I took the kids on a walking tour of downtown Ottawa this week to look at statues and other outdoor art, with my friend Tudor and her two boys. Here in Ottawa you can’t really turn around without falling over another statue or memorial or monument, and there are some that are really interesting, and I really, really wanted to check them all out. In fact, I wish I could have gone to ALL of them, like literally every single one in the city, but in the end I had to try to restrict myself to a reasonable downtown area. And even then, it wasn’t all that reasonable as we were walking around for FOUR hours and enthusiasm, I’m sure you can imagine, waned a bit at the end there.
But overall I had a good time and although I’m not sure this will be THE event of the summer, I think the kids liked it okay, and learned quite a bit about Ottawa and history and what they would and would not consider art, so that’s definitely a summertime win. Plus, they now have a few favourites so next time we are downtown, we can be sure to revisit the best ones and spend more time there and hopefully make a lasting happy memory.
I wanted it to be a little interactive for the kids so I set up our walking tour like an Amazing Race – I had a pile of clues and I gave the kids them one at a time to lead them to the next statue. Each kid also had a map of downtown that they could mark things on, or use to trace their route. I’d say this approach had mixed success. Since we had a variety of ages, I made the clues really simple (along the lines of, “Go north a block, and look for some giant stones”) and the older boys (aged 13, 12, and 11) found that got pretty boring after a while, although the level of clues was perfect for my almost-8-year-old, so not sure I could have found clues that would work for the whole group anyway.
I’d say, if I were to do it again, I’d revamp it and do one of the following instead:
For an older tween or teen crowd, I’d reduce the number of statues, and make the clues way harder – number puzzles or word scrambles or history clues that require lookup on a smartphone.
Or, also for an older crowd, keep the simple clues but rather than handing them out one by one, give them the whole list of clues, divide them into teams, and make it into a race.
For younger kids, instead of clues, maybe lead them on the walking tour and give them a scavenger hunt list – say they need to watch out for a “bronze feather” or a “statue made of wood” or “someone wearing a three-pointed hat” or things like that. In fact, I think this is my favourite idea.
Or, also for younger kids, go totally laid back and just take them to a specific area – city hall, or Major’s Hill Park, or Parliament Hill – and have them wander freely and find what they are going to find; possibly gently guide them to a few hidden statues of particular interest.
I’ll leave those ideas as an exercise to the reader.
We ended the tour with ice cream in the market and let me say that the promise of ice cream, as well as snacks and pop and candy along the way, went a LONG way to making this event a success. Things to pack, in addition to sugar (or pocket money to purchase sugar along the way): sunscreen, hats, camera, lots of water, clipboards (OMG, there was SO MUCH love for the dollar store clipboards I brought); possibly a compass for the directionally challenged.
Below you’ll find links to the stuff I used, including the list of statues we went to, maps used, and clue sheets, if they can be of use to you. There are 37 statues on the main list, with a few bonus ones you can go see if you’re up for some side trips, but as I mentioned above it took us almost 4 hours to do this walk, which is almost 7 km long, including breaks for rests/snacks/drinks and the end walk back to the car. For smaller kids I would definitely recommend shortening this up. Either you can have a look at the full list and make your own hit list, or I would recommend just focusing on some or all of these that were favourites of my own kids:
- #3 – The Living Room, City Hall
- #7 – Ottawa Firefighters Memorial, City Hall
- #11 – Kwakiutl Totem, Confederation Park
- #12 – Animals In War/Boer War Memorial, Confederation Park
- #13 – Oscar Peterson outside the NAC
- #19 – Grizzly Bear (“Territorial Prerogative”) on Sparks Street
- #22 – Famous Five on Parliament Hill
- #23 – Lafontaine and Baldwin Statue – Whispering Wall, Parliament Hill
- #27 – Ruins of Colonel By’s home, Major’s Hill Park
- #28 – Anishinabe Scout, Major’s Hill Park
- #31 – Maman, National Gallery
- #32 – Majestic (Lampposts from Hurricane Katrina), National Gallery
- #33 – One Hundred Foot Line, National Gallery
- #37 – Dancing Bear, Jeanne D’Arc Court in the Market
Just let me know if you have any questions – I’d be happy to chat about it!