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.
Spring is finally here to stay in Ottawa and that means one thing – festivals are coming. Ottawa is a city of summer fests and events – from massive music festivals, to historic building tours and food and drink festivals. In the past couple weeks I’ve started marking my favorites down on my calendar to make sure they aren’t missed and I’ve listed a bunch of them here. Maybe I’ll see you there!
Canadian Tulip Festival – May 3 – 20
This one is going on right now! Why does Canada have a Tulip Festival? The history goes back to World War II – as a thanks to Canadians for their role in liberating the Dutch and for providing safe harbour to the Dutch Royal Family (including one princess born in an Ottawa hospital), The Netherlands has sent thousands of tulip bulbs every year to Canada’s capital city. Tulips are scattered throughout downtown, but the biggest displays can be found at Major’s Hill Park and Dow’s Lake. The tulips juxtaposed with the beautiful architecture of downtown Ottawa makes for some great photography. The festival also includes live outdoor music and international cuisine next to city hall.
The Great Glebe Garage Sale – May 25
For some people, Ottawa’s biggest garage sale is a chance to pick up some neat junk for cheap, for others it’s a lifestyle. The Great Glebe Garage Sale takes up an entire neighborhood south of downtown Ottawa. The Glebe becomes a gigantic maze of cracked dishes, vintage clothing and 90s children’s toys. You could be lost in there for days. The hardcore GGGSers will be there well before 7am, but if you’re lucky some of the hidden treasures can be overlooked until later on in the morning.
Doors Open Ottawa – June 1 – 2
For the past 11 years, buildings in Ottawa have opened their doors to the public for one summer weekend known as Doors Open Ottawa. Everything from the Supreme Court to the Ottawa’s first-class museums to former top-secret military bunkers open up to give tours of their facilities to the general public. For many of these locations this is a once-a-year opportunity, so be sure to check out the participating buildings and schedule.
Chicken and Rib Cook-Off – June 19 – 23
In late June Sparks Street Mall is transformed into the Ottawa Chicken and Rib Cook-Off AKA Ribfest. Starting just before lunch and continuing into the evening, many downtown employees will come down from their stuffy office once or twice a day for award-winning ribs from around the world. You’ll never try them all in one day, so be sure to plan to come back again and again. It’s worth it!
Canada Day – July 1
Canada Day celebrates the anniversary of the enactment of the British North America Act, which created the country of Canada. Being the capital, Ottawa holds the biggest Canada Day party in the country. Downtown and the Byward Market are abuzz with tourists and locals alike, out enjoying beer on a patio or live music on Parliament Hill. Wall-to-wall people wave flags, wear face paint and goofy hats, and are generally loud, happy, and fun. If you’re going to be in Canada on July 1st this is the place to be.
Bluesfest – July 4 – 14
Ottawa Bluesfest is the biggest music festival in Ottawa and the largest “blues” festival in Canada. I use the word “blues” loosely, since Bluesfest is a blues festival in name only. It started in the mid-90s showing exclusively blues acts, but has since expanded and evolved into a rock, pop, folk, and electronic festival. The outdoor festival has attracted a huge variety of big-name acts in the past, and this year is no different – The Black Keys, Dixie Chicks, RUSH, and Weezer, just to name a few. Check out the full festival lineup here.
Jazz Fest – June 20 – July 1
Next on the list of Ottawa summer music festivals is the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Although it’s not quite as big and internationally recognized as the neighboring Montreal Jazz Festival, and doesn’t draw as many people as its brother Bluesfest, the two-week festival still manages to pull in some impressive acts. This year you can check out Aretha Franklin, Steve Kuhn, Mavis Staples and Patricia Barber. If you’re not into jazz, maybe check out country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson or English rock band The Heavy – both will be playing the festival. See the full lineup here.
National Capital Craft Beer Week – August 9 – 17
Craft beer is taking off in a big way in the nation’s capital. New breweries seem to pop up in and around Ottawa every few months, and the National Capital Craft Beer Week gives you a chance to try them all. An outdoor craft beer festival by city hall, a home brewing competition, and special pub events are happening throughout the week. Also be sure to check out Winterbrewed if you’re around for the winter and willing to brave the cold of Sparks Street for cold beer and live music. Festibière is another great beer festival that takes place just across the river in Gatineau from May 24-26.
Folk Festival – September 5 – 8
Ending up the summer of music fests in Ottawa is The Ottawa Folk Festival. The festival was moved from Britannia Park to the much more spacious Hog’s Back Park in 2012. The people running the show since 2012 are the same ones who run Bluesfest, so you can expect the festival to only get bigger and more successful in the coming years. The lineup should be announced within the next couple months, but if it’s anything like last year it will be very impressive.
You can find a more extensive list of Ottawa festivals here. Did I miss any of your favorites? Leave a comment and let me know.