As Canada’s Capital, Ottawa is home to many national museums that house some of the country’s best art and most priceless artifacts, which all recount years upon years of important Canadian history. But with so many Canadian treasures on display, you might wonder where Ottawa’s own history lies?
There is no better place to learn about how Ottawa came to be than at the Bytown Museum, which possesses a collection of more than 7,000 priceless Ottawa-related artifacts.
Bytown was founded in 1826 by builder of the Rideau Canal Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the British Royal Engineers. Bytown was later incorporated into the official City of Ottawa in 1855.
Located on the banks of the scenic Rideau Canal, between Parliament Hill and the historic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, the quaint and interesting Bytown Museum is housed within the oldest stone building in Ottawa.
Founded by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa (WCHSO) in 1898, the museum moved to its current stone home in 1951, which was originally used as a treasury and storehouse during the now famous Rideau Canal’s construction from 1826 to 1832.
This is where you’ll find Ottawa’s history, from its humble beginnings as a rowdy, lawless lumber town, to its emergence as Canada’s capital city, through to its participation and coming of age in the First World War in 1918. Here, Ottawa’s history is traced back through hundreds of years.
The first floor of the museum introduces visitors to the Rideau Canal, Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you can learn about how more than a thousand workers dug out the 202-kilometre (126-mile) canal, which stretches from Kingston, Ontario to Ottawa. Nineteen kilometres of the historic canal were dug out by hand with a shovel.
You can also take in a display from Parks Canada that explains how the canal’s flowing lock system works and helps boats navigate through the waterway during the warmer weather months.
But the most interesting aspect of the museum’s first floor is the stone vault that is located in the building’s far right corner. This curved, dimly lit vault was used to store money, various supplies and gun powder during the canal’s construction. If your camera has a good flash, this is a great photo opportunity!
On the museum’s second floor, you will find priceless artifacts such as tools and actual shovels used in the digging of the canal. There is also a section of the museum dedicated to local Bytown legend Joseph “Jos” Montferrand.
Enjoy typical French-Canadian music as you learn about Jos Montferrand, a voyageur with the Hudson’s Bay Company, a famous log driver and legendary Bytown character. Jos was 6 foot 4 inches and was known to defend French-Canadian workers against Irish gangs in the rowdy Bytown area. In 1829, it was reported that Jos defeated an Irish gang of 100 men on a bridge between Gatineau, Québec and Ottawa.
The museum’s second floor also houses the special Forged in Fire: The Building and Burning of Parliament exhibit, which runs until Oct. 31, 2016. Peruse a room full of historical photographs and anecdotes that depict how a tragic fire destroyed Ottawa’s original Parliament Buildings on Feb. 3, 2016. 2016 marks the hundredth anniversary of the fire.
The museum’s third floor is dedicated to early domestic life in Bytown. Here, you can peruse items such as Victorian-style dishes, clothing and time pieces, to name a few, which were once owned by some of the city’s most prominent founding families.
The third floor is also home to a children’s play area, where young visitors can draw and play with classic wooden toys such as a Jacob’s Ladder.
The Bytown Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday during the winter months and daily from mid-May to mid-October. This is a great museum for visitors who want to take in Ottawa’s history in a short amount of time!