book cover

A few years ago, my friend and colleague Andrew Waldron called me up with some news. He was going to write a revised and updated version of Harold Kalman’s 1983 guidebook to Ottawa architecture, Exploring Ottawa. Would I be interested in doing the photography?

Great idea! I’d lived in Ottawa for a couple of years by then, but outside my own neighbourhood, my office, and the route between them, I barely knew the city. This would be my chance to get to know the place where I lived.

I didn’t actually realize that I was committing myself to the single biggest photographic project of my life. But after photographing well over 400 buildings (not all of which ultimately appeared in the book), I can say with certainty that the project was not only huge, but hugely worthwhile.

The book, Exploring the Capital, was launched last week at Library and Archives Canada. It is divided into 11 walking or cycling (or in a couple of cases, driving) tours that cover the Ottawa and Gatineau region. It doesn’t pretend to be even close to comprehensive, but it has something for everyone. The big iconic monuments are here, but so are quirky houses, charming neighbourhoods and secret treasures. I used the photography to do exactly what the title of the book says: to explore the capital. And the more I did so, the more amazed I became at what a beautiful, fascinating and diverse place Ottawa/Gatineau is.

If the places in the book inspire just a fraction of the wonder and delight in its readers that they did in me, Exploring the Capital will have done its job. But there is one thing besides wonder that I hope it will inspire: vigilance. Our built heritage is constantly at risk, usually because of a cavalier and ignorant disregard for its importance. That has been the subject of a few of these blogs, and will doubtless have to be again. My hope is that this book will help people to explore their built environment, enjoy it, and, when the need arises, defend it.

Peter Coffman