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PEMBROKE - WATERFRONT ART GALLERY IN OTTAWA VALLEY

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Pembroke is a pretty town in the Ottawa Valley, just one hour and 15 minutes northwest of Ottawa, Ontario. It took us four and a half hours to drive from Toronto to Pembroke, following Highways 401 and 41.

Flower box on Muskrat River bridge
Flower box on Muskrat River bridge
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We visited this Renfrew County city because our nephew, Keith, married his bride, Lise, in her home town. Thanks to them, we discovered that Pembroke has many more attractions than we expected for a city with a population of 15,000.

Pembroke Comfort Inn

Keith and Lise reserved rooms at the Comfort Inn at a special group rate for out-of-town guests. The location, on Pembroke St. E., was ideal.

The hotel overlooks the beautiful Ottawa River and is only a short drive from downtown attractions. Parking is free.

Garden flowers

Keith and Lise's outdoor wedding ceremony was at Peever's Wishing Well Gardens, on Blackcreek Road, a half-hour drive southwest of Pembroke Comfort Inn.

The garden's colourful flowers, statues and fountains were great backdrops for wedding photos. We enjoyed refreshments on shaded chairs next to a pond filled with large golden carp.

Lise and Keith's wedding party at Peever's Wishing Well Gardens
Lise and Keith's wedding party at Peever's Wishing Well Gardens
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Communities in bloom

In Pembroke, we saw blossoms in public parks, private gardens, flower baskets and even flower boxes along bridges. Since 1999, Pembroke has participated in the Communities in Bloom program. The city has won five blooms (the top award) during national level competitions.

The day after the wedding, we wore off the calories of the reception dinner by sightseeing. The entranceway to the Pembroke Comfort Inn has a rack of informative brochures that enticed us to visit Pembroke and other Ottawa Valley tourist sites, like Bonnechere Caves in Eganville.

Friendly staff at the Comfort Inn gave us directions to Pembroke attractions and reminded us about the 1,000 free parking spaces in downtown Pembroke. (A map in the Pembroke Tourism brochure shows the locations.)

Heritage Murals

The beauty, professional quality and size of Pembroke's Heritage Murals astounded us. More than 30 giant canvasses cover the sides of buildings. Painted by Canadian artists, they illustrate the history and culture of Pembroke from 1828 to the present time.

One painting depicts three generations of streetlights. Pembroke was the first town in Canada to illuminate its streets with commercial electric lights.

Pembroke heritage mural depicts timber raft.
Pembroke heritage mural depicts timber raft.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Lumber was the main industry in Pembroke from 1828 to 1980. One mural portrays loggers steering rafts of squared white and red pine timbers along the Ottawa River rapids. From here, they followed the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City to sell the wood.

On the Canadian Pacific Railway Water Tower, a 360-degree aerial mural depicts CP Rail steam locomotives hauling lumber beside the Ottawa River. In the early 1900s, several railway lines joined in Pembroke.

Bird watching

Tens of thousands of swallows visit Pembroke every summer, swirling in clouds above the confluence of the Ottawa River and Muskrat River. Although it's difficult to identify the six species, as they dip and dive to catch insects, the best time to see the swallows is at sunset, from late July to early August.

Besides an exquisite mural depicting Pembroke's swallows, the outdoor art gallery has several swallow pictures, hidden in the murals. It's fun trying to spot them.

One of the most unique Heritage Murals is a rare three-dimensional painting of Marguerite d'Youville, founder of the Grey Nuns, and Canada's first native-born saint. Stained glass windows, with illuminated cornices, span paintings depicting people that Marguerite cared for in her mission.

Marguerite D'Youville and her Mission Heritage Mural
Marguerite D'Youville and her Mission Heritage Mural
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Hockey Hall of Fame

Pembroke is called "Canada's hockey town" because it's the birthplace of several NHL players. A Heritage Mural honors Harry Cameron, Hugh Lehman and Frank Nighbor, who were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Skates, uniforms and other souvenirs from the NHL'ers are in the Champlain Trail Museum, just down the street from Pembroke Comfort Inn. The museum preserves a 19th-century log home, an 1838 school house, a pioneer church and a blacksmith shop.

Peppers in Pembroke Farmers' Market
Peppers in Pembroke Farmers' Market
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Special events

The Champlain Trail Museum and Pioneer Village hosts a Strawberry Social on the last Sunday in June. It's only one of many annual festivals and special events in Pembroke.

Every Wednesday and Saturday morning, between late-May and mid-October, the Pembroke Farmers' Market draws visitors and locals downtown to the corner of Lake and Victoria Streets.

Two dozen vendors sell homemade jam and pickles, homebaked bread and pies, fresh vegetables and fruit, smoked meats and maple syrup, handcrafted jewellery and knitted clothing.

A highlight of Labour Day weekend is Fiddle Week, which boasts old-fashioned fiddling and step-dancing competitions. The festival takes place in Riverside Park, which has tent and trailer sites for camping, just five minutes from downtown Pembroke.

Waterfront sign
Waterfront sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Waterfront

Pembroke's beautiful Waterfront hosts free entertainment every night in July and August. The Riverwalk Amphitheatre seats 600 in eight levels. Local musicians perform in the Bandstand.

People come to walk their dogs and leisurely stroll along The Boardwalk. Four picnic gazebos contain historical displays. Numerous benches offer great views of the Ottawa River, which separates Ontario and Quebec. From here, it's easy to imagine Samuel de Champlain travelling along the mile-wide river in the 1600s.

Whitewater rafting trips

Our nieces and nephews extended their Pembroke visit to go white water rafting in the Ottawa River. Local companies offer adventure trips in rubber rafts, kayaks and canoes. Other relatives brought their rods and reels for a day of fishing in the Ottawa Valley.

Thanks to Lise and Keith's wedding, our family discovered several Ottawa Valley and Pembroke attractions. We'll plan a longer trip for our next visit.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

City of Pembroke: www.pembrokeontario.com

Ottawa Valley: www.ottawavalley.org

More things to see and do in Ontario:

Stratford Ontario - Theater and Attractions

Couples Resort Romantic Winter Getaway in Algonquin Park

Things to Do in Canada's Capital City and Ottawa Valley

Point Pelee Bird Watching Tours

Ontario Feast of Fields - Food, Wine and Sustainable Living