Published On Tue Jul 06 2010
The Toronto Star

Dressing up at Pirates Adventures on Mooney's Bay in Ottawa is just one great way for a family to enjoy the nation's capital.

Dressing up at Pirates Adventures on Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa is just one great way for a family to enjoy the nation’s capital.

Heather Greenwood Davis/For the Toronto Star

OTTAWA — I’ve never seen anything like it. The pomp. The circumstance. The pageantry. Canada Day in the Nation’s capital rivals the biggest celebrations on the planet when it comes to we-are-the-best boasting and patriotic chants. It was so-un-Canadian! It was awesome.

And when it was over you could see the hunger in the eyes and fading tattoo flags on cheeks of newbies like myself who had hoped that the excitement of the day might last just a little bit longer.

What would Ottawa be like when the seas of people dressed in red and white went back to corporate life? Turns out it is still pretty incredible. While the flag may not be the outfit of choice for your teen everyday and while, yes it is time (and I am talking to you lone wolf) to remove the flag painted on your face, my family found that the summer time in Ottawa still has plenty to offer.

Here are our top 5 picks:

1. Pirate’s Adventure: I can’t believe this place isn’t packed every day! Kids (and adults too!) are outfitted in pirate garb and set sail on Mooney’s Bay in a replica pirate ship complete with water cannons (perfect for shooting at attacking pirates) and real pirates who can teach us the ropes, which includes learning to dance, sing, talk and salute like one of them. You’ve never heard pirates giggle like this, me hearties!

2. Beavertails: Um. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll understand. I spent four years in this city as a university student and only discovered the fried dough coated with cinnamon and sugar last week! Yes, I left with a degree but I’m not sure it was worth the sacrifice. Thought most popular during the winter months, the large flat pieces of fried heaven are available year round. My kids asked if we could have one everyday. I’m working on it.

3. Calypso Waterpark: About 30 minutes from Ottawa’s downtown core (you’ll need a car to get out there) are some of the coolest slides I’ve ever seen at a Canadian water park. Only about one quarter of the 450-acre park has been developed and anticipation was high so expect long line-ups on some of the high-adrenaline/height requirement rides like the Adrenaline or Fast Track. My under-10s loved the Jungle Run (a lazy river complete with animal sounds, waterfalls and fountains) and the wave pool the size of three NHL rinks that sounds three horns to the delight of the crowd before sending out waves that can easily topple little ones. Life jackets are available and the smiles that follow unmatched.

4. Museum of Nature: They’ve just undergone a massive, six-year renovation and restoration and though I can’t tell you what it looked like before, the after is a huge hit with kids. Interactive exhibits inside the historic castle building have kids’ height information stations, touch screens and even dress-up areas. Movies offer plenty of play opportunities and there is way more than you’ll be able to see in one visit. We hung out in the Mammals exhibit and checked out the insect tanks in the basement and not one “I’m bored” was heard.

5. Parliament Hill: I know what you’re thinking! Old. Boring. Save it for the school trip! Nuh-uh! We skipped the inside tour for fear of government-induced boredom and did the self-guided tour of the Hill itself and guess what? The kids loved it and happily learned (and seem to have retained) way more history than I intended. From the volunteer run cat sanctuary to the statues of historical figures to the bell that rang out the midnight hour before coming crashing down during the fire of 1916, the kids were smitten. The fact that they could run and jump, follow their own map and find the interesting bits for themselves was a plus. When it was over they asked if they could tour inside too. I’m not sure if I should be proud or afraid.

Heather Greenwood Davis is travel columnist based in Toronto. Her family travel pieces appear at the twice a month. Follow her on twitter @greenwooddavis or online at Her visit to Ottawa was subsidized in part by Ottawa Tourism ( and Via Rail (