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Tall Tales at the Billings Estate: Storytelling and marshmallows by the fire

By Jason Yung on August 9, 2013



Do you like stories? Do you like campfires? Do you like marshmallows? Do you like stories based on local Ottawa historical figures?

I said yes to the first three, and begrudgingly said OK to the fourth one. Tall Tales is a series of Friday evening campfire storytelling events put on by the Ottawa Storytellers that happens every Friday of August on the front lawn of the Billings Estate National Historic Site, the colonial-style mansion (turned museum) that was the home of the guy whom that Bridge along Bank St. is named after. (The Billings’ claim to fame? As the first settlers of Gloucester Township, Braddish Billings and Lamira Dow Billings began a legacy of community involvement and service.)

The event features members of the Ottawa Storytellers telling 20-30 minute long tales about the topic of the week. Last week’s was “Local Legends” and the stories were historic portrayals of important figures in Ottawa’s history. The Ottawa Storytellers is an organization that is over 30 years old, dedicated to teaching and propagating the art of story telling. However, be warned, young and semi-young adults – this is sort of a grandparents/kids event. If you have young children – this is a great event for them. (If you are however, a single dude like me, you may feel like you’re crashing someone’s family time.) The evening begins around the campfire, roasting marshmallows and chatting. Then stories begin and the groups separates into two – a kids storytelling section around a separate fire, and an adults session.

The adults’ storytelling section featured two stories, one about the life and time of Thomas MacKay, who built the canal, Rideau Hall and other epic stone buildings around town. While I thought local Ottawa historical stories would glaze my eyes over, storyteller Phil Nagy painted an interesting picture of Ottawa life back in the day – when thousands of soldiers from the war of 1812 were demobilized, when there were too many construction men, not enough women, and plenty of drunken fights in the Market. The other story was done by a pair of storytellers about Charlotte Whitton, the first woman mayor of Ottawa, a feminist and generally feisty woman. I enjoyed this story less, as it did not have much of an arc, being more like a spoken biography that dragged on.

Both performances were in the category of “historical education” – which you may or may not be in the mood for on a Friday night – although it’s the sort of useful facts that are good to know when you’re showing your visiting relatives around town. The topics for the upcoming weeks may be different, but the local flavour and historical-focus is expected to be the same.

Every Friday in August at the Billings Estate National Historic Site, 2100 Cabot Street, from 7 – 9 pm. Tickets are $6 per person, $10 per couple, or $16 per family. For more info, click here.