Eyes wide open in Ot­tawa


Where were those peo­ple go­ing? What ad­ven­tures would they have?

As a nerdy ado­les­cent, I made a mi­nor hobby out of writ­ing to tourist bu­reaus to request vis­i­tor guides. (Yes, re­mem­ber be­fore the In­ter­net, peo­ple used to write away for in­for­ma­tion and wait weeks for the re­ply!) As an adult, I’ve had the good for­tune to travel a lot. And de­spite se­cu­rity has­sles, cramped planes and jet lag, I al­ways ap­proach ev­ery trip with an­tic­i­pa­tion. Where will I go? What ad­ven­tures will I have?

Com­ing back home, with im­ages of for­eign places fresh in my brain, I never fail to ob­serve fa­mil­iar sights with un­usual clar­ity. I’ll re­al­ize that the trees along the Rideau River have started to bud or that some­one on the next block has built a stylish new porch. Gee, I’ll think. The old burg is quite pretty, isn’t it? It isn’t some­thing I think of­ten these days—but I used to.When I moved here in the early 1980s, look­ing out my Car­leton Uni­ver­sity dorm win­dow at the Ex­per­i­men­tal Farm never failed to amaze me. It took months be­fore I could sit on an OC Transpo bus like a jaded lo­cal as we passed Par­lia­ment Hill. And while skat­ing on the canal, my friends and I would al­ways stop on that bend by the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa and gasp in ex­ag­ger­ated (but still gen­uine) de­light as the Peace Tower and the Chateau Lau­rier hove into view.

But even­tu­ally, I stopped see­ing it all. The Vic­to­rian store­fronts along Sus­sex Drive and the un­du­lat­ing lines of the Cana­dian Mu­seum of Civ­i­liza­tion were just back­drops as I raced to client meet­ings. The charm­ing Pre­to­ria Bridge was sim­ply a traf­fic-

Colum­nist One of my most vivid child­hood mem­o­ries is stand­ing on the top storey of the old park­ing garage at the Toronto air­port with my dad, watch­ing planes take off and land.

I won­dered. choked ob­sta­cle be­tween me and the gro­cery store.

Beauty, sur­prise and de­light, I be­lieved, only awaited at the other end of an air­plane’s Jet­way.

It slowly dawned on me, though, that the for­eign cities I love are all just “home” to other peo­ple. Do Am­s­ter­dammers mar­vel at their beau­ti­ful canals? Do Syd­neysiders gape at the Opera House? I doubt it.

Af­ter 27 years in Ot­tawa, I’m as blind to most of our city’s charms as the av­er­age Man­hat­tan­ite is to the Chrysler Build­ing. I’ve for­got­ten that not ev­ery city has Lawren Har­ris’s North Shore, Lake Su­pe­rior work of art (at the Na­tional Gallery of Canada) or a prime min­is­ter’s col­lec­tion of art­fully faked ru­ins (at Kingsmere). I take skat­ing on the canal and sun­sets at Bri­tan­nia Beach for granted.

Where can I go to­day? I should ask my­self more of­ten, in­stead of just trundling along my well-worn ruts from home to the gro­cery store, the Y, the pub. What ad­ven­tures can I have?

Some­times, it doesn’t take a plane ticket to get a fresh per­spec­tive. Some­times, all I need to do is open my eyes.

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