Having spent my share of time traveling the world and having met travelers of varying ages, nationalities, and financial backgrounds, I always find one thing in common that comes up again and again – people are so anxious to leave their homes and see the rest of the world that they don’t really take the time to be a tourist in their own country. I’ve met so many Europeans who have seen more of Canada than I have! “In Your Own Backyard” is a series of articles exploring the adventure and tourism scene that exists right under my nose in and around my home city of Ottawa.

The City of Ottawa tends to be a bit more than the dry government town that it is often thought to be. Many tourists travel to the city to see Parliament Hill, the Royal Canadian Mint, Rideau Hall, and other historic sites around the nation’s capital. There is, however, a much more lively side to tourism in Ottawa. The city and the surrounding area offer outdoor adventure sports in Gatineau Park and on the Ottawa river, countless summer and winter festivals, appetizing restaurants and craft breweries, and a world-class collection of art galleries and museums. Crowds flock to Parliament Hill for the country’s largest Canada Day celebrations and in the winter they skate shoulder to shoulder down the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal.

Like many national capitals (Washington D.C. comes to mind), Ottawa boasts a world-class collection of must-see museums. These include the Canadian War Museum, The Canadian Museum of Nature, The Museum of Civilization, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Each museum contains exhibits with a uniquely Canadian twist, such as exhibitions on Canada’s First Nations, the history of the canoe, and the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.

When the girlfriend and I decided that we were going to be tourists and check out an Ottawa museum, the Canada Science and Tech Museum seemed like the obvious choice. I am, after all, an engineer and a bit of a science geek. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to the Science and Tech museum. There are others around the city that I haven’t been to, but I particularly like this one.

The Canada Science and Technology Museum allows visitors to experience science and technology first hand in a Canadian context. Have you ever wondered about Canada’s railroad past or what David Suzuki looked like in 1982? It’s all here in it’s very uniquely Canadian glory. Canadian technological achievements from early 1900s medicine to contributions in communications technologies by major Canadian-based companies Nortel and RIM in the late-1990s are proudly on display.

Giant tesla-coil powering hamster wheelThe communications and energy exhibits offered endless buttons to push, levers to pull, things to pick up and drop, bright flashing lights, games, and a giant Tesla coil-powering hamster wheel. Being the big kids that we are, Tasha and I were in no way out of place making our way through the giant computer network maze, fighting off children for our turn playing the classic Pong game, and messing around with the telephones. The museum is filled with family-friendly activities and screaming children, which I’m sure is wonderful if you’re the owner of one of those screaming kids.  There’s a whole children’s section to the museum, including a very disorienting crazy kitchen, the museum’s most popular permanent exhibit which messes with your senses and inner ear by making the floor slightly more angled than it looks.  Being an engineer, it always makes me happy to see parents encouraging an interest in science and technology from a young age.  It makes me hopeful for the future when I see 10-year-olds playing with the giant electricity-producing hamster wheel. Maybe this is the very moment which will spark an interest in science that will lead to the next great Canadian scientific innovation. Or maybe they just want to play with the biggest, noisiest toy in the building.

A trip to the Science and Tech Museum wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Locomotive Hall, also known as the biggest, most bad-ass museum exhibit in the entire city. There’s nothing quite like 300 tons of raw steam locomotive towering before you. Have I mentioned that I liked the trains? You really have to see them, they’re quite impressive and really appeal to the big kid inside me and rail is definitely my favorite form of travel. I plan to do a bit of a train journey through a part of Canada this summer (stay tuned) and this exhibit really upped my excitement.

Train at the Museum of Science and Tech

The Canada Science and Technology Museum is our first glimpse into the tourism scene in my own back yard, and my first blogging experience! More to come soon from the quiet little government city of Ottawa.