If you’re looking to know more about Ottawa’s surrounding areas and the different, vibrant communities that call them home, the Vanier Museopark is worth a stop.
Located at 300 des Pères-Blancs Avenue, just a five-minute drive from downtown Ottawa in the city’s Vanier neighbourhood, this small local museum offers free admission and recounts the story of the area’s earliest Aboriginal residents, European settlers, as well as the history of its thriving modern French-speaking community.
Did you know that Ottawa is a bilingual city? According to the 2011 Census on the Linguistic Characteristics of Canadians, which is the most recent study, more than half of the Ottawa-Gatineau region’s population (58 per cent) list English as their first language and one third (22 per cent) list French. It’s common to hear both English and French being spoken as you walk down the street.
Housed within the confines of a vast and beautiful green area known as Richelieu Park, the Vanier Museopark is the only francophone museum in Ottawa. It is also one of the only Canadian museums dedicated to the country’s French-speaking community outside of the province of Québec. This is the ideal place to learn about the Ottawa area’s French-language roots and culture.
Here, you can visit several exhibits that look at early French-Canadian life on the banks of the majestic Ottawa River. Experience the 400-year history of Ottawa’s “Vanier district” from its First Nations residents, to the legendary voyageurs and fur-traders that arrived in the 1600s, to the education, religion and family life of early pioneers. Artifacts include Aboriginal and early settler tools, clothing, old photographs of the “Vanier district” and more.
Through different exhibits, visitors can see how early explorers turned to the area’s Aboriginal residents for help on how to navigate Ottawa’s mighty, turbulent waterways such as the Ottawa River. This is also a great place to learn about a beloved Canadian delicacy: Maple syrup.
Maple syrup is a Canadian product that dates back to the country’s earliest days, as it was first discovered and made by Aboriginal people. Every year in the spring, sap is harvested from sugar, red and black maple trees. The clear sugary sap is then heated, leaving behind sweet syrup that can be enjoyed in many ways.
And each “maple season” (roughly March and April), the Museopark turns into Ottawa’s only downtown sugar shack, tapping 1,000 maple trees to produce 400 litres (106 gallons) of maple syrup. Take in the exhibits and artifacts, then experience annual sugar shack traditions such as a pancake breakfast and maple taffy on snow! As it’s located so close to downtown Ottawa, the Museopark allows visitors of all ages to enjoy an authentic Canadian sugar shack experience without having to venture too far.
Also, as the Museopark is a francophone attraction, this is a great place to brush up on your French. Explore the museum and ask questions about its displays en français. Prepare to make conversation and be encouraged!