Neighborhood Nomad: Anita of Ottawa


March 9, 2012, Washington, DC: Why leave behind the beaches of Australia for a life back in Ottawa? Anita Mac has plenty of reasons. Anita blogs about her explorations both at home in Canada and along the road, and she agreed to give us insight into what makes Ottawa a great place to live. Tell us about Ottawa. What is the vibe? What is your scene? Ottawa is a fabulous little city. I say little as it is not on the scale of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, and that is one of the many aspects I love about living here. It is still easy to get anywhere in the city and we don’t have the crazy traffic issues of other major centres. As Ottawa is small, there is often only one to two degrees of separation from most of the people I meet.

I am part of an active, sporty community: We cycle spring, summer and fall, ski in the winter. There are hundreds of running trail options and plenty of waterways for kayaking. There is always something to do. Just to the north of Ottawa, Gatineau Park is like a home away from home for many. In the spring, you will even find cyclists and skiers each trying to grab a little of their sport -- the skiers on the last bits of snow as the cyclists grab the corners of the road that have become exposed. Snowshoeing has really taken off in the area, and snowshoe races have become a little more de rigeur. The cycling community is what I love most about living here. Any day of the week, there is a group activity you can join. The Ottawa Bicycle Club is the largest organization, hosting midweek time trials, the annual OBC Grand Prix (attracts 600+ racers from novice to elite) and touring rides every Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday. When I first moved back to Ottawa, this was how I met people. While I am not a runner, the running, triathlon and cycling scene is very strong here in town, and there is plenty of overlap. As I used to be heavily involved in bike racing, I have volunteered at the Fall Colours Marathon as a means to give back to the sporting community. The Ottawa Race Weekend in May also draws a large crowd from around the world. The city is literally taken over for the festivities of the weekend. The Army Run is another popular event with runners coming from across Canada. For me, Ottawa’s vibe is that of a vibrant, active city. There is loads of green space to get out and do your thing. We have developed quite a good foodie scene with amazing restaurants poking up everywhere.

Where are you from and where have you lived? Originally born in Montreal, we moved to Ottawa when I was young. I have also had the privilege of living in Australia for nearly a decade, the Central Coast region north of Sydney in both Terrigal and Chittaway Bay, and in the Niagara region of Ontario for university. Now back in Ottawa, I have learned that the home is where the heart is. I am closer to family again, and have created a fabulous life in a great community.

What compelled you to leave Australia? Having grown up in Canada, with the four seasons, I really missed fall and winter. (Hard to imagine when we are in the midst of a snow storm and everything is slowing grinding to a halt, but it is true!) I love getting out to see the fall colours as the season transitions to winter, and “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” makes so much more sense when there is snow on the ground! My family is based out of Ottawa; that was the catalyst to bringing me home after so many years living it up in Australia. It was a tough decision, but the best part is that I have so many wonderful friends in Australia, I can always go back for a holiday.

I made the transition back to Ottawa as I travelled around the world. I took the opportunity to travel Canada from coast to coast by bicycle -- it was the best thing I ever did! (To read more about cycling across Canada, visit the series on my blog.)

What are your 'must-haves' in the perfect hometown? Above all, for me it is the ability to get around. I drive for a living, and the thought of being snarled in traffic for hours each day does not appeal. I also love the fact that I can come home from work, hop on my bicycle, and in no time be riding on quiet roads, through Gatineau Park, or out to meet friends for a ride. No need to load the car to get out there. I do have to load the car for the kayak, but within 10-30 minutes, I have pristine lakes and rivers to paddle along, enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and solitude.

What are your favorite spots in Ottawa? Gatineau Park is my favourite -- great in all seasons. Whether hiking, cycling, skiing or kayaking. In the winter, we ski up to the cabins, pot luck for dinner in our backpacks, and meet up with friends for a moonlight ski. I have yet to do a moonlight paddle - maybe this will be the summer!

For food, I still love to get out and find new places. Westboro has a great collection of foodie places all the time. We never go enough, but Canvas is one of my favourites for a nicer dinner. For hot and spicy, Ceylonta features amazing curries -- the devil chicken is always my first choice!

Anywhere else you can see yourself living? I have an adventurous soul. I could live anywhere, but I think Ottawa will always be home. I could see myself moving a little to the north, into the Gatineau region. It is literally the other side of the river, in the province of Quebec. If I were to move out of the city, that is most likely where I would go, but for now, I love it in town with everything so accessible and so much to do.

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