Exploring Britannia: history, beach, and nature in the west of Ottawa

The first time I ended up in Britannia, it was by chance. We were driving back home from the west and we took one street that led us to a charming neighborhood, with beautiful old, very well-kept houses surrounded by big, leafy trees.

A sign said: “Britannia Village.” We kept wandering and eventually we came to a sandy beach next to a park. It was not the official summer season yet, but there were people enjoying the sun, swimming, and playing in the water.

That was Britannia, a quiet neighborhood in the west end of Ottawa, and which is one of the oldest in the capital city. It was born in 1818 as a summer resort community.

Several very old houses still exist in Britannia Village close to the Yacht Club – itself one of the oldest yacht clubs in Canada. Some of the houses were declared heritage properties, which means they must be preserved.

We didn’t know then that Britannia beach was one of the favorites beaches for many Ottawans. Sadly, this last summer we couldn’t enjoy beach days there because the beach was closed due to dredging works.

But Britannia not only has a great beach, it also has a very nice waterfront park (that includes a sector for unleashed dogs) and moreover, it has a conservation area, which is its best-kept secret.

Summer days at Britannia beach are one of a kind. I remember admiring the intense blue waters in that part of the Ottawa river. The beach consists of two sections: one is the main beach where the safeguards are located, and the other is a small beach used mostly for the launching of inflatable boats, paddleboards, or windsurfing boards.

Britannia park is also beautiful, with lots of trees that provide fresh shade on hot days. It is a favorite place for picnics and barbecues. This park was created by the Ottawa Electric Rail Company (OERC) in 1900 to give people a reason to use the trolley that started operating that year from downtown Ottawa to Britannia.

But Britannia is not just an interesting place to go in the summer. All year-round one can enjoy the outdoors in this neighborhood. Next to the park, there is the path that connects Britannia with the city’s path network, which is used by cyclists and walkers in the warm months and skiers during the winter season.

And the hidden treasure of Britannia is a conservation area named Mud Lake, which is next to Britannia Village. We had been many times in Britannia and didn’t know about this area between Britannia Road and Lincoln Heights Road.

The Mud Lake trail is a 3.2-kilometer trail that is also one of the best places for birdwatching. As soon as you enter the trail, chickadees can welcome you if it’s a quiet day and not very busy like on the weekends.

This area is a wetland that hosts a diverse fauna. That makes it a very cool place to visit with kids. They can see ducks, geese, wild turkeys, turtles, rabbits, and lots of squirrels and chipmunks. The trail, for all skill levels, is accessible all year-round. And the views of the lake are beautiful and peaceful.

But nothing is perfect. This lovely neighborhood has its “sketchy” part, according to some locals. It’s the south part close to Richmond Road where low-income properties are predominant, while the wealthier areas are in the north.

I found out that it’s one specific street – Ritchie Street – that is normally mentioned as the most problematic. I went there one Friday afternoon, and while I saw low-income townhouses, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Besides, the other adjacent streets didn’t look like low-income areas.

But to tell the truth, Ritchie Street has been the scene of periodic shootings. In July, for example, there were two shootings in a period of five days with the result that a 21-year-old man died.

In general, though, Ottawa is considered a very safe city, and crime in the capital is way less when compared with rougher areas in bigger cities like Toronto or Montreal.

Still, Britannia is a great and charming neighborhood that it’s worth exploring and enjoying. Pay attention to this: Bus 51 of OC Transpo passes by the park and Britannia Village.

What do you think about Britannia? Would you feel like living there? Have you been to Britannia beach in the summer? Share your stories. Take care.

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4 thoughts on “Exploring Britannia: history, beach, and nature in the west of Ottawa

  1. Ritchie St is a small pocket in Britannia, and the vast majority of its residents are just regular blue collar folks.
    The rest of the neighbourhood, extending beyond Britannia Village into Belltown, Britannia Heights and so on… is just fine. Glad to call it my home in Ottawa.

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