Ottawa is home to many sites where you can honour Canada’s armed forces year round, not just on Remembrance Day (November 11). When visiting Canada’s capital, pause to reflect at some of these places—especially in 2020, which marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The majority of these sites are in downtown Ottawa with a few just beyond.
This ceremonial site is surrounded by some of Ottawa’s best known attractions, including Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Château Laurier and the National Arts Centre.
National War Memorial
Perhaps the city’s best-known military monument, the National War Memorial dominates Confederation Square, immediately southeast of Parliament Hill. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth dedicated it in May 1939. Initially built to honour Canadians who died in the First World War, it now commemorates all soldiers who have given their lives for this country.
Beneath the landmark stone arch, you’ll see 22 bronze figures—designed by British artist Vernon March—representing various military roles, including nurses, an aviator, a sailor and members of the infantry. In 2000, the remains of an unidentified First World War soldier were exhumed from a French war cemetery and interred below the memorial to create the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Several commemorative events are held here, including the annual National Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 11. In addition, sentries from the Canadian Armed Forces stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier daily from spring through fall. (Some events in 2020, including Remembrance Day, are being held virtually.)
Tip: It is particularly stirring to visit the memorial at dusk, as the sun sets behind the Peace Tower in the background.
Along the eastern edge of Confederation Square, five statues and nine busts commemorate 14 women and men who have played critical roles in Canada’s military past. Marlene Hilton Moore and John McEwen created the memorial, which was installed in 2006.
The installation recognizes both previously unsung heroes and long-famous figures. The latter include Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), a Mohawk warrior who fought for the British during the American Revolution and later settled in Canada; Laura Secord, who warned the British of an impending American attack during the War of 1812; and General Sir Arthur Currie, who helped plan Canada’s victorious assault on Vimy Ridge during the First World War.
Tip: Take the stairs that lead to the west side of the Rideau Canal below. From there, you can walk to the Bytown Museum, Ottawa River and National Arts Centre.
Home to the country’s federal government, the grounds of Parliament Hill are scattered with monuments and dedications to important historic figures and events.
Triumph Through Diversity: War of 1812 Monument
Toronto sculptor Adrienne Alison created this evocation of the War of 1812, which was unveiled in 2014 to mark the 200th anniversary of the end of the conflict. It occupies a prominent position on Parliament Hill, opposite the National War Memorial. The seven bronze figures reflect the wide range of people who came together to defend Canada during the war. They include a Métis warrior, a Royal Navy sailor, a militiaman and a woman bandaging a wound. The East Block of the Parliament Buildings provides a sober backdrop.
The Peace Tower
Most Canadians recognize the Peace Tower, the focal point of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. But many may not know that its name commemorates the men and women who died while serving Canada. The 98-metre tower opened to great fanfare on July 1, 1927.
Inside, the Memorial Chamber is dedicated to Canada’s fallen. Normally, stone altars within the chamber display the Books of Remembrance, which list the names of every Canadian who has died in service. Due to the ongoing restoration of the Centre Block, the Memorial Chamber is currently closed to the public. For the duration of the renovations, the Books of Remembrance are on display in the Room of Remembrance in the West Block of the Parliament Buildings; however, all public tours of Parliament Hill are currently suspended due to COVID-19. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial allows you to search online for the names of fallen soldiers in the Books of Remembrance.
A few short blocks south of the Parliament Hill, tree-shaded Confederation Park is a welcoming public park.
National Aboriginal Veterans Monument
An estimated 12,000 Indigenous Canadians served in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, and this monument recognizes their sacrifices. Sculpted by Lloyd Pinay of the Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan, it depicts four Indigenous warriors, accompanied by four spirit guides—a wolf, a bear, an elk and a buffalo. Atop the statue is a large eagle with wings spread, representing the Thunderbird (Creator). The National Aboriginal Veterans Association commissioned the memorial and raised funds for its creation. Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson unveiled it on National Aboriginal Day (now National Indigenous Peoples Day) in June 2001. Usually, a ceremony takes place here on National Aboriginal Veterans Day, November 8, although plans will likely change in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions.
Tip: When taking a photo of the monument in the warmer seasons, try to capture the pretty garden beds that surround it.
Animals in War Dedication
Animals as diverse as horses, mules, dogs and carrier pigeons have played a role in Canada’s military history—by carrying troops and messages, sniffing out bombs, or assisting medics, for instance. This memorial includes paw and hoof prints in concrete, along with a life-sized bronze statue of a dog bearing a First World War-style medical backpack. Canadian artist David Clendining created the monument in 2012. Canada provided 50,000 horses for the Boer War, so this memorial was installed next to the South African War Memorial.
Tip: Bring your own pooch (on a leash) to this pretty site and take a moment to reflect.
South African War Memorial
This monument commemorates the 16 Ottawans who were among the 267 Canadians who died in the South African War (1899–1902, also known as the Second Boer War). Some 30,000 local schoolchildren paid for the memorial by donating pennies. Depicting a soldier in the uniform of the time, it was created by sculptor Hamilton MacCarthy.
Tip: MacCarthy created other Ottawa statues, including one of former prime minister Alexander Mackenzie on Parliament Hill.
Polish Home Army plaque
In 1964, the Polish Home Army Ex-Servicemen’s Association of Canada installed this large plaque to recognize the 26 Canadian airmen who died while flying with the Polish Home Army during the Second World War. A smaller plaque was added to the memorial in 1993, when the airmen posthumously received the Polish Home Army Cross.
BYWARD MARKET AREA
A short walk from Parliament Hill, a significant monument sits between the historic ByWard Market neighbourhood and the National Gallery of Canada.
Reconciliation: The Peacekeeping Monument
This large, landmark monument near the National Gallery of Canada pays tribute to Canada’s peacekeepers, who have served in numerous multinational operations around the world. It also recognizes the diplomatic efforts of Lester B. Pearson to help resolve the 1950s Suez Crisis, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.
Created by a team from British Columbia, including sculptor Jack Harman, the monument has been a frequent location for public events, including an annual ceremony on or close to National Peacekeepers’ Day (August 9). At the moment, events may be curtailed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tip: Position your camera to capture the Peace Tower, the National Gallery of Canada or Notre Dame Cathedral in the background.
RIDEAU FALLS PARK
Roughly two kilometres north of Parliament Hill is a beautiful waterfall flanked by a patio restaurant, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and a lovely urban park.
National Artillery Memorial
The monument honours members of The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery who died in service to Canada. It includes a large red granite marker and a vintage artillery piece. First unveiled in Major’s Hill Park in 1959, it was moved to this location in Rideau Falls Park on Sussex Drive in 1997.
John McCrae statue
In memory of a friend killed during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” on May 3, 1915. Exactly 100 years later, this statue of the First World War doctor was unveiled near the National Artillery Memorial. Canadian artist Ruth Abernethy created the piece, which depicts McCrae in an artillery officer’s uniform amidst red poppies, a scorched tree and a medical bag.
Commonwealth Air Forces Ottawa Memorial
Queen Elizabeth II unveiled this striking memorial overlooking the Ottawa River on July 1, 1959. A large bronze globe is topped with an eagle and framed by engraved limestone walls. It stands in tribute to the 809 members of the Commonwealth air forces based in North America who lost their lives during the Second World War and have no graves.
In the 1930s, more than 1,500 Canadian volunteers—including pioneering surgeon Norman Bethune—headed to Spain to fight fascist forces led by Francisco Franco. Most were members of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, named for the two men who led Canada’s 1837 Rebellions. Casualties in Spain were high; by some reports, fewer than 50 Canadian volunteers survived. In 2001, Sudbury artist Oryst Sawchuk created this eye-catching memorial to the “Mac-Paps,” which shows the Greek god Prometheus with his hand raised skyward.
Royal Canadian Navy Monument
Unveiled by former prime minister Stephen Harper in May 2012, this sail-like monument is located at Richmond Landing, a small peninsula jutting into the Ottawa River just west of the Supreme Court of Canada—a nice stop along the multi-use Capital Pathway. A three-person team designed a monument rich with symbolism, including the golden ball at the top, meant to evoke both the sun and the navy’s global influence. Fittingly, this location is also the most westerly point on the Ottawa River that ships travelling from the Atlantic Ocean can reach. Late in the day, the setting sun casts the monument, the river and Parliament Hill beyond in a warm glow.
National Holocaust Monument
Opened in September 2017, this haunting memorial to the six million Jewish people and countless others who died in the Holocaust stands across from the Canadian War Museum. A large team, including Studio Daniel Libeskind, designed the monument. Six triangular spaces below ground level feature images of Holocaust sites created by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky; together, the triangles create a large Star of David. These spaces also feature a comprehensive interpretive exhibit. From the upper level, you get a wide view of the city and Parliament Hill, meant to inspire hope. A 14-metre-high triangle and the Flame of Remembrance provide focal points for reflection.
Canadian War Museum
Dating back to 1880, the Canadian War Museum moved into this dramatic new building in 2005. The structure, designed by architect Raymond Moriyama, overlooks the Ottawa River and Chaudière Falls. With its raw concrete, sloping floors, sharp angles and often-blank walls, it is intentionally austere and sobering. However, it is also meant to look as though it is emerging from the hilly site and the river below, symbolizing regeneration. Moriyama also evoked regeneration in the building’s energy-efficient design, which includes recycled materials and a poppy-studded green roof.
The museum tells the story of Canada’s military history over many centuries, using artifacts such as vehicles, weapons and uniforms. There are also moving personal items, including a small teddy bear that a First World War soldier received from his 10-year-old daughter and carried into battle in his pocket.
The museum’s Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour provides details on the many ways Canadians have commemorated their military history and their soldiers. Regeneration Hall is designed to inspire quiet reflection. Another space for remembrance, Memorial Hall, is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the Remembrance Day events traditionally held at the museum will likely be virtual in 2020. As you enter or leave, look up: Along the façade, you’ll see a pattern of windows that reads “Lest we forget / N’oublions jamais” in Morse code.
EAST OF DOWNTOWN
This large, park-like cemetery, located four kilometres east of Parliament Hill, was founded in 1873. It has long had a Veterans’ Section dedicated to those who have served Canada in uniform. In 2001, Beechwood opened a new area, the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces. There, a brick-paved walkway through formal gardens leads to a large central monument flanked by flagpoles. Stretching in long, straight rows from either side of the walkway are simple white headstones marking the final resting places of the many veterans buried here.
The cemetery is the site of many ceremonies and public events, notably a large ceremony on Remembrance Day (November 11) each year. In 2020, that event will be held virtually. However, free guided tours are still offered on the fourth Sunday of each month (registration required). Visit the cemetery’s event calendar for more information.
For more information about these and other commemoration sites in the Ottawa region, visit the Monuments page on the Canadian Heritage website.