterwards, stroll over to Crust & Crate to watch hockey while chowing down on a “You’re Quacking Me Up” pizza with duck confit, or the decadent “C&C Nacho Factory” nachos.
Longtime Senators defenceman Chris Phillips operates two suburban locations of Big Rig, a casual brewhouse that offers four seasonal house brews on tap each month.
4) No Shame at the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame
If you’re a quirky guy, you’ll appreciate the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame. Inaugurated in 2011, it’s tucked away deep inside City Hall. Admission is free, and it’s worth a quick peek.
Up until its very recent removal, a photo of disgraced ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter held pride of place in a display commemorating the announcement of Ottawa as a 2015 Women’s World Cup host city, along with a FIFA soccer ball and pennant. You’ll still find a maple Sam Bat, manufactured by Ottawa-based entrepreneur Sam Holman and brought to fame by controversial baseball slugger Barry Bonds. Less controversial are photos of Ottawa-born hockey legend King Clancy and the 1927 Ottawa Women’s Rowing Club hockey champions.
Unafraid of a little more female goodness? Pop into the Barbara Ann Scott Gallery, also at City Hall. It showcases the legendary Olympic figure skater’s 1945 Lou Marsh Trophy as the Canadian athlete of the year and her 1947 World Championship gold medal, among other artifacts.
5) Burn Some Calories at the National Gallery
Marching up and down the huge ramps and staircases at the glass-and-granite National Gallery is a good workout for the body. Engage your brain at the Monet: A Bridge to Modernity exhibition (to Feb. 15), which features 13 paintings by the French Impressionist master that focus on the bridges of Argenteuil, a Paris suburb.
In the permanent collection, other European artists with XY chromosomes are well-represented, from Rembrandt and van Gogh to Picasso and Klimt. You can also revel in the world’s most wide-ranging collection of Canadian art, including the stark, manly Canadian landscapes of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.
6) War, War, War: There’s Always More
Even ardent defenders of the patriarchy can appreciate the World War Women exhibition at the Canadian War Museum (to Mar. 20). It’s full of poignant mementos from the two biggest conflicts that marred the 20th century, taking the lives of 115,000 Canadians.
In well-preserved letters, one woman vents her anger at a clergyman who got her son to enlist in the army, while another can’t divulge the name of the unit in which her son died for security reasons. Vivid posters sport slogans like “Careless Talk Brings Tragedy in Wartime” and “Patriotic Canadians Will Not Hoard Food.”
Don’t miss the sprawling, naturally lit LeBreton Gallery, displaying a Voodoo fighter jet, heavy artillery, and tanks. Book lovers will dig the used military book sale.
If all this isn’t making your beard grow out, cross the Ottawa River to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. The Vikings exhibition (to Apr. 17) debunks the myth of horned helmets and allows you to test the weight and balance of a replica Viking sword. Displays range from ice skates made of the metatarsal bones of horses and cows to a runestone depicting a dead warrior’s passage to Valhalla. At the gift shop, you can splurge on a $230 Viking helmet with a leather chin strap.
The museum also boasts a magnificent celebration of First Nations culture. After admiring a cedar war canoe and a Tsimshian warrior in full armor, get your protein on at the gift shop with a $35 box of wild smoked sockeye salmon from Sea Chase Seafoods.
Those who love Cold War thrillers like Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising can tour the eerie Diefenbunker. Thirty kilometres west of Ottawa, it’s a now-decommissioned nuclear shelter for the government, encompassing four underground storeys.
Downtown, enjoy a vodka flight or a bite at the Moscow Tea Room, steps away from the U.S. embassy on Sussex Drive. The signature dish at this red-themed, intimately lit institution is the “Vladimir Poutine,” featuring three-cheese perogies with sliced beets and caramelized onions.
7) Raise a Little Hell at a Fine Hotel
The capital is home to many excellent hotels, but the newly renovated, four-star Novotel Ottawa stands out with its in-house Albion Rooms restaurant. Guy-friendly, innovative dishes abound, from the Scotch egg with fruit ketchup to the thrice-cooked chips to the hearty elk burger.
In an executive suite, you’ll enjoy a king-sized bed, elegant walk-in shower, and a glass-topped bar, along with other amenities that add up to a James Bond feel. The Novotel is centrally located off Rideau Street, offering easy access to the Rideau Canal Skateway, the ice sculptures in Confederation Park, and other fun activities during the annual Winterlude festival (to Feb. 15).
So even if the ladies are coming on strong in Ottawa (and for the record, they always appreciate being called “ladies”), you can still man up successfully as a tourist in this winter wonderland.