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!