Intergenerational family travel blossoms in Ottawa

Story & Images by: Jacquie D. Durand

When the warm weather arrives, everyone is a little ‘antsy’ to get outside again. My family’s solution was a road trip to Ottawa to see the annual Tulip Festival. Representing three generations: a mother with 4-year-old triplet boys, grandparents, and one great-aunt.

The challenges: first, how to fit seven family members into one hotel suite. Located just four blocks from the ByWard Market and within walking distance or an easy drive to several sites, Les Suites Hotel Ottawa comfortably accommodated the whole family and provided amenities including laundry and well-equipped kitchen.

Secondly, each of the triplets falls into a categorized level of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and requires special handling. But we all wanted one thing, to help teach the children how to navigate through our world.

Arriving on a warm sunny day, we decided to walk down through the ByWard Market. It was especially enjoyable when the children discovered a busker in the square.

We found the market in full swing with friendly vendors offering everything from trinkets to clothing, toys to jewelry. Interacting with the market sellers provided our boys an opportunity to show off their skills at social chatter. A fire-eating, juggling and joking busker added to the sensory experience.

The ByWard Market has a multitude of eateries – from Beaver Tails to gelatos, pizzas, burgers, steak or seafood. We chose a historic building (1889) with a trio of award-winning restaurants, The Fish Market Restaurant, Vineyards Wine Bar, and Coasters Gourmet Grill. Owner and president for more than 30 years, Barbara Mireault has been the recipient of the Consumer Choice Award for the past 14 years.

The Fish Market offered a selection of healthy and delectable dishes and the staff was extremely accommodating, even taking one of the boys on a shoulder ride tour of the three restaurants.

Triplet mom, Kerry Durand-Shea, conveyed to me: “There are a few important tricks when traveling with my trio: flexibility is key to accommodate the mood changes of ASD triplets throughout the day; always communicate changes immediately to everyone traveling with us; and always carry favourite items (motivators or bribes?) to stave off melt-downs, thereby allowing the whole family to experience more fun.”

Fun came in many forms in Ottawa and one of them was in the form of the Amphibus Lady Dive. Exploring over land and water, tours are offered in eight languages and highlight the area’s history. At the end of this tour I overheard a random request, “Mommy, can we drive in the water when we go home?”

While in Gatineau, we visited the Canadian Museum of History where the boys discovered the children’s museum with its variety of toys handed down through history. This is a highly interactive place for play, social interaction and learning experiences.

However, these events were mere teasers for the adults who looked forward to the famous floral festivities. The Canadian Tulip Festival takes place annually for 10 days in mid-May and highlights tulips that have been provided each year by the Dutch government since 1946. During the Second World War the Dutch royal family was granted asylum in Canada, during which time Princess Margriet was born at Ottawa Civic Hospital. The initial 100,000 tulip bulbs were an expression of gratitude to Canada. The capital receives 10,000 bulbs each year and the masses of blooms are the highlight of the festival that began in 1953.

At Commissioners Park we were awe-stricken as we found ourselves amid a quarter-million tulips, representing 60 varieties. The fields were carefully planned by NCC architects, combining the many sizes and colours that represent Canada’s close connection with the Netherlands.

A 300-foot wall inside the Lansdowne Park pavilion was also awash with tulips but these were drawn by elementary school students based on the theme of “what friendship looks like”. While our family isn’t a fit for two-wheeled exploring there are guided cycling tours that include five or six stops at various tulip sites and Ottawa attractions including Lansdowne Park, the Rideau Canal and Bytown Museum.

Each experience during our time in the Nations’ Capital provided us with an opportunity to begin teaching the triplets about Canada’s diversity, the many different countries of our world, and the importance of friendships with all the different people we meet throughout our lives.

If You Go:

Ottawa Tourism: www.ottawatourism.ca

Les Suites Hotel – Ottawa: www.les-suites.com

1-613-232-2000

History of Tulips to Canada: modernnotion.com/why-the-dutch-send-canada-thousands-of-tulips-every-year/

Amphibus Lady Dive: ladydive.com

1-613-223-6211

Museum of Canadian History: www.historymuseum.ca