The scenic Bytown Museum. Photo: Parker Townes.
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This summer, check out the city’s lesser known museums

Ottawa is a city of museums. Institutions like the Canadian Museum of History, the War Museum, or the new Museum of Science and Technology are packed full of artifacts, interactive exhibits, and are a great place to spend half a day. But Ottawa is also crowded with smaller museums devoted to a single topic or local history that are just as fascinating as the big ones.

With the summer fast approaching, a lot of students are heading home or going abroad. But just as many of you will be staying in Ottawa for the warmer months. These smaller museums make great outings that won’t take up your whole day (the larger museums, I can speak from experience, are time-consuming, exhaustive affairs).

One such museum is the Bytown Museum, which has been preserving Ottawa history for over one hundred years. The museum is next to the Rideau Canal, and is housed in the oldest building in Ottawa, the Commissariat Building, which was built in 1827 as the headquarters for the canal project.

The bottom floor deals with the building of the canal, and contains artifacts used by the engineers, stonemasons, and mainly Irish and French-Canadian labourers who carved out the 202-kilometre canal between 1826 and 1832. The upper two floors deal with the early history of Ottawa, and shed some interesting light on what was once called the most dangerous city in North America.

Little known relics of Ottawa’s past, like the Stony Monday Riots which saw the Tory and Reformist factions hurling rocks at each other over the canal in anger at the Rebellion Losses Bill, or the Shiner’s War in which a local timber baron raised a private Irish army to wreck French Canadian lumber rafts, are highlighted at this fascinating museum. Best of all, admission is $5 for students, and the museum can easily be done in under two hours.

Another small museum right downtown is the Bank of Canada Museum. Located at the corner of Bank and Wellington, this museum is hyper-interactive, and is designed to engage people in the economy. Along with games—such as a space ship simulator that teaches inflationary targets—the museum also has more traditional artifacts like coins from New France, old stocks and war bonds, and every series of bill dating from 1935.

In a similar vein is the Mint, located on Sussex Drive in an old castle. On this 45-minute guided tour, visitors can see the process to make collector coins and medals, or just stare in awe at a gold coil worth $20 million, used to make gold collector coins.

There are plenty of other small museums farther from downtown, or even outside the city. The most famous is probably the Diefenbunker, a Cold War-era bunker in Carp that now acts as a time capsule, with rooms still set up just how they were in the height of the Cold War.

Communities like Vanier and Nepean, and the founding Billings family estate also have museums that focus on local history, and other fun events like sugar shacks and high tea. In short, there’s no excuse for not getting out to a small, local museum this summer! You may just find your new favourite.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper