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Ottawa

Buskerfest: What You Need to Know

By Chris Lackner

There are 25 reasons to attend Ottawa’s best street party.

The Ottawa International Buskerfest (July 28 to Aug. 1) is celebrating its 25th anniversary with 25 acts.

This free Sparks Street festival attracts street performers – musicians, acrobats, contortionists and more! – from Canada and around the world. We spoke to Brian Wilson, the festival’s producer, and The Checkerboard Guy, aka David Aiken, for an inside scoop on this year’s fest:

Pyromancer performs at Buskerfest.

Pyromancer performs at the Ottawa International Buskerfest.

Brian Wilson, producer:

Q: What makes the festival special?

A:  Buskerfest is Ottawa’s most accessible festival. Crowds of every demographic can come down to Sparks Street and watch world class, family-friendly Busker shows that are full of circus, comedy, magic, music, juggling, contortion — right at street  level. There is no ticket price for the festival; patrons are encouraged to “pay what you can” into the buskers’ hats at the end of the show.

Q: What will surprise visitors about the festival?

A: The Buskers and Burlesque show is ALWAYS full of surprises… as are all of the group shows where performers collaborate with other performers, and showcase their best routines.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s festival?

A:  We have booked festival favourites from the past 25 years, and even the festival producer (myself) and technical director will be getting out to do a few shows. In the 25 acts for 25 years theme, we’re celebrating collaboration. Performers will be getting together and putting on once in a lifetime shows that are not to be missed! A couple of acts not to miss are last year’s People’s Choice Award Winners Throw to Catch. They’re wacky characters with some of the biggest circus stunts ever performed outdoors! Pyromancer, aka “the flaming fart guy,” will be back from the Netherlands with his family-friendly fire spectacle. Don’t miss the physical comedy and shenanigans of Glenn Singer “Horseguy.” His career has spanned over four decades with shows all over the world.

The Checkerboard Guy, the capital’s comedy-juggling superhero:

David_Aiken_Buskerfest

The Checkerboard Guy performs at the Ottawa International Buskerfest.

Q: What is the most surprising thing about your performances?

A: When something I never planned happens in the middle of a show. I had a guy ride his Harley into the middle of my show once; I’ve had a child volunteer more or less stop the show to discuss the meaning of life and, without question, some of the best jokes in my show have been reverse engineered to feel spontaneous based on smart remarks that have been yelled out by hecklers. I welcome the opportunity to play and wallow in the unexpected surprises that my audience throws at me. These surprises keep me on my toes whether I’m juggling seven balls, climbing up a free-standing ladder, or juggling dangerous objects on top of a seven-foot unicycle of death. All of the props, and all of the routines, are about creating a connection with a group of strangers and turning them into an audience who are encouraged to contribute to the show in both expected and unexpected ways.

Q: What is the secret to being a good busker?

A: Charisma, showmanship and the ability to convince people to watch your show, and then pay for the memory of the show they’ve just seen. It’s almost a form of hypnosis when a good performer captures the imagination of a crowd, takes them on a journey, and then convinces them to buy the ticket for that journey as the voyage ends. Crack that formula and you’ll have success as a busker!

Q: What other buskers are you looking forward to experiencing at the festival?

A: Gazzo and Lee Ross — two old school buskers and long time friends! That being said, I’m really looking forward to catching any of the new acts that I haven’t seen before. I’m still very much a fan of the art form, and have an appreciation for anyone who’s willing to take a stab at making it as a busker.

Chamberfest: What You Need to Know

By Chris Lackner

The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival is filled with unexpected delights. Yes, there will be classical music small ensembles – but also street music, electronic music, children’s shows, jazz, multimedia, and medieval chants. 

We spoke to the Chamberfest’s artistic director and one of it’s star local performers for an insider’s scoop. The festival runs July 21 to Aug. 3.

Te Amo, Argentina at Chamberfest.

Te Amo, Argentina at Chamberfest.

Roman Borys, artistic director:

Q: What makes the festival special?

A: When someone first attends a Chamberfest concert, they immediately become aware of the amazing chemistry that occurs between our audience and our artists. This is in part due to the beautiful and intimate venues, but mostly it has to do with the fact that people in this community have become addicted to the personal and dynamic nature of live music performance when it’s presented by world-class artists. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to welcome listeners for whom live music performance is as important as their next meal, and they like nothing more than to have new friends join them in the experience!

Q: What will surprise visitors about the festival?

A: There are very few festivals in the world that aspire to present the breadth of music that we do. While we focus on music made by small ensembles, one can be sure to hear everything from medieval chants to string quartets and turntables. Yes, there will be classical music – but also street music, electronic music, children’s shows, jazz, multimedia… It’s incredible, and it’s exciting to engage with on both sides of the stage – musician and audience. There’s something anyone can be a part of at Chamberfest.

Gryphon Trio performs at Chamberfest.

Gryphon Trio performs at Chamberfest.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s festival?

A: I’m thrilled that this year we’re focussing on how both contrasts in culture and women contribute to music. That’s so inspiring to me, both as an artist and as a music lover. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how that plays out in our late-night shows, which we call Chamberfringe. These concerts are presented in a licensed, cabaret environment: they’re an opportunity to watch truly varied, high-calibre artists – from scratch DJs to classical improvisers to dancers – work together to really experiment with music before the audience’s eyes.

Miriam Khalil, soprano

The Ottawa-born singer performs July 30.

Q: What is your favourite thing about Chamberfest?

A: The variety of Chamber music concerts and the proximity to the musicians. It is so intimate and immersive and you can’t help but become involved in the music making. Also, there is something for everyone; classical, fusion, contemporary, interdisciplinary, vocal, instrumental, I could go on and on but you should just go and experience it for yourself.

Miriam Khalil performs at Chamberfest. Photo by Nikola Novak.

Miriam Khalil performs at Chamberfest. Photo by Nikola Novak.

Q: Where is your favourite performance venue in Ottawa?

A: The Astrolabe Theatre. It is an outdoor amphitheatre behind the National Gallery. At night it becomes quite magical with the Ottawa river behind it and beautiful views of the Parliament. I have performed there in the past but my most memorable memory there is years ago when Cesaria Evora did a concert there. It was out of this world.

Q: What is the most surprising thing about your profession?

A: The relationships you form with your colleagues and the respect and support you have for one another.

Q: What other local acts would you recommend at Chamberfest this year?

A: It’s an amazing line up this year but one concert that I can’t wait to hear is Constantinople by Christos Hatzis (Aug. 2). It is a beautiful fusion of Eastern, Western, contemporary, religious and secular music. It’s quite haunting and really moving.

Q: What is your favourite song to sing in solitude (or in the shower)?

A: “Dream On” by Aerosmith and anything by Whitney Houston.

Where Ottawa’s Take:

Best Bets: A musical tribute to the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada (July 22). Presented in partnership with the Capital Ukrainian Festival (p. 40), the concert will be headlined by Toronto’s Gryphon Trio, along with guests Russell Braun (baritone), Monica Whicher (soprano), Graham Oppenheimer (viola), and Ottawa choir the Ewashko Singers. Their performance includes choral works by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. Te Amo, Argentina transports audiences to South America (July 24); Celebrated soprano Marie-Josée Lord stars in Femmes (July 21).

Local Lesson: The late-night shows of Chamberfringe feature more surprises than Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets.

Ottawa Summer: the A-Z Guide

By Chris Lackner

Know your ABCs. Our A-Z guide spells out Ottawa’s best summer attractions and activities.

A — Art: The National Gallery of Canada. Come for the giant spider sculpture, stay for the dynamic art — and the Picasso. Until Sept. 5, The National Gallery of Canada’s treasured collection of Picasso’s line drawings is being exhibited. Picasso: Man and Beast takes viewers into the psychic labyrinth of Picasso’s mind, presenting — for the first time in almost 60 years — the artists’ works around such themes as love, lust, animal urges and violence.

The National Gallery of Canada.

The National Gallery of Canada.

B – Bonnechere Caves: 50 million years old and waiting for you to explore in Eganville!

C – Casino du Lac-Leamy: Win, lose or draw, stay for the entertainment and dining options, including Le Baccara and Arôme.

D — Diefenbunker: An underground Cold War museum and the “world’s largest escape room.” 

E – Eco-OdysséeWakefield’s water maze; encounter beavers instead of Minotaurs.

F – Central Experimental Farm: Includes a tropical greenhouse, wildlife and ornamental gardens, and a 64-acre Arboretum.

Ottawa's Central Experimental Farm.

Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm.

G – GreekFest: Ouzo, spanakopita and the zorba dance, anyone? From Aug. 11-21. 

H – The Hill: Explore Parliament with guided tours of Centre Block and East Block. 

I – International Chamberfest (July 21 to Aug. 3) + International Buskerfest (July 28 to Aug. 1): Chamberfest offers intimate, beautiful venues with great acoustics and even better variety. Yes, there will be classical music small ensembles – but also street music, electronic music, children’s shows, jazz, multimedia, and medieval chants. As for Buskerfest, this free Sparks Street festival attracts street performers – musicians, acrobats, contortionists and more! – from Canada and around the world.

Parliament Hill offers guided tours.

Parliament Hill offers guided tours.

J – Go directly to Ottawa Jail Hostel: Boo! Tour the ghostly former jail as part of a Haunted Walk tour. 

K – Kayaking: Dow’s Lake Pavilion rentals also include canoes and paddleboats. 

L – Leamy Lake Park beach: Who new Ottawa-Gatineau was a beach vacation? This sandy Gatineau haven is one of the many places to beat the summer heat. For Where Ottawa’s complete area beach guide, follow this link to sand and sunshine.

M – Market: Hot spots include the ByWard Market Square and the resto patios of Clarendon Court.

The Nordik Spa in Chelsea, Que.

The Nordik Spa in Chelsea, Que.

N – Nordik-Spa Nature: Spa time at the edge of Gatineau Park!

O – Ottawa Champions: Take yourself out to the ball game for this optimistically-named minor-league team.

P – Lansdowne Park: The new destination for entertainment, shopping and dining anchors the Glebe, one of Ottawa’s trendiest hoods. 

Q – Quest (for quarts and pints). Brew Donkey delivers you to the suds with craft brewery tours.

R – Rideau Hall: Tour the home and workplace of Canada’s Governor General; special events include Storytime for children on Fri and Sat afternoons. 

Rideau Hall's Tent Room.

Rideau Hall’s Tent Room.

S – Soccer. The Ottawa Fury FC hopes to kick and head its way back to the North American Soccer League championship game, where they narrowly lost in 2015. Join some 24,000 fans at the revamped TD Place alongside the Rideau Canal. Stay for food, shopping and entertainment in Lansdowne Park and neighbouring streets in the Glebe.

T – Star Trek: Beam down to the Starfleet Academy Experience or beam up franchise anniversary coins from the Royal Canadian Mint.

U – Upper Canada Village: Time travel to the 1860s, but don’t stay for the winter. 

V – Velogo: The capital and its stunning bike paths are best explored via pedal.

W – Westboro: Come for pedestrian-friendly shopping, stay for the beach.

Little Ray's Reptile Zoo is a wild experience for all ages.

Little Ray’s is a wild experience for all ages.

X… marks the spot for Pirate Adventures on Mooney’s Bay, and picnics at nearby Hog’s Back Falls.

Y – Free Yoga on Parliament Hill (noon on Wednesdays). Twist your body, leave truth twisting to politicos.

Z – Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo: A snaky experience.

Ottawa Summer Festivals: Know Your ABCs

By Chris Lackner

Get an education in culture. From acrobats to buskers, and blues to classical, learn how Ottawa sizzles in July and August. We also talk
to festival architects and artists for an insider’s scoop, and highlight all the must-see performances.

Marc Djokic performs at Music & Beyond. Credit: Shayne Gray.

Violinist Marc Djokic performs at Music & Beyond. (Credit: Shayne Gray)

Music & Beyond

July 4 to 17

musicandbeyond.ca

Quick Study: Beyond is the key word. This classical music and multi-disciplinary arts festival melds music with everything from visual art and drama to poetry, comedy, circus and dance. It entered the summer festival fray in 2010 and quickly distinguished itself.

Grade A: Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman (July 10) is a force of nature. Christopher Plummer presents Shakespeare and Music (July 8 and 9) on the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The actor performs favourite scenes and sonnets backed by the festival orchestra. Music & circus combo: Hebei Acrobatic Troupe.

Measha Brueggergosman performs at Music & Beyond.

Measha Brueggergosman performs at Music & Beyond.

Local Lesson: The primary venues are downtown churches and concert halls, so you can escape the summer heat with a sonic and visual treat.


RBC Bluesfest

July 7-17

Lebreton Flats

ottawabluesfest.com

MonkeyJunk perform at Bluesfest.

MonkeyJunk perform at Bluesfest.

Quick Study: This multi-genre, multi-stage festival offers the size, scope and star power of Bonnaroo or Coachello, but sets them steps away from downtown amenities like hotels, restaurants and public transportation. With an all-star lineup of Canadian and international acts, B is for breadth.

Grade A: Peter Bjorn and John (July 7) serve as Swedish ambassadors; The Lumineers (July 9) serve up hos and heys; Billy Idol (July 7) brings wisdom; The Decemberists bring whimsy (July 13); MonkeyJunk bring the blues (July 14-17).

Billy Idol performs at Bluesfest.

Billy Idol performs at Bluesfest.

Local Lesson: The 3-day pass ($119) is ideal for weekend tourists. Best advice? Wander. The best concert experiences are typically found on the smaller, less crowded stages —where you can often land a front-row view. For the adventurous, the refreshing water of Westboro Beach is an 18-minute bike-path away.


Ottawa International Chamberfest

July 21 to Aug. 3

chamberfest.com

Te Amo, Argentina at Chamberfest.

Te Amo, Argentina at Chamberfest.

Quick Study: Intimate, beautiful venues with great acoustics and even better variety. Yes, there will be classical music small ensembles – but also street music, electronic music, children’s shows, jazz, multimedia, and medieval chants. 

Grade A: A musical tribute to the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada (July 22). Presented in partnership with the Capital Ukrainian Festival, the concert will be headlined by Toronto’s Gryphon Trio, along with guests Russell Braun (baritone), Monica Whicher (soprano), Graham Oppenheimer (viola), and Ottawa choir the Ewashko Singers. Their performance includes choral works by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. Te Amo, Argentina transports audiences to South America (July 24); Celebrated soprano Marie-Josée Lord stars in Femmes (July 21).

Gryphon Trio performs at Chamberfest.

Gryphon Trio performs at Chamberfest.

Local Lesson: The late-night shows of Chamberfringe feature more surprises than Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets.


Ottawa International Buskerfest

July 28 to Aug. 1

ottawabuskerfestival.com

Pyromancer performs at Buskerfest.

Pyromancer performers at Buskerfest.

Quick Study:  This free Sparks Street festival attracts street performers – musicians, acrobats, contortionists and more! – from Canada and around the world. True to the busking tradition, patrons are encouraged to “pay what you can” into the Buskers’ hats.

Grade A: Double down on summer heat with Pyromancer (aka “the flaming fart guy”) or the circus acrobatics of Pancho Libre. The fest’s 25th anniversary will be marked by 25 acts!

Checkerboard Guy performs at Buskerfest.

Checkerboard Guy performs at Buskerfest.

Local Lesson: Sparks Street has its share of eateries, but top-tier pubs and fine dining are a short walk away on Elgin Street, the Byward Market, and Bank Street Promenade.


Arboretum Music Festival

Aug. 17-20

arboretumfestival.com

Quick Study: On its fifth anniversary, the late-season sonic showcase plants new roots at Ottawa’s City Hall. The inclusive outdoor and indoor festival offers olive branches to local artists, chefs and craft brewers with special events, vendors and venues.

Noise rockers METZ perform at Arboretum Fest.

Noise rockers METZ perform at Arboretum Fest.

Grade A: Jeremy Gara (Arcade Fire’s drummer), California art-house rapper Mykki Blanco, noise rockers METZ, New York rapper Junglepussy and Canadian rock royalty in the form of Sloan. The band pays tribute to the 20th anniversary of their seminal album, One Chord to Another; that’s guaranteed to bring out “the good in everyone.”

Sloan perform at Arboretum Festival.

Sloan perform at Arboretum Festival.

Local Lesson: City Hall’s outdoor space is intimate and convenient — ideal to host a festival village and multiple stages. This is the fest for new discoveries; showcase venues around the city offer a must-do scavenger hunt of the city’s live music scene.

Ottawa’s Best BBQ: Hot off the grill

By Chris Lackner

You can’t bring your BBQ with you to Ottawa, so seek out these culinary delights that sizzle off the grill. Bet it grilled or smoked, here is our guide to the capital’s best BBQ food:

BBQ

Fatboys Southern Smokehouse: Southern hospitality with a biker ambience in the ByWard Market. fatboys.ca

Bytown Bayou: Smoke up at this gourmet BBQ food truck. bytownbayou.ca

Rosie’s Southern Kitchen & Bar in The Glebe.

Rosie’s Southern Kitchen & Bar in The Glebe.

Rosie’s Southern Kitchen & Bar: Ribs, steak, catfish and more in The Glebe, one of Ottawa’s trendiest neighbourhoods. rosiesonbank.ca

Foolish Chicken: Finger-lickin’ chicken and ribs (and cheesecake) in a casual Hintonburg café. foolishchicken.ca

Thankfully for your taste buds, Ottawa's Foolish Chicken is anything but foolish.

Thankfully for your taste buds, Ottawa’s Foolish Chicken is anything but foolish.

Little Red Shack BBQ: A saucy food shack that’s worth the drive to Stittsville. littleredshackbbq.com

SmoQue Shack: Their philosophy is, “Food comes first… licking the plate comes after.” Put it to the test by digging into everything from pulled pork, brisket and ribs to Jamaican jerk and BBQ chicken. Spotlighted on The Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, this ByWard Market gem knows how to work a grill and a smoker. The coffee BBQ sauce leads a pack of nine saucy options; the Shack’s hefty combo platters are meant to be shared, and will turn the crowd at your table into regular Fred Flintstones. smoqueshack.com

Smoque Shack in Ottawa's ByWard Market.

Smoque Shack in Ottawa’s ByWard Market.

Burgers

Hintonburger: Ottawa’s iconic fast-food burger. Fast. Fresh. Local. Handmade. hintonburger.ca

Bite Burger House: Boutique burgers! Down your grilled goodies with specialty cocktails and fine wines. biteburgerhouse.com

Burgers n’ Fries Forever: Casual Bank Street burger joint with great shakes. burgersnfriesforever.com

The Works in Ottawa.

The Works in Ottawa.

The Works: Ottawa’s iconic gourmet burger is served at seven locations, but The Glebe restaurant is the most central. worksburger.com

Chez Lucien: One of the city’s best unsung pubs & best burgers (Editor’s Pick: the Bourgeois with brie and roasted pear) 137 Murray St.

Ottawa’s Best Beaches: Enter the Capital’s Waterworld

By Chris Lackner

Ottawa may not be a coastal city, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a beach town.

From the pristine lakes of Gatineau Park to the oft overlooked Ottawa and Rideau Rivers, life’s a beach in the National Capital Region. So take a refreshing dip with our guide to Ottawa-Gatineau’s top beaches:

Lac Philippe beach in Gatineau Park.

Lac Philippe beach in Gatineau Park.

GATINEAU PARK 

Philippe Lake: Choose between Breton Beach and Parent Beach, or pack a tent; Smith Beach is for campers only.

Meech Lake: This lake’s advantage is proximity to Ottawa. It’s idyllic waters are only a 30-minute drive without traffic (beat that Toronto!). O’Brien Beach is the family-friendly option, while Blanchet Beach is more remote and serene.

La Pêche Beach: Worth it for the longer, scenic drive through the park. Canoe and kayak rentals are available at Pêche (and at Philippe); escape the beach crowds out on the open water.

Order a cold beverage on the patio at Ottawa's Westboro Beach.

Order a cold beverage on the patio at Ottawa’s Westboro Beach.

CITY BEACHES

Westboro Beach: Located in the lively Westboro neighbourhood, the siren song of this scenic beach is bolstered by live patio music (Thursday through Sunday) and cold drinks (daily) on a café patio.

Mooney’s Bay Beach: This Rideau River beach entices with sandy shores and picturesque volleyball courts that just happen to play host to HOPE Volleyball Summerfest (July 16), the largest one-day recreational volleyball event in the world. 

Volleyball is one of the many activities on Mooney's Bay beach.

Volleyball is one of the many activities on Mooney’s Bay beach.

Britannia Beach: Come for the picnic tables and shaded, mature trees, stay to watch the windsurfing at this west-end gem. Worth the drive, but Britannia Park is also accessible via one of the capital’s most beautiful bike paths.

Leamy Lake Beach in Gatineau.

Leamy Lake Beach in Gatineau.

Leamy Lake Park Beach: This urban beach in Gatineau feels timeless — a throwback to the Leave it to Beaver era. It’s like heading to “the old swimming hole”… only that hole is located in a 174-hectare urban park.

Parc Moussette Beach: This small, sandy beach park is found in west Gatineau, located just across the Ottawa River. The little known hideaway features a great playground, plenty of shade, and often hosts DJs on weekend afternoons.

Petrie Island Beach: Ottawa’s newest beach is home to spellbinding views of the Ottawa River. Work up some sweat before the trip on the island’s seven kilometres of nature trails.

For a full list of local beaches and their rules and regulations, visit ottawa.ca and canadascapital.gc.ca.

Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature

By Chris Lackner

Ottawa is home to a new predator: the Austroraptor, a cross between a Velociraptor and a Tyrannosaurus.

Austroraptor

The Austroraptor, part of the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit at the Museum of Nature.

No, someone didn’t just open a Jurassic World in the Gatineau Hills (we still have our fingers crossed!). The Canadian Museum of Nature is welcoming visitors into the lost world of Ultimate Dinosaurs. These dinos are bigger, badder, meaner… and one-of-a-kind.

Meet uncanny dinosaurs from the ancient continent of Gondwana, from the Austroraptor to the Giganotosaurus  who dwarfs your average T-Rex. From full skeletons and fossils, to digital video walls, these unique creatures are recreated in this special exhibit open to September 5.

We got the inside scoop from Jordan Mallon, the Museum of Nature’s palaeontologist: 

Ultimate-Dinosaurs_Image-4

Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature.

Q: What will surprise visitors about this exhibit?

A: Ultimate Dinosaurs is so great because it offers visitors — particularly those of us here in North America — something we haven’t seen before. Predictably, most museums in North America feature dinosaurs from our own continent. But Ultimate Dinosaurs features fossils from the southern hemisphere, including Africa, South America, and Madagascar. You’d have to travel thousands of kilometres across the equator to see the same fossils displayed elsewhere. Ultimate Dinosaurs brings these strange, alien creatures to us.

Ultimate-Dinosaurs_Image-2

The Amargasaurus, with twin sails running down its spine, is part of the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit at the Museum of Nature.

Q: Why is this exhibit important? 

A: Beyond simply featuring bizarre dinosaurs, the exhibit relays an important story about evolution and the interconnectedness between life and earth. Ultimate Dinosaurs shows how continental drift over the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods led to overall increased biodiversity and endemism on each of the continents. That is, as these landmasses became more isolated, the dinosaurs associated with each of them grew increasingly different. The fact that the Earth continues to change today (with sea level rise ever a looming threat) demands that we look back to the fossil record to learn about how life responded to such major environmental changes in the past. Ultimate Dinosaurs isn’t just fun; it delivers an important message relevant to our modern concerns.

Ultimate-Dinosaurs_Image-1

Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature.

Q: What are your favourite aspects of the exhibition?

A: It’s difficult to choose. I think most people will be impressed by the full skeletal mount of Giganotosaurus, which was a meat-eating dinosaur that exceeded local favourite T-Rex in length. The long-necked Amargasaurus, with twin sails running down its spine, will be popular, too. But I think my favourite has to be Austroraptor, which was a close relative of the familiar Velociraptor, only much larger – about the size of a polar bear [in comparison, Velociraptors — unlike those portrayed in Jurassic Park — are actually the size of a large bird]. Jurassic World introduced us to the idea of dinosaur hybrids last summer, but Austroraptor is about as close as you can get to a cross between a Velociraptor and a Tyrannosaurus… and it really lived!

The Giganotosaurus, part of Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature.

Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature.

Royal Portraits at the National Gallery of Canada

By Chris Lackner

The National Gallery of Canada has dealt Ottawa a royal flush with its new exhibit: Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.

Best known as the court painter to Marie Antoinette, Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) had a long, turbulent, and historically significant career. Her work took her from Revolution-era Paris, to the art academies of Rome, to the palaces of Russia. Here are 6 reasons you need to get to know this unsung portrait artist:

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun Countess Tolstoya, 1796 oil on canvas, 137.7 × 104 cm National Gallery of Canada. Gift of an anonymous Canadian collector, 2015.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Countess Tolstoya, 1796, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada, Gift of an anonymous Canadian collector, 2015.

1. She was Self-Made. She was self-taught and “extremely sensitive to the beauties of the human form,” according to exhibit’s co-curator, Joseph Baillo, a Vigée Le Brun expert.

2. She Captured a Queen. She painted the doomed French queen four times, including the family shot below:

A portrait of Marie Antoinette and her children by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, currently on display at the National Gallery of Canada.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette and Her Children, 1787 oil on canvas, 275 × 216.5 cm, Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, France (MV 4520). © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY. Photo: Gérard Blot

3. She’s Overdue. This is the first large-scale retrospective of one of the great portrait painters of the 18th and early 19th century, and arguably the “most important” female artist of the 18th century, according to Paul Lang, chief curator of the National Gallery.

The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Two Sons, 1787 oil on canvas, 123.4 × 155.9 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of the Bay Foundation in memory of Josephine Bay Paul and Ambassador Charles Ulrick Bay. (1964.11.1)

The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Two Sons, 1787 oil on canvas, 123.4 × 155.9 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of the Bay Foundation in memory of Josephine Bay Paul and Ambassador Charles Ulrick Bay. (1964.11.1)

4. She Played Money Ball. Her commissions ran as high as 24,000 French livre — literally a fortune at the time — and prompted jealousy from contemporaries in the art world.

5. She Practically Invented the Selfie. Beyond painting royals in a positive light, her exquisite self-portraits confirm her reputation as one of the most beautiful Parisian woman of her time. Here’s one example from the exhibit:

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons, c. 1782 oil on canvas, 64.8 × 54 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (ACK 1949.02). In recognition of his service to the Kimbell Art Museum and his role in developing area collectors, the Board of Trustees of the Kimbell Art Foundation has dedicated this work from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Kay Kimbell, founding benefactors of the Kimbell Art Museum, to the memory of Mr. Bertram Newhouse (1883–1982) of New York City

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons, c. 1782 oil on canvas, 64.8 × 54 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (ACK 1949.02). In recognition of his service to the Kimbell Art Museum and his role in developing area collectors, the Board of Trustees of the Kimbell Art Foundation has dedicated this work from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Kay Kimbell, founding benefactors of the Kimbell Art Museum, to the memory of Mr. Bertram Newhouse (1883–1982) of New York City

6. She was a Survivor: Vigée Le Brun survived the French Revolution because she opted for exile when it started. While most of her French patrons and allies were killed, she spent from 1789-1807 painting portraits across Europe.

For the kids: Children will enjoy the exhibit, too, with an activity area allowing them to dress Royal courtiers, pose for photos in period cutouts, and even don costumes — all in a mock version of Marie Antoinette’s palace bedroom.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun is on display the National Gallery until September 11.

Star Trek Recruits at Canada Aviation and Space Museum

By Chris Lackner

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of… me.

All thanks to The Starfleet Academy Experience, an interactive exhibit making its world premiere at Ottawa’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum on May 13.

The immersive experience allows you to handle Star Trek gadgets, from a tricorder to a phaser. Case and point, watch me use a transporter below:

As the Star Trek franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary, Starfleet Academy asks visitors to play cadet. As part of a media preview, I enlisted — learning about Starfleet departments like engineering and communications before entering the deck of an “actual” starship. The Enterprise may had a five-year mission; here’s how my 60 minutes played out:

Communications — Klingon 101

Each section has an interactive component. My first test: to learn basic Klingon. My video instructor was a surly Klingon who tried to teach me multiple words, including “Heghlumeh qaq jajvam,” which means “today is a good day to die.” After each lesson, the program tested my pronunciation, and I’d receive a surly yell of “incorrect, try again!” from my agitated new friend. (So, I received an F in communications, but there’s hope for my marriage).

You can also take a species selfie. For example, this haunting photo is what I’d look like as an alien Ferengi:

Our writer is transformed by The Starfleet Academy Experience at Ottawa's Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Our writer is transformed by The Starfleet Academy Experience at Ottawa’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

I held a tricorder unsteadily over the body of a mock Klingon patient. After the language debacle, I half expected the dummy to come to life and throttle me. Based on the scanner’s results, I was asked to make  a diagnosis — even though my patient had extra body parts (including eight heart chambers and two livers). I won’t spoil the fun, but let’s just say I was wrong twice before I got it right. Exhibit curator Erin Gregory assured me later that Klingon patients are notoriously “difficult.” Indeed.

Science — A Crash Course

The console in Science forces you to choose your own planetary adventure: In order to make an emergency landing, you have to pick a life-supporting crash pad for your crew. This is where my geekdom shone through, as I actually know Star Trek’s planet classification systems. My first pass!!!! “Humanoids can survive on this planet,” I’m told. I’m also informed that my crew survived until rescue by eating frozen plants, drinking melted snow and hunting. I’m sure they’ll thank me later.

The transporter simulation at The Starfleet Academy Experience at Ottawa's Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

The transporter simulation at The Starfleet Academy Experience at Ottawa’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Engineering — Beam Me Up

Who hasn’t wanted to use a transporter to beam down to another planet? The exhibit’s spherical glass pods and video monitors almost bring the magic to life (as you can see in the video above). My only disappointment was finding myself still on Earth.

Bridge-Starfleet-Academy

The mock bridge at the Starfleet Academy Experience.

Navigation — “Engage!”

The section tests your ability to plot a course to a debris-clear “warp zone.” During my simulation, I managed to evade enemy ships, planets and giant asteroids — though I missed one planet by inches. Maybe I’d be better off in security?

Security — Set Your Phasers on Erratic

The Security zone is a place for video gamers to shine. The phaser simulation finds patrons pointing a phaser at a screen, and testing their marksmanship on moving, coloured targets. Some required a quick hit for destruction — others a prolonged attack. I scored 25, which could probably be bested by the average toddler. “Maybe security isn’t for you,” Gregory admits.

The Starfleet Academy Experience at Ottawa's Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

The Starfleet Academy Experience at Ottawa’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Command — Red Alert, I Should Not Be a Captain

Finally, I sat on a “real” Starship bridge for a command simulation called “the Kobayashi Maru.” The scenario involves trying to rescue the 300-person crew of a critically-damaged Starfleet ship while your own is under attack by three Klingon vessels. Gregory describes it as “putting a captain in an impossible situation.” Tactics include evade, attack and rescue. I manage to save 10 people — and disable one enemy cruiser — before smoke rose from my hull and a massive fireball appeared on my screen. Thus ended my short-lived captaincy.

The Where editor's ship explodes during the command test at the Starfleet Academy Experience, located at Ottawa's Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

The Where editor’s ship explodes during the command test at the Starfleet Academy Experience, located at Ottawa’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

In each section, patrons can also take a quiz to determine their best role in Starfleet. It includes questions like, “You learn your new crewmate is an android, how does this make you feel?” My certificate of completion earmarked me for a medical career. Given my non-existent real-world math and science skills, Starfleet may want to consider raising its standards.

Starfleet-Academy-certificate-1

Starfleet-Academy-certificate-2

Overall, the exhibit offers enough to please Star Trek fans, casual observers and the curious. They can also check out memorabilia, from costumes and a life-sized photon torpedo to tribbles (trouble!) and phasers. There’s even the head of a Data android prototype from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to sit in the captain’s chair on the Enterprise? Then beam yourself up to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The Starfleet Academy Experience runs to Sept. 5.

Mother’s Day Brunch: 6 Best Spots to Kick-Start Mother’s Day in Ottawa

Mothers Day Ottawa Brunch

Mother’s Day in Ottawa: how to spoil mom on May 8th (Photo: Stacy Spensley)

Time’s running out to book a great table for Mother’s Day brunch in Ottawa. Here, we’ve compiled some of our top picks for the best places to spoil mom this Mother’s Day in Ottawa (and beyond!).

See the list of top brunches on Mother’s Day in Ottawa »

Read more…

Insider’s Scoop: Forged in Fire exhibit at Bytown Museum

By Chris Lackner

Parliament Hill was Forged in Fire.

Ottawa’s fiery past is explored in a new, historic exhibition at the Bytown Museum, located alongside the Rideau Canal’s arresting locks just below our political hub.

Reconstruction of Centre Block of Parliament showing surviving Parliamentary Library, 1916. Bytown Museum.

Reconstruction of Centre Block of Parliament showing surviving Parliamentary Library, 1916. Bytown Museum.

On the 100th anniversary of the 1916 burning of Canada’s Parliament, explore the mystery of its destruction – and the secrets of its resurrection. Forged in Fire: The Building and Burning of Parliament includes unique artifacts and images, including rare photos of Parliament’s construction. Who says politics is boring? Our capital was forged in drama and intrigue.

We spoke to Grant M. Vogl, Collections and Exhibitions Manager, for an insider’s scoop:

Q: What will surprise visitors about this exhibit?

A: I think people will be surprised to learn about the fire of West Block in 1897. Most Canadians would know the story of the fire of 1916. However, I’m certain that for many visitors, reading about and seeing original photos of the fire of 1897 will be something new. I’m also very excited that visitors will get to see some very rare photographs of the construction of the original Parliament Buildings from 1861.

Construction of Parliament Buildings, (south side of Centre Block), Ottawa, 1861. By Elihu Spencer, courtesy of Bytown Museum.

Construction of Parliament Buildings (south side of Centre Block), Ottawa, 1861. By Elihu Spencer, courtesy of Bytown Museum.

Q: Why is this exhibit important?  
A: As we reach the 100th anniversary of any occasion, such a key milestone, events such as the fire of 1916 start to move out of memory and into the realm of history. There are no more living witnesses to this event; much the same as with the First World War. Therefore, it is very important to continue to tell these stories, introduce the history to today’s generation and also to connect or re-connect with the descendants of those who witnessed the fire first hand who may remember stories surrounding it.

Fire of West Block of Parliament, 1897. Bytown Museum.

Fire of West Block of Parliament, 1897. Bytown Museum.

Q: What are your favourite artifacts from the exhibition?
A: My favourite artifact in the exhibition is also one of the smallest. It is a very rare, 3” x 3” albumen print depicting Parliament Hill, then known as Barrack Hill, taken from the Ottawa River in 1857. For most visitors, the Parliament Buildings are timeless, so to see a photograph of “the Hill” without those iconic buildings and instead Lt. Col. By’s military barracks, will seem strange. But it will also inform visitors about the history of the site before being chosen as the seat of government.

Parliament Building at Ottawa, 1862, newsprint, Bytown Museum.

Parliament Building at Ottawa, 1862, newsprint, Bytown Museum.

The exhibit continues to Oct. 31, 2016.

Ottawa’s Best Patios

By Chris Lackner

Find your place in the sun. Our guide to Ottawa’s best patios covers your best bets for sun, suds, sangria, vino and vitamin D.

The Social patio in the ByWard Market's Clarendon Court. Courtesy: Ottawa Tourism.

The Social patio in the ByWard Market’s Clarendon Court. Courtesy: Ottawa Tourism.

ByWard Market

Clarendon Court: Secluded and cobblestone, its four restaurant patios feel European; discover the magic behind the shops on Sussex Drive, between George and York Streets, including spots like The Social and Courtyard Restaurant. (The Social537 Sussex Dr., Courtyard Restaurant: 21 George St.)

Earl of Sussex Pub: The best sun and sud combo in the market. 431 Sussex Dr.

La Terrasse: This open-air, summer restaurant offers stunning views of the Rideau Canal and Parliament. Their extensive wine and cocktail list pair well with the sun. Try a “Colonel By” Mojito. He would have wanted it that way. Located in Fairmont Chateau Laurier, even the sunbeams feel more elegant at this seasonal patio. 1 Rideau St.

Earl of Sussex patio.

Earl of Sussex patio.

The Highlander Pub: A place to people watch with eyes on the market’s pedestrian traffic. 115 Rideau St.

Cornerstone Bar and Grill: This market hotspot is a place to be seen. 92 Clarence St.

Murray Street: This leafy patio screams romance. And the charcuterie, cheese boards and wine list will only help matters. 110 Murray St.

Métropolitain Brasserie: Steps away from the Chateau Laurier and Parliament. Grab a table or an outdoor sofa. 700 Sussex Dr.

La Terrasse patio at Chateau Laurier. Courtesy Ottawa Tourism.

La Terrasse patio at Chateau Laurier. Courtesy Ottawa Tourism.

Elgin and Sparks Streets

D’Arcy McGee’s: Spot Ottawa’s who’s who at this upscale watering hole named after a Father of Confederation44 Sparks St.

Fox and Feather: Terrific topside patio with a bird’s-eye view of the bustling Elgin strip. 283 Elgin St.

Pancho Villa: Pancho’s margaritas, daiquiris, sangrias and pina coladas are as big in size as they are in flavour. It might not be Cancún, but close your eyes on the sunny patio and it will feel mighty close. 361 Elgin St.

Pancho Villa's patio.

Pancho Villa’s patio.

The Glebe

Feleena’s Mexican Cantina: Sangria, anyone? 742 Bank St.

Irene’s Pub: Discover the hidden courtyard patio at this live music hotspot. 885 Bank St.

Little Italy

Pub Italia: Ireland enjoys a bit of Italy’s sun. 434 Preston St.

Pub Italia patio.

Pub Italia patio.

Westboro/Hintonburg

Tennessy Willems: Small but sublime. Come for the pizza, stay for the sunshine. 1082 Wellington St W.

Churchills: P is for patio… and Public House. 356 Richmond Rd.

Water View

Canal Ritz patio on the Rideau Canal.

Canal Ritz patio on the Rideau Canal.

Dow’s Lake: Three restaurant patios overlook the lake’s busy birds and boaters. Choose your own adventure between Malone’s Lakeside Grill, Baja Grill and Lago1001 Queen Elizabeth Dr.

Canal Ritz: This classy canal-side gem is boat traffic central. 375 Queen Elizabeth Dr.

Mill Street Brew Pub: Located near the Canadian War Museum on LeBreton Flats, this historic gristmill turned brewpub is also the perfect stop along the Ottawa River bike path. 555 Wellington St.