Across the Ottawa River from each other, Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec, form Canada’s capital region. To enjoy the Quebec side’s unique joie de vivre, simply cross one of the bridges on foot, by bike or by vehicle, or hop on an Au feel de l’eau water taxi in warm weather.
The land along this stretch of the Ottawa River was a traditional territory of the Algonquin people, whom Samuel de Champlain encountered when he travelled the river in the early 1600s. Fur traders followed and, in 1800, Philemon Wright founded Wrightstown on land that is now the Hull sector of Gatineau. A thriving lumber industry attracted both immigrants and French-Canadians. A devastating fire swept through the city in 1900, and the construction of huge government office complexes in the 1970s changed the urban landscape yet again. Today, largely francophone Gatineau—the largest city in a wider region known as the Outaouais—is a thriving mix of residential, commercial, retail and recreational areas.
Shopping and dining
The Hull sector of Gatineau is home to many independent shops and restaurants. For instance, Soif Bar à vin is a chic wine bar run by one of Canada’s top sommeliers, while Le Cellier is known for its fresh twists on classic dishes. Les Brasseurs du Temps is a popular craft brewery with a gorgeous patio and a small but fun museum of beer history. (The creek beside it becomes a skating rink each winter.) La Brûlerie roasts fair-trade coffee from around the world, and Cha Yi Tea House serves 150 types of loose tea.
For Canadian-made products, there’s Le Local for clothing and jewellery, and Vice Versa is known for furniture and home décor. East of downtown, Les Promenades Gatineau is the Outaouais’ largest shopping mall.
Sights and entertainment
The Culture Trail guides visitors to public art, heritage architecture, performance venues and other notable sites in the Hull sector, including the Canadian Museum of History (Canada’s most visited museum located directly across the river from Parliament Hill); the pedestrian-friendly (and Instagrammable) Place Aubry; and the Théâtre de l’Île which hosts a wide range of French-language performances.
The Casino du Lac-Leamy has gaming, several acclaimed restaurants, a glittering theatre and the VIP-style Aléa Nightclub. And Vintage Wings of Canada showcases carefully preserved antique planes during regular Saturday hangar tours.
Cycling fans love following the trails along waterways and between attractions in the Outaouais. Other outdoorsy visitors make a beeline for Gatineau Park, 361 square kilometres of accessible wilderness (one entrance is just four kilometres from Parliament Hill). As well as hiking, cycling, swimming, skiing or snowshoeing in the park, they can also enjoy an e-bike adventure with Géo-Explora Scootrek, or go ziplining at Camp Fortune or Arbraska Laflèche. History buffs can visit the Mackenzie King Estate, the summer home of Canada’s Second World War prime minister, where they can enjoy a light lunch or elegant afternoon tea in the pretty tea room. And for health and wellness, Nordik Spa-Nature—North America’s largest spa—offers a relaxing circuit of saunas, hot tubs and cold pools.
Among the popular events in Gatineau are the Festibière de Gatineau, which is actually two craft beer festivals in one (a winter edition in February and a summer one in June). In August, the skies light up with fireworks during the Les Grands Feux du Casino Lac-Leamy competition. And on the Labour Day weekend in early September, dozens of hot air balloons drift over the city during the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival, which also offers a midway, other family-friendly amusements and live music.
To find out more about the tourism region that includes Gatineau, visit the Outaouais Tourism website.