[Bruno] and his friends are in the back of the dingy room demanding the band play some songs in French. It doesn't seem to matter what song, as long as they sing it in French, and Bruno's group won't stop shouting until they do. The band - two men and a woman who sings like old Donna Fargo without the bluegrass accent - try to ignore them, but whisper to each other and finally relent. "Come on up, Bruno, and sing something in French," they say, graciously and with good humor. And so Bruno does his part for the furthering of French language and culture by entertaining us all with a boozy, francophone version of what sounds like "The Midnight Special."
This little lesson in Canada's linguistic contortions captures something of the essence of Ottawa. It's one of the world's few truly bilingual cities and, as with most things in this civilized capital, which is in Ontario but across the Ottawa River from the province of Quebec, the language issue is handled with tact and bonhomie. In the city's well-tended parks and indoor shopping galleries, you'll hear about equal parts English and French, and often both in the same conversation or even the same sentence. Purists might be shocked by all the franglais, but it's rare and somehow reassuring to see two languages living in such easy symbiosis as in Ottawa.
A short drive past Hull will bring you to Gatineau National Park, a haven of forests, lakes, and rivers barely an hour outside Ottawa that is great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There are also downhill ski areas in the park, with rentals and lifts, but you'll find the best downhill skiing farther afield in Quebec. The ski place we tried right outside Ottawa, a place called Camp Fortune, was only acceptable - long and chaotic lift lines, short runs, but lovely scenery and, of course, plenty of snow.