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By Jane Cassie
Images by Brent Cassie
For Travel Writers' Tales

History was never my thing in school, so when my husband, Brent, suggests that we scout out some museums during this trip to Ottawa, I scrunch up my nose. "It's one cultured city," he says, when scanning the twenty-nine venues. "I'm sure you won't be bored." After just two, he's absolutely right. I'm anything but!

The Canadian War Museum -

The young boy runs after his father who is marching off to war. A soldier embraces his daughter-maybe for the last time. Troops tromp through war-torn trenches. These life-size images, at the museum's entrance, portray Canada's story-of fright and bravery, heartache and humanity, death and survival.

Four galleries in the War Museum retrace our military timeline

Four separate galleries fill this eco-friendly space and retrace our military timeline. And while wandering through the maze of displays, we listen to familiar tunes-The Maple Leaf Forever, God Save The Queen. I hum along, constantly aware of the lump in my throat.

Exhibit one encompasses everything from our earliest warriors to 1867 Confederation -from our First Peoples and primitive tools, to the evolution of spears, arrows and eventually muskets and wicked hand grenades.

We wander through make-shift trenches

The second retraces the South African and First World Wars -and when men were eager to fight for their country. Little did they know how devastating it would be. Make-shift trenches and sounds of gunfire take us to the front line where hundreds of thousands perished. Artillery power was the cause of most fatalities; cannons, mine fields, killer machine guns. We get a glimpse of them all. In the end, our country made a huge sacrifice. Over half of the 420,000 soldiers were either wounded or killed, a tragedy that scarred many Canadian families.

Cannons were the cause of many fatalities

Although unprepared to battle again, the Second World War broke two decades later. And on September 10, 1939, Canada declared war on Germany. Exhibit three shares this Forge of Fire, a battle that took place on land, air and sea. Although at a great cost, victory was achieved in 1945. From this second floor we have a panorama of LeBreton Gallery that showcases war tanks, jeeps and a fighter jet.

LeBreton Gallery showcases war memorabilia

The final venue is titled, Violent Peace, a wrap-up from 1945 to present day that includes the Cold War, Korea, Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. We learn about NATO, the UN, listen to stories, read peace signs and play interactive games. Before heading out, there's an opportunity to leave our own reflective thoughts. Although the old war songs are still ringing in my ears, another popular number comes to mind-"All We Need Is Love."

Canadian Museum of Civilization:

Canadian Museum of Civilization hugs up to Ottawa River

This contemporary museum hugs up to Ottawa River and within its chic interiors are displays that retrace Canadian history. "Check out these totems," I say to Brent, from the mezzanine lookout. "It's the world's largest indoor collection." A two-storey windowed wall borders the Grand Hall where the symbolic carvings are displayed. And beyond, are three large zones that share the history, arts, and cultural diversity of our Aboriginal People. We listen to legends, explore long houses and read about the contributions they've made over the past 20,000 years.

We check out the world's largest indoor collection of totems

Level two hosts a number of venues: an interactive display, Postal Museum, 3D IMAX, and This Week at The Museum, a continually changing feature. Today, it's all about our relationship with horses -how they've helped shape our culture, till our soil and soothe our souls.

Brent does a Face To Face with famous figures

On the fourth floor, portraits of famous people take over. Through audio recordings, artifacts, images and icons this Face To Face journey provides an overview of those who have made a difference. From founding fathers like Samuel de Champlain to Gabrielle Roy and other inspiring writers -each one has left their mark.

In Canada Hall costumed guides provide a human touch

And on the third floor in the Canada Hall while winding our way from the country's east to west, we retrace the last thousand years. Life-size props and façades replicate each setting and costumed guides provide a human touch. And as we wander from the days when the first immigrants arrived, to the present land that we proudly call home, I take in more facts and data than I did in any history class!


A few other must-see museums:
National Gallery of Canada:
Canadian Museum of Nature:
Bytown Musem:
Canada Science and Technology Museum:

Ottawa Tourism
Phone 613-237-5150 or 1-800-363-4465

Where to stay:

The Fairmont Château Laurier
Toll Free: (866) 540-4410
Tel (613) 241-1414

1 Four galleries in the War Museum retrace our military timeline
2 Cannons were the cause of many fatalities
3 We wander through make-shift trenches
4 LeBreton Gallery showcases war memorabilia
5 Canadian Museum of Civilization hugs up to Ottawa River
6 We check out the world's largest indoor collection of totems
7 Brent does a Face To Face with famous figures
8 In Canada Hall costumed guides provide a human touch


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