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Visiting Downtown Gatineau: hub of the fourth largest city in Quebec
Be prepared to be surprised
For such a vibrant, energetic and substantial place, the city of Gatineau, Quebec's fourth largest city, deserves to be better known. Part of the reason for its relatively low profile in English-speaking Canada may be because prior to the successive municipal amalgamations, the name Gatineau emerged which previously had been associated with a much smaller suburb of that name; there is also a river and park which bears the name, also. The original speling Gastineau was derived from the name of Nicolas Gastineau, sieur Duplessis , who lived in the 17th century and was involved in the fur trade locally. (However, similar sounding variants for a First Nations etymology of the name have also been offered.) A particularly prominent early European visitor to the area was Samuel de Champlain , a statue of whom stands at the corner of rue Laurier and rue Laval , next to the Place du Portage Federal building complex.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization (Musée canadien des civilisations ), in Gatineau is Canada's most visited museum. Its sections on history, archeology and folklore are strong, and the complex also houses the Canadian Postal Museum (Musée canadien de la poste ).
At place Aubry , there is a fountain which serves as a much frequented meeting place, and a number of the surrounding houses has been designated a heritage area because of their architectural distinction.
The Edifice Jos-Montferrand (Jos Montferrand Building) houses the law courts, and is named for Joseph 'Jos' Montferrand , whose birth name was Joseph Favre , and was a figure of Ottawa Valley legend and Quebec folklore for his defence of French-Canadian workers (1). Sometimes this defence took on vigorous forms and, while accounts of an event in 1829 which took place on the Pont de la Chaudière (Chaudiere Bridge) locally are probably exaggerated, he is said to have thrown 150 Irish workers into the Ottawa River (Rivière des Outaouais ). To some extent the fame of Jos Montferrand may thus be said to repose on a certain notoriety, but such events are against the historical background of prolonged labour unrest in the early to mid 19th century between Irish and French Canadian workers.
The Hôtel de Ville of Gatineau on rue Laurier is referred to as the Masion du Citoyen (Citizen's House), and comprises various cultural facilities as well as offices for municipal services. These facilities include the Galérie Montcalm , which mounts six art exhibitions every year; the Hall des Nations (Hall of the Nations), a branch of the municipal library and the Salle Jean-Desprez (Jean Desprez Hall) which is the venue for numerous functions.
One feature for which the city is well known is the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival of Gatineau (Festival de Mongolfières de Gatineau ). This event, begun in 1988, attracted 47 balloons and 34,000 spectators during the first event. But 20 years later the event was attracting 80 balloons and over 250, 000 visitors.
At Aylmer, part of Gatineau, the Auberge Symmes (Symmes Inn) has been declared a 'heritage jewel of Gatineau' (French: joyau patrimonial de Gatineau ) by the municipal authorities.
Gatineau's numerous cultural features, of which those enumerated above are just a selection, provide many opportunities for visitors, and when the time comes to leave, the chances are that the average visitor will wish he or she could have stayed longer.
(1) A scupture of Jos Montferrand (1802-1864), under the Anglicised name Joe Mufferaw , was erected outside the Mattawa Museum in 2004, at Mattawa, Ontario, on the Ottawa River (Rivière des Outaouais ), 296.9 kilometres upstream from Ottawa/Gatineau.
Also worth visiting
In nearby Parc de la Gatineau (Gatineau Park):
le Lac Pink (Pink Lake; distance: approx 8 kilometres) is a fascinating example of a meromictic lake; where display panels describe its absorbing features.
le Domaine Mackenzie King (the Mackenzie King Estate; distance: approx. 13 kilometres), where Canada's longserving Prime Minister, whose name the Estate bears, lived for several decades and received such statesmen as F D Roosevelt and Sir Winston Churchill . This Estate contains Kingswood , Moorside and The Farm , the first two of which are open to the public; The Farm is the official residence of the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons.
Over the Ottawa River from Gatineau:
Ottawa , Ontario (distance: approx. 2 kilometres) has cultural treasures, buildings of architectural distinction and excellent museums too numerous to mention adequately here, but a few of these include Parliament Hill, the Chateau Laurier, Laurier House, Rideau Hall, and the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada.
How to get there: Air Canada flies from various North American destinations to Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport / Aéroport international Macdonald-Cartier d'Ottawa, where car rental is available. However, travellers may prefer to use OC Transpo public transit for travel within Ottawa / Gatineau. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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