Offering the best views of Ottawa’s dramatic riverside setting, the Francophone town of Gatineau (pop. 265,349) is a nice change of pace from the Canadian capital. Known as “Hull” until a civic reorganization in 2002, when it was renamed, Gatineau is older than Ottawa and is French-speaking despite having been founded in 1800 by an American Loyalist (Philemon Wright) fleeing the Revolution.
The best thing about Gatineau, apart from the chance to walk across the bridges and wander the riverside parks that link it to Ottawa, is the Canadian Museum of History (100 Rue Laurier, 819/776-7000 or 800/555-5621, daily, C$13-26), a huge and fascinating institution, housed in two sinuously curving buildings that are a combined 100,000 square meters (more than one million square feet) on the banks of the Ottawa River, directly across the water from the Parliament Buildings at the foot of the Alexandria Bridge. The main lobby is filled with historic totem poles and canoes made by Canada’s diverse native peoples, and galleries elsewhere in the building highlight everything from whaling communities in Labrador to life on the vast western prairies. It’s a fun and educational place, well worth half a day at least. It has the added bonus of a nice rooftop restaurant serving lunch, facing across the river to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill.