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Free Stuff in Ottawa... and in Canada!

Left Behind…?

Who doesn’t like free stuff?

Free activ­i­ties, free ser­vices, free good­ies… it’s always good to take! Cana­di­ans are pretty gen­er­ous, there are tons of free stuff out there — you just have to find them. I put up a list of ten free-everything avail­able in Ottawa.

Note that many of the finds here are also avail­able in other cities across Canada, you don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to live in Ottawa to ben­e­fit from them… just look for some­thing similar!

The library: I’m the freak who reads a book a day and I’m addicted to the library. But I have very good rea­sons for that. First, mem­ber­ship is free if you are a res­i­dent of Ottawa (it’s $50 if you live out­side Ottawa). A library card allows you to bor­row as many books, mag­a­zines and movies as you want, usu­ally for three weeks. Pub­lic library branches also offer card­hold­ers two hours per day at the com­puter work­sta­tion (with free Inter­net access and many pro­grams), pro­grams for new­com­ers (includ­ing lan­guage con­ver­sa­tion groups and prepa­ra­tion for the cit­i­zen­ship test) and many other ser­vices, all that for free.

Visit the Par­lia­ment: Par­lia­ment Hill is one of the main land­marks in Ottawa – it’s kind of hard to miss the Peace Tower. But have you vis­ited the Par­lia­ment? All tours and pro­grams are free of charge. When the House is sit­ting, tours may be shorter so check the House of Com­mons cal­en­dar. You may visit the Cen­tre Block and the East Block, go to the top of the Peace Tower and enjoy the view, see the Memo­r­ial Cham­ber, and have a look at the beau­ti­ful Par­lia­ment Library. Another fun activ­ity to do is to sit in the pub­lic gal­leries and to attend Ques­tion Period.

City of Ottawa pro­grams: the city of Ottawa reg­u­larly offers pro­grams to improve the city and the coun­try. For instance, the cur­rent TREE Pro­gram, men­tioned by Guillermo a few days ago, aims at plant­ing 100,000 trees in Ottawa by 2010. Ottawa res­i­dents can reg­is­ter for a free tree to plant on their prop­erty, and it will even be deliv­ered right to your door. Other past cam­paigns and pro­grams included free energy-efficient light bulbs, and I’m sure more pro­grams will be pro­moted in the future.

New­com­ers and employ­ment ser­vices: the YMCA has employ­ment coun­selling cen­ters and pro­grams. For instance, Job Con­nect helps peo­ple pre­pare for and find a new job,  Sec­ond Career Strat­egy help recently laid-off work­ers to fit the local labour mar­ket, the Fed­eral Pub­lic Sec­tor Youth Intern­ship pro­gram places young Cana­di­ans in fed­eral orga­ni­za­tions etc. Each of these pro­grams has spe­cific require­ments but you will cer­tainly find one that suits your needs. The YMCA also has a New­comer Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter staffed by mul­ti­lin­gual employ­ees who orga­nize work­shops, events and offer a library of resources.

Lan­guage test and lan­guage instruc­tion: LINC (Lan­guage Instruc­tion for New­com­ers to Canada) pro­vides free English/French lan­guage train­ing for eli­gi­ble indi­vid­u­als. You must be 18 years old or older, be a res­i­dent of Ontario and meet some immi­gra­tion sta­tus cri­te­ria. This free ser­vice includes a bench­mark assess­ment of your lan­guage skills (French or Eng­lish) and a refer­ral to LINC train­ing pro­grams (lan­guage classes that meet your needs).

Donation-based Inter­net access: National Cap­i­tal Freenet is a not-for-profit com­mu­nity net­work owned and con­trolled by peo­ple liv­ing in the region. They offer a donation-based dial-up model access: you can either vol­un­teer some time or make a dona­tion of $5/ month to cover the coast of run­ning the ser­vice. They also offer a high-speed DSL at $29.95/ month, which is very cheap for Canada. Their pop­u­lar ser­vices also include email, web­page host­ing, dis­cus­sion groups and help for peo­ple new to the Internet.

Free learn­ing mate­ri­als: uni­ver­sity is unfor­tu­nately pretty expen­sive in Canada and not every­thing has access to train­ing at work. How­ever, the Ottawa Pub­lic Library has a sep­a­rate web­site, Learning­Ex­press Library, offer­ing all kind of learn­ing mate­ri­als online. For instance, you can take free TOEFL prac­tice tests (this is an awe­some tool con­sid­er­ing how expen­sive TOEFL prep mate­ri­als are!), pre­pare the Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship test, improve your writ­ing skills, learn how to cre­ate great resume and cover let­ters, take a busi­ness writ­ing course, take a num­ber of prac­tice test to cer­ti­fied for a job (law enforce­ment, teach­ing, civil ser­vice…)… There are even “recur­sos para His­panoh­ab­lantes”! All you need to access these online resources is an Ottawa Pub­lic Library card.

A lit­tle bit of every­thing… free: in the “free” sec­tion of Kijiji, the pop­u­lar local clas­si­fied web­site, you can find a bit of every­thing: free doors, free phones, free rollerblades, free fridge… Plenty of peo­ple want to get rid of their stuff all year long. But let’s face it, garage sales are not that fun in the mid­dle of the win­ter – that’s where Kijiji comes in very handy. Just use com­mon sense (i.e. if it’s too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is…) and browse often for great finds.

Read­ing mag­a­zines at Chap­ters: Chap­ters is a large Cana­dian book­store chains. They invari­ably offer a large mag­a­zine sec­tion as well as thou­sand of books and pride them­selves on being some­what cozy. You can often grab a cof­fee at Star­bucks and use the chairs and couches inside the store – yes, Chap­ters does not dis­cour­age the read­ing of books inside the store! I love to go there once a week to read the French mag­a­zines I wouldn’t oth­er­wise buy (imported stuff are expensive!).

A free Cana­dian flag: and not just any flag, but one of the three flags that has flown on Par­lia­ment Hill. The gov­ern­ment of Canada is reg­u­larly pack­ag­ing and mail­ing the flags that have flown on top of the Peace Tower, and on the East and West blocks of the Par­lia­ment. To qual­ify, you must live have a mail­ing address in Canada. All you have to do is sub­mit a request to Pub­lic Works and Gov­ern­ment Ser­vices Canada. One caveat: the wait­ing list is rather long… 27 years for the Peace Tower flag and 19 years for the East and West blocks flags!


  1. Wow. There’s a lot of free items in Ottawa! And too bad it takes 27 years to get a free flag!
    .-= Linguist-in-Waiting´s last blog ..Cata­to­nia =-.

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