A Year Abroad In Ottawa

Catherine Conyard

Many people are surprised when I tell them that I decided to do my year abroad in Ottawa. Despite being Canada’s capital city and home of crush-worthy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it doesn’t appear to have much more to offer. Yet, as international travel has been restricted for almost a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have taken time to reminisce on my year abroad and share why Ottawa is worth a visit.

My journey began in August 2019 when I arrived at what would become my new home: Carleton University. One of best things about doing a year abroad is that you meet like-minded people and so when I met my new roommate Lucy, who was also from the UK, she was as keen as I was to go out and explore. Carleton is about three miles south of downtown Ottawa and so it was easy to get into the city centre. We spent our first evening together watching the free light projection show on Parliament Hill which runs throughout the summer. This was a great way to start off my Canadian experience as it told the story of Canada’s discovery, going through the history of the country right up until present day.

When we returned the next morning to see Parliament Hill in all its daylight glory, we realised it is very similar to London’s Houses of Parliament. We then went on to wander through Major’s Hill Park and then found ourselves in Ottawa’s Byward Market, an area buzzing with food stalls and rustic style buildings. This is where you can pick up traditional Canadian delicacies of Maple Syrup or, even more native to Ottawa, a BeaverTail, a fried dough pastry in the shape that, you guessed it, resembles a beaver’s tail. Once we had lined our stomachs with sweet treats, we decided to hire bikes and ride along the Rideau Canal, this is a great way to see the city and enjoy being outdoors.

You can get a really good view of the skyline in a more peaceful setting, away from the buzz of the city

After we had settled into the term, we took a weekend trip to Toronto. Ottawa became a good base for exploring other places and Toronto was only a four hour drive away, which is considered a short journey in Canada. As we only had one day to explore, we decided to take a look at Kensington Market. This neighbourhood really reflects Toronto’s hipster scene with lots of vintage stores and delicious street food. Later that day, we strolled down to the harbour and got a boat over to Toronto Island. This is something I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting Toronto as you can get a really good view of the skyline in a more peaceful setting, away from the buzz of the city. Being classic tourists, the next day we went down to Niagara Falls and enjoyed the boat ride that gave us a free shower and cool down from the heat of the September sun. 

Once fall comes around and the trees begin to turn, Ottawa is truly magnificent. I completely adored how seasons seem to be more pronounced in Canada and they really know how to make the most of it. My friends and I attended a university football game and enjoyed autumnal walks. We then decided to take a trip and explore French Canada. Although Montreal is only two hours from Ottawa, it had a more European feel. We explored the Old Town and Notre-Dame Basilica and then made our way up to the Mont Royal lookout to watch the sun set over the city. The next day we did some vintage shopping and went over to the Olympic Park.

With narrow cobblestone streets, cosy bistros and French style architecture, it is hard to believe that this is in North America

Montreal couldn’t have felt more European, but when we visited Quebec City this was taken to the next level. With narrow cobblestone streets, cosy bistros and French style architecture, it is hard to believe that this is in North America. There is also a waterfall nearby which is worth a visit and was a fantastic way to end our time exploring the only French province in the country.

As the weather turned colder, it was time to brave ourselves for a Canadian winter. As someone who hates the cold, I was nervous about how I was going to survive temperatures that can fall to -30 degrees. Luckily, Ottawa makes it an enjoyable experience. One of my many favourite days was visiting Parc Omega. This is a rural animal park which you drive through in the warmth of the car whilst feeding deer and observing other indigenous animals such as bison, moose and bears. Another great winter activity was skiing at a nearby hill called Camp Fortune. This is a great place to build confidence on the slopes if, like me, you are not the most advanced. Ottawa also hosts its annual Winterlude Festival in February where ice sculptors from all over the world come to showcase their work and the Rideau Canal is frozen over to become the world’s largest skating rink running at over 7.8km in length.

I was lucky enough to take a one final adventure in the form of a road-trip to Boston. Before we even arrived, this trip was made extremely memorable because my friend got put in handcuffs at the US border crossing. The police believed that she was on the run from the authorities but thankfully soon realised it was not her. After an overnight stop in New Hampshire, we arrived in Boston without anyone being arrested and spent our afternoon exploring the area around Fenway Baseball Park, Boston Public Library and the Public Gardens. The following day we paid for a walking tour of the Freedom Trail, which took us through some of Boston’s historical sites. We also made our way over to Harvard University which, despite being in a bustling neighbourhood, I found a bit underwhelming. This may be since it had started raining and we hadn’t booked a tour, which I would definitely do if I were to return.

As anxiety increased due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I made the difficult decision to return home three months earlier than expected. However, no matter where you go, doing a year abroad is one of the most life-changing experiences and allows you to explore new places and make lifelong friends. I am so lucky I was able to enjoy Ottawa and all the things it has to offer, and I will certainly make a return one day.

Catherine Conyard

Featured and in-article images courtesy of Catherine Conyard. No changes were made to the images.

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