Ottawa favorites: Sunday Bikedays and Doors Open

Like most places, Ottawa presents a varied mix of pros and cons. It still battles (embraces?) a reputation as a placid place. Indeed, Ottawa just won as “most boring city in Canada” in a first-annual contest organized by self-appointed organizers. (They were based in Toronto so there you go – the fix may have been in.)

Tom Spears wrote a jocular account of that feat observing that Ottawa nearly blew the race by generating some exciting political scandal at an inopportune time.

This post is intended to champion two fun Ottawa features  – though both may fall slightly short of “exciting.”

Lovely views on bike path near Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. (photo by C. Miller)

Lovely views beside the Ottawa River near Parliament Hill. Photo: C. Miller

The first resumed last weekend and lasts all summer: Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays. (For some reason our family has always called it “bike Sunday” – I’ll have to try remember the proper title in this post!)

This is organized by the National Capital Commission, the same folks who handle the Rideau Canal Skateway. And it’s the same sort of scene: young and old, families, couples, singles and clusters of friends – happily exercising outside, relishing free recreation in peaceful, pretty surroundings. The nicest anti-obesity prescription imaginable.

Key scenic roads are closed to vehicular traffic, generally from 9 am to 1 pm (6 am to 11 am across the river in Gatineau Park, Quebec). These are then taken over by innumerable walkers, joggers, in-line skaters and every kind of pedal-power imaginable. While thousands partake, it seldom feels crowded, because there are plenty of pathways and roads to go around. Using roadways without worrying about cars is a pleasant change.

It’s really nice. If you have the chance, come try it too, either with your own wheels, or by grabbing a bike rental.

Sunday Bikedays relies on many noble volunteers who forego their own pleasure to assist in the road closures. They deserve warm, verbal thanks. It’s a big undertaking, maybe more than most places can pull off. But it’s so healthy – and such a great way to enjoy scenery, while reinforcing a nice feeling of community. I wish even more cities could find ways to do something similar.

cap073401-276x294The other event I’ll promote in this post is something the city puts on, called Doors Open Ottawa.

In its 11th year, this is a ‘first-weekend-in-June’ event where a wide variety of federal and municipal facilities open up for free, guided tours. Many churches and private businesses also join in to offer behind-the-scenes peeks. More information can also be found here and paper maps are available at an Ottawa area coffeeshop chain. According to the City of Ottawa this year there are 124 sites to tour and last year’s attendance figure was approximately 80,000 people.

I know, I know! “See what happens at the water treatment plant! Go inside a Masonic Hall!” For some, this is the definition of dullsville. But with a wide range of participants it’s easy to map out your own curiosity trail, and experience sights at sites that are not always available for public view.

Inside the Supreme Court of Canada, Doors Open 2004 (photo by C. Miller)

Inside the Supreme Court of Canada, Doors Open Ottawa 2004 (photo by C. Miller)

Demonstration of types of filters at the water treatment plant (Doors Open Ottawa photo from 2004 by C. Miller)

Demonstration of  an “anthracite and sand” filter at the Lemieux Water Filtration Plant in 2004. (photo by C. Miller)

Ottawa didn’t invent Doors Open type tours, but the city has certainly embraced the idea. It’s actually become just one more thing that makes June seem ridiculously busy. Staffing needs for the weekend imposes heavy demands on guides – almost always the very people who work there Mon – Fri. More than once I’ve seen nothing on the weekend in question other than the faces of people in tours I gave at SunTech Greenhouses (when I worked there) or as a volunteer docent at Dickinson House.

I said earlier that Sunday Bikedays seldom feels crowded. Well, that’s not always true for Doors Open. Some of the venues are jammed – with waits. I often wonder how the volunteers survive the crush, or talk all day without going hoarse. (Actually, many do end up hoarse.)

Matter of fact, I’m about ready to call for a moratorium on any more events in June. (It’s full, people. Packed to the brim. Invent an extra empty month in summer and fill that up!)

Ottawa does have lively “happenings” too, big music festivals, etc. But I’m getting too old to stay out late and I’ve always been too cheap to spring for big-ticket entertainment. Doors Open and Bike Sunday are just my speed. (Oops! Make that “Sunday Bikedays”!)

Dear, mellow Ottawa. Mildly boring – but in a really good way. Especially in June.

Doors Open happens this Saturday and Sunday. Sunday Bikedays continue through September 2nd.

What summer events does your town have that deserve praise and publicity?

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