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Bytown By Biplane

Every day above Ottawa a biplane loops, slides and slips the summer skies.

What better way to see the city?

Ottawa Biplane over Gatineau

Ottawa biplane over the Gatineau Hills


Bytown is the original settlement that became Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

The Algonquin people populated the area for thousands of years because the location is confluence of many rivers. In fact, “Ottawa” means “to trade” in their language.

The British Government chose military engineer Colonel John By to create a canal which would link the Ottawa river with Lake Ontario, providing a secure route to transfer supplies in the event of war with the Americans (a frequent event at the time). By 1826 Colonel By had started construction of what would become an engineering wonder of the world and future UNESCO World Heritage site. He and his soldiers, engineers, masons, lumberjacks, and Irish and French Canadian labourers founded Bytown, a bustling but unplanned town which formed around the construction site.

Colonel John By

Colonel John By, surveying his work

The city of Ottawa was incorporated on the former site of Bytown on January 1, 1855, and in 1857 was chosen by Queen Victoria to be the capital of the new country of Canada (mostly because it was midway between rivals Toronto and Montreal, and was inland and defensible).

By the turn of the 20th century Ottawa was a bustling, non-stop lumber and government town that became notorious for its rioting and recreational violence (not much trace of that today, except at hockey games).

Biplane Tours

My wife and I thought it would be fun to explore the city by air.

Central Aviation runs biplane tours multiple times a day during the Spring, Summer, and Fall.

The tours take place in a 1939 Waco UPF-7 Biplane, which was built in Troy Ohio by the Waco Aircraft company. The biplane’s wingspan is 30 feet, it can hit a top speed of 125 m/h, cruise at 95 m/h at 1,000′, at 220 horsepower.

The pilot sits in the back cockpit and up to two tourists can sit in the front. The flight is a fairly comfortable one but it’s a plane made of wooden struts and canvas so there aren’t any amenities.

We chose to take the Eco-tour, which flies from Rockcliffe Airport over the Gatineau hills, then back over downtown Ottawa and the Parliament Buildings, before returning to the airport. The flight time is approximately 35 to 40 minutes and the friendly and experienced pilot Greg can do some gentle stunts if you request it.

Biplane over Parliament

Biplane over Parliament and Ottawa downtown

You can find out more about Ottawa’s history, or visit Central Aviation’s website to book a biplane tour.

Biplane over downtown Ottawa

Biplane over downtown Ottawa

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Great post, Nick.

    You both obviously had fun, and a nice day for photos.

    Like the reference to “recreational violence”!


    August 31, 2015

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