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Doors Open Ottawa: a Peek Inside Ottawa’s Prominent Buildings

Published: May 20, 2019
Last updated: April 1, 2021
Ottawa Doors Open

Doors Open Ottawa lets you discover the many important buildings in the Nation’s Capital by bike

During the first weekend in June selective Ottawa buildings open their doors to the public. What a great way to peek inside places you otherwise don’t get to see! Doors Open is originally a French initiative; the concept behind Doors Open is to allow the public to celebrate our heritage and built environment.

Buildings don’t necessarily have to be old though, a new library or a power station are just as likely candidates as the local 1800’s city hall or historic water mill for example.

One Million Visitors at Doors Open Ottawa

Ottawa embraced this great initiative in 2002. It has grown into the second biggest in Canada and one of the biggest Doors Open weekends in the world, not something you’d expect in a relatively new city. More than a million visitors participated in Ottawa already, not surprising considering the 19th century building boom in Ottawa.

Rapid Expansion

After the Rideau Canal was built and Ottawa became the nation’s capital, the city expanded rapidly. It needed federal government buildings such as Parliament Hill, hotels and a railway station, utility buildings, a main post office, churches and theatres.

The lumber industry’s leading entrepreneurs built large mansions and retail needed their department stores. Ottawa was booming.

Arts Galore at Doors Open

Besides historic buildings still in use for the purpose they were built for, you can expect to see buildings that have been adapted for reuse, such as the former railway station which is now the temporary seat of the Senate.

Newer buildings are worth checking out too: the National Art Centre for example was built in 1967 (that is still considered new for many Ottawans) for the 100th birthday of Canada in a Brutalist style (from the French word Béton brut, meaning ‘raw concrete’). In 2017, the building was expanded and finished for the 150th anniversary of Canada.

The brand new Ottawa Art Gallery is worth a visit too. you should check out the ‘Lantern’ the tower like structure on Elgin at the NCC which has a magnificent display at night.

Chaudiere Falls in Ottawa River

Hydro Ottawa’s new Hydroelectric facility at Chaudière Falls is right on the Trans Canada Trail along the Ottawa river. The facilities have been opened up to the public for the first time since 100 years and spring is the perfect time to see the spectacular falls in all their glory.

Part of Ottawa’s electricity supply comes from these falls that power the turbines. There is a nice new viewpoint with a small park to enjoy a picnic while watching the thunderous falls.

Hostel in a Jail

A perennial favourite is the Hostelling International youth hostel, once the Ottawa jail. Not far from the jail is the Laurier House Historic Site, home of former Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.

A bit further east in up and coming Vanier you can find the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, an important place for Ottawa’s First Nations.

International Relations

If the world is your oyster, you want to visit the international section. Back on Sussex Drive you’ll notice the fairly new building of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, built by the Aga Khan Foundation.

Next door is the Lester B. Pearson Building, which houses Global Affairs Canada and not far from there is the Global Centre for Pluralism tucked away between the Royal Canadian Mint and the National Art Gallery.

Take a Bike to Doors Open

Indeed, a weekend is not enough, but taking a bicycle will allow you to make the best use of your time because distances are fairly short. Check the City of Ottawa website which buildings are open this year.

Be prepared to do some homework: some of the buildings need registration due to high demand. But even if you are too late, just admiring many of the buildings from the outside from your bike is a great way to explore the city too.

Reserve your bikes in advance at Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals today and be ahead of the game. If you want to see a lot in a short period of time consider renting an electric bike from us. Don’t forget to take that selfie and use #DoorsOpenOttawa, #MYOttawa and @biketoursottawa in your post.

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