Ottawa ramps up tourist appeal in months leading up to Canada 150 celebration


Ottawa may have a reputation as a quiet government city, but there are a number of ways the capital is loosening its collar and transforming ahead of Canada’s 150th birthday – a time when 1.75 million new tourists are expected to flood in, bringing the total to an expected 10 million by year’s end.

Main events in the months ahead, of course, are geared toward Canada Day in the capital, the same day a rejuvenated National Arts Centre will be revealed in downtown Ottawa.

“What people will see on Canada Day is a complete transformation of our building,” said Rosemary Thompson, the centre’s director of communications and public affairs.

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The unveiling will be free to the public and will involve a ribbon-cutting ceremony with 150 people, she said, noting the centre is keen to showcase its new design created by architect Donald Schmitt.

“It is now going to be this new and beautiful home for the performing arts in Canada,” Thompson said. “Many people are saying that Ottawa is changing from boring to bold and we think we are very much a part of that transformation.”

The Canadian Museum of History, located across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Que., is also expected to open its Canadian History Hall on July 1 – a chance, the museum says, to explore the country’s “collective history” which includes success and hope as well as conflict and struggle.

The Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum is set to be reopened too.

“If people are wanting to have a truly Canadian experience for Canada’s 150th birthday, Ottawa is the place to be,” Mayor Jim Watson said in an interview.

The city started planning a couple of years ago to bring in many fresh and exciting events it hadn’t seen before, Watson added, noting more than 200 events are scheduled for 2017.

The city’s cultural and social scene is also becoming much more vibrant, he said.

“When I arrived here in 1980 to go to university, I’d tell friends that the closest thing we had to European cuisine was Swiss Chalet,” Watson said. “Today we have some of the best chefs in the country.”

Watson said this skill will be on display for “Canada’s Table,” a sold-out event for 1,000 people featuring 10 of the city’s top chefs who will partner with 10 chefs from five regions of the country.

The culinary artists are set to stage a four-course dinner with wine pairings right near Parliament Hill along Ottawa’s Wellington Street.

More than 75 countries and international partners are participating in “Ottawa Welcomes the World,” part of the 150th-anniversary celebrations as well.

Until December 2017, embassies, high commissions and international partners will showcase their culture with a series of events at Lansdowne Park.

Extensive renovation efforts are also happening around Parliament Hill with significant work scheduled for the future.

Work on the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, a former bank turned government building, was unveiled in June 2015 and the West Block is receiving a makeover.

Construction on Centre Block, expected to begin in 2018, is regarded as the most complex heritage rehabilitation project for Public Works ever. It is set to take about 10 years to complete.

When Centre Block is eventually closed, the newly built West Block courtyard will be the temporary home to the House of Commons and the Government Conference Centre will serve as the interim Senate chamber.

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