The Big 150

Ottawa’s Best Secrets — Unraveling some of the capital’s top mysteries

Sensational spies

In September 1945, Russian embassy clerk Igor Gouzenko swiped 109 documents of evidence of his country’s espionage activities in Canada. When he had no luck interesting authorities in his stash, he scurried home to 511 Somerset St. W. and hid with a neighbour as his erstwhile employers raided his apartment across the hall. Eventually, the papers led to multiple arrests and a sensational spy trial.

 Illustration: Dave Merritt
Illustration: Dave Merritt

Rare things

Most University of Ottawa students likely never notice the 4,000-year-old Bronze Age bowl in a display window on the third floor of the Desmarais Building, home to the tiny Museum of Classical Antiquities. Opened in 1975, the free-to-the-public museum displays pottery, textiles, jewellery, and other items from roughly 2,000 BC to 700 AD. Coolest item: an ancient pig-shaped baby rattle.

 Illustration: Dave Merritt
Illustration: Dave Merritt

Stealth statues

One night in 1989, artist Lea Vivot left an unexpected present outside what is now Library and Archives Canada: a bronze sculpture called The Secret Bench of Knowledge. Official consternation about this random act of artwork placement ensued, and Vivot later removed the piece. The public missed it, however, so she replaced it in 1993 with a donated copy.

 Illustration: Dave Merritt
Illustration: Dave Merritt

Vaulting into history

During the Second World War, an enormous vault below the Bank of Canada building at 234 Wellington St. kept gold from European central banks safe from the Nazis. Following the building’s recent renovation, does the vault still exist? The bank isn’t saying; according to a spokeswoman’s email, “As a matter of policy and for security reasons, this is not a topic we discuss publicly.” Intriguing. Does Indiana Jones know about this?

 Illustration: Dave Merritt
Illustration: Dave Merritt