Heart of a Nation: Canada’s Capital City

“Not all who wander are lost.” — J.R.R. Tolkein

Sometimes people who wander are definitely lost. The drive from Toronto to Ottawa was not fun at all, because it was pouring rain with basically no visibility. By the time I got to Ottawa, I was exhausted. Once I did get to Ottawa, the screenshot maps I had taken to find my couchsurfing host’s house turned out not to have street names labeled, so it took me several hours of driving around to get straightened out! One of those days they never tell you about in glossy travel magazines.

I got over it quickly, though, because Ottawa turned out to be my favorite city on the road trip so far. While I was lost, I somehow ended up downtown, and when I turned a corner randomly and was met with the sweeping view of the Parliament building, I was shocked. It’s incredibly majestic.


Most of the old buildings downtown are gothic European, and since it was a gray drizzly day I could have just have easily been in England.


I had never learned a single thing about Canada in school, so I was fascinated to learn more about our Northern neighbors.

Canada was primarily settled by the British and French, and after a war, France was forced to surrender its land to Britain in 1763. At this point, there were not any sovereign nations in the New World, so there was not a border between what we now know as the US and Canada. But just a few years later, the 13 colonies revolted and broke off from England to form the US, and Canada was not a part of that. Still not a nation, it was just known as British North America for the next 100 years.


In the 1860s, the colonies were facing various economic and military challenges, and over the course of a few years decided that banding together would make the most sense. On July 1, 1867, with Britain’s approval, Canada became a country.There were only 4 provinces at the time: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario.  It was actually called the Dominion of Canada, and the government is officially a ‘federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy,’ because technically the Queen of England still has dominion over Canada (that’s why she is on all the money), but Parliament and the Prime Minister actually run the country, just like England. Queen Victoria was the monarch of England when Canada became autonomous, so she’s an important figure in Canadian history since she was supportive of the efforts.


The Royal Mint

So, now Canada is a country, with a Parliament and a Prime Minister. Technically there is a Governor General, who represents the Queen in Parliament, but he doesn’t really have any power. He just signs things so they look official.

I also did a tour of the Royal Mint, during which unfortunately photographs are not permitted. However, it was really cool to see the process of making money. At that location they currently only make collectors coins, investment coins, and special items like the Olympic medals for the 2010 games in Vancouver, BC.


My favorite thing in Ottawa was the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. While not much bigger than a typical church, the interior was absolutely amazing.


From Ottawa, it was on to the French-speaking Quebec province!