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Ottawa 2017 – get ready for a WILD 150th birthday party for Canada

Big.

Bold.

Impressive.

Epic.

Those are the kinds of adjectives being used by the folks at 2017 Ottawa as they get the nation’s capital ready for next year; the 150th birthday for Canada.

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I don’t know what I was expecting when I got a briefing last week off things both ready for publication and still not yet public. But I was totally blown away by the variety and depth and quality of what they’ve got planned.

There are some things I was sworn to secrecy about (literally) and others still to be organized. But I saw and can report was, as Darth Vader might say, “most impressive.” It will be a year-long festival in a city that already does more than few great ones, including the annual Tulip Festival getting ready to go (May 12-23 this year) and the summertime Blues Fest (July 7-17).

Ignite 150 will involve a series of unique events, with some elements of surprise. One plan is for folks to have dinner in the sky (a crane will be involved), yoga on a floating barge with an orchestra playing (!) and hundreds of fast-paced “illuminated moments” in various locations.

The Juno Awards for Canadian music will be in Ottawa next year as well, with the party starting March 27 and the awards being given April 2. You can bet they’ll be displaying some epic (there’s that word again) talent from across Canada. I’d love to see Neil Young play with my favourite band, Blue Rodeo, but nobody’s saying yet what will happen during the big show. Also on the music front will be YOWttawa, a “two-day large-scale ticketed contemporary music event” in summer, with a location and dates and acts still to be annnounced. We don’t have details, but there will be multiple stages with contemporary Aboriginal and Canadian musicians, as well as international talent from some of the nations that helped build Canada (France, England, Scotland and Ireland).

Other countries have contributed to making us who we are, of course. With that in mind, there will be celebrations all year long marking everything from Bastille Day to The Fourth of July and Cinco de Mayo.

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Luckily we won’t have to wait until summer for the fun to start. The Red Bull Crashed Ice series, where racers fly down insanely steep hills of ice, will finish up in Ottawa next March. Plans call for the race course to be built over the top of the Rideau Canal, between Parliament Hill (where they’re used to slick operations) and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. That will be some kind of scene. And some kind of amazing backdrop.

One VERY cool thing they’ve announced is an underground light and multi-media experience in the new tunnel being built to house this expanding city’s Light Rail Transit line. It will be put on by the renowned Moment Factory and will take place at the Lyon station.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Hockey League and the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup. Nothing has been announced yet and I didn’t get any clues about the matter. But I gotta believe there will be something pretty cool.

Ottawa typically gets 7 to 8 million visitors a year. They’re hoping for more like 9.75 million for the 150th birthday party, so the capital will be some kind of a busy and happening spot. Oh, yeah, a royal visit or two might be in order, so get ready for that.

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“This will be one of the biggest things in Ottawa’s history,” said Guy LaFlamme, executive director of 2017 Ottawa, which has its offices in a suburban location next to a Value Village if anyone has visions of bureaucratic grandeur. “We’re going to go from Ottawa the old to Ottawa the bold.”

There are tons of new projects and major renovations going on in the city, including the LRT, planting of a million trees, neighbourhood upgrades and improvements to museums such as the Canadian Science and Technology Museum. I’m told there will be a massive renovation of Parliament Hill in 2018, after the big show is over.

“Some people still think of us a sleepy government town,” said Ottawa 2017 media relations manager Denise LeBlanc. “We really want to shake that off. We want to be fresh and vibrant.”

I’ve been guilty of thinking of Ottawa in that same stereotypical kind of way. But I had a fantastic time this past week and into the weekend, touring fantastic neighbourhoods such as Wellington Village and Hintonburg, checking out the goofy and oh-so-fun and authentic Lucky Ron Show at Club Lafayette and enjoying some remarkable food; including dinner at Navarra in the Byward Market area. The mix of dishes and styles and flavours and textures (try the rabbit confit with pickled pineapple and pickled jalapenos and the magical/heavenly foie gras in a bowl with coconut emulsion and spices). It what might be one of the best restaurants in North America and should be garnering attention as the best in Canada, in my humble opinion.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget Brew Donkey, which does great tours of the city’s marvellous craft breweries.

The Alt Hotel in Ottawa. Sleek and stylish and tons of fun. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Alt Hotel in Ottawa. Sleek and stylish and tons of fun. JIM BYERS PHOTO


I had a great stay at the sleek and stylish and brand-new Alt Hotel, run by the super-fashionable folks who run Le Germain hotels in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and other parts of the country. It’s got a great urban and Canadian/Euro feel, with young staff and great splashes of colour all around.

I also had a night at the luscious Fairmont Chateau Laurier, where they put on a sensational afternoon tea at Zoe’s and serve a super breakfast buffet at Wilfrid’s. There’s also a great pool and one of those classic lobbies that makes you feel more special than you might really be.

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is one of the great hotels of Canada. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is one of the great hotels of Canada. JIM BYERS PHOTO

I’ll have more on Ottawa in general (and the great food and hotels) in a coming story in the Postmedia/Sun Media papers and their websites in Canada.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Michael Shandrick 12 June 2016, 4:15 am

    The big question mark is whether the organizers can convince Canadians and foreign visitors that a city full of civil servants and bureaucrats even understand what the word “excitement” means. Much less, “awesome”.

    • jimbyers 22 June 2016, 7:33 pm

      I think they will. Hope so.

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