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Indigenous Walks tour tells forgotten history of downtown Ottawa

Ottawa is the centre of political power in Canada, but often left out of social studies textbooks is the Indigenous history of the land on which Parliament Hill sits. That motivated Jaime Morse to launch Indigenous Walks, a walking tour that tells visitors the Indigenous history of downtown Ottawa. 
Jaime Morse standing beside the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument in Ottawa, one of the many stops she makes on her Indigenous Walks tour. (Stephanie Cram/Indigenous Walks)
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Ottawa is the centre of political power in Canada, but often left out of social studies textbooks is the Indigenous history of the land on which Parliament Hill sits.

That motivated Jaime Morse to launch Indigenous Walks, a walking tour that tells visitors the Indigenous history of downtown Ottawa.

Morse is Métis and from Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement in Alberta, but has called Ottawa home for 20 years.

"One of the things that I was really interested in finding out was that [Ottawa] has always been somewhat of an international zone, because it's a place where everybody converges … a lot of First Nations from across the country, and a lot of Inuit," said Morse. 

"If we've come here, there's a reason we've come here, whether [it's] intergenerational effects of residential schools to find somewhere safe to be, whether it's to get a job or further our education … we all come with our own histories." 

"As Indigenous people ... they say, we're born political, so wherever we are, there's politics."

The tour takes visitors through Ottawa City Hall, down Elgin Street, and along the way you stop at important monuments that help shine a light on the Indigenous history of Ottawa. 

Just outside of city hall — and with Parliament Hill in site — there's a land marker. 

"It has a plaque on the front of it, and that plaque has an image by Dean Ottawa from Kitigan Zibi, [that] acknowledges that this is unceded Algonquin land," said Morse. 

One stop that tour guide Jaime Morse takes people is the Algonquin land marker just outside of Ottawa City Hall. It's located close to a large monument commemorating Canada's 150th anniversary. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"What does that mean? Like really stop and think about unceded in this particular city? There was no treaty that was signed. People started building stuff and coming into the area and chasing Algonquin people away with shotguns."

Morse noted that close to the land marker sits a larger art installation recognizing Canada's 150th anniversary. 

"It's got this huge presence and it's only a few feet away from the land marker, and I think there's something very visual in terms of how [Indigenous] people are feeling ... in terms of the treatment in Canada," she said. 

Another stop on the tour is Elgin Street, which is a bustling street with many restaurants and bars. 

"Lord Elgin, he was the governor general who signed off on residential schools. I don't know if an everyday person would understand the history in that," said Morse. 

"I really try to make sure that after someone leaves my tour that they feel like they have a bit more knowledge, not just about what's in the monuments, but how to read them and how to look at space."