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!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


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