Andrew Monro is Apt613’s correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 123 Slater Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.
I arrived on a sunny Sunday morning at Nepean Point, just past the National Gallery of Canada. Beneath the statue of Samuel de Champlain I met our guide, Tonya Davidson, for The Upside-Down Astrolabe Tour: Colonialism & Confederation, one of (de)tours ‘Narratives’ tours.
Tonya Davidson, a sociologist from Carleton University – who researched and prepared the entire tour with contagious enthusiasm – started by pointing out that the statue of the French explorer was holding his astrolabe, an old navigational instrument, upside-down, thus the name of the tour. Tonya herself has researched monuments, with a focus on how they shape social and cultural narratives about ourselves. You cannot help but be excited with her about the often understated or omitted histories of the many statues in Ottawa that we take for granted as locals.
Ottawa (de)tours is a different kind of guided tour company. Founded in 2014 by local social entrepreneurs and Hubbers Dan Monafu and Susan Johnston, the focus is on providing intimate tours that deconstruct the history of Ottawa and facilitate critical thinking about the past and present of our city (and country). These are engaging conversations about issues with both your guide and others on your tour. Tours run from late spring right through to autumn.
One of the often understated chapters in the history of the Champlain statue is the ‘Anishinabe Scout,’ a bronze sculpture depicting an Algonquin man, originally intended to accompany Champlain on a plinth beneath the main statue (as a representation of how indigenous people had helped Champlain navigate the Ottawa River). In 1996, the Assembly of First Nations took issue with the statue for its racist depiction of indigenous men and The Scout’s subservient position in relation to Champlain.
The Scout was shunted into a National Capital Commission basement for some time, before being moved across the road from Nepean Point, where he now sits in the bushes beside the Tavern on the Hill, looking toward Champlain, who continues to enjoy his panoramic view of the Ottawa Valley.
“Monuments are contested and contestable. Not only for the narratives they tell, often of colonialism and confederation, but also as points where these narratives can be disrupted and reshaped,” Tonya tells me.
While the Upside-Down Astrolabe Tour is an excellent example of the kind of content that Ottawa (de)tours aims to provide, the company – currently in its fourth season – offers eight unique tours on different subjects including architecture, science and public surveillance.
While (de)tours tours are compelling for tourists interested in a different exploration of Ottawa, there is a great deal that locals can learn and discover too. I have lived in Ottawa for almost a decade and I found myself learning all kinds of new things about our history and the significance of landmarks that I see almost every day. I would recommend it to any Ottawan that is open to learning more about the place.
Learn more and book a (de)tour at ottawadetours.ca.