Central Experimental Farm

Central Experimental Farm

The Central Experimental Farm is a lovely rural oasis in the heart of the city of Ottawa. A working farm and research centre that started in 1886, it’s beautiful grounds have become an important area of recreation and education. The 427-hectare (1,055 acre) Farm and some of its attractions are open to the public throughout the year.

lovely archway at the Central Experimental Farm

“They told us of the Farm, but we got from them the impression that it was a place to raise the best kinds of grain, while in reality Mr. Saunders, besides finding the best in grain and stock, has made of it a beauty spot…No visitor to Ottawa should think of leaving the city without seeing the Central Experimental `Park’ — as Park it surely is.”

~ Anson A. Gard (when writing about the Central Experimental Farm in 1902)




“The Farm” was originally the central research station for the Department of Agriculture. It was to be the central location for a Canada-wide system of experimental farms that would help to resolve questions relating to farm production. It continues to have labs and research plots for the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre. This national network has now grown into multiple locations, sub stations and field sites across all the Canadian provinces.

The Central Experimental Farm (CEF) is located in downtown Ottawa, bordering the Rideau Canal, near Dow’s Lake Pavillon. Besides being designated as a National Historic Site in 1998, the Farm is responsible for many research and development successes. One such example was the development of Marquis wheat in 1920: an early-ripening variety resistant to drought.

Today, you will find many people appreciating the by-products of the CEF–the lawns, the flowers, the vistas and the historical buildings. It is an inviting place to picnic, play tennis, watch birds, take wedding photos, go on bike rides, slide, ski, see farm animals and walk the dog.

iris bed at Central Experimental Farm overview of garden at Central Experimental Farm flower beds at Central Experimental Farm
One of many beautiful iris plants in the Iris Beds at the Farm. Lovely overview at the Ornamental Gardens. Flowers abound at the Central Experimental Farm.

What to see

National Collection

The Farm is home to the Canadian National Collection of insects, plants, mushrooms and fungi.

Dominion Arboretum

The Dominion Arboretum began in 1889 and covers about 26 hectares of land in the Central Experimental Farm. The arboretum has a wide range of trees and shrubs, including 1700 different species and varieties. The original intention was to study and evaluate the trees’ hardiness in the Ottawa climate. Admission is free and the arboretum is open from dawn to dusk every day.

Ornamental Gardens

The Ornamental Gardens were originally used to develop winter-hardy roses, weigela, and peonies. The collection has since expanded to include many large collections of ornamental plants and flowers, including the Explorer rose collection, the Arthur Percy Saunders peonies, the Isabella Preston lilac series, the Macoun Memorial garden, the Rock garden, and the Perennial Border.

Canada Agriculture Museum

The Canada Agriculture Museum is located at the Central Experimental Farm. The museum houses a modern working farm and illustrates how advances in farming science and technology has been used in Canada. The animal barns are open year round, but the exhibitions are only on view from March to October each year.

Dominion Observatory

The Dominion Observatory operated from 1902 to 1970. The responsibilities included providing precise coordinates (surveying and mapping) and timekeeping. It contained the largest (15-inch) refracting telescope installed at that time in Canada. (The telescope has since been moved to the Canada Science and Technology Museum). The Dominion Observatory was best known as the source of Canada’s official time signal for many years. You will find the Romanesque Revival building near Dow’s Lake on the Central Experimental Farm’s land.

Dominion Observatory

The Dominion Observatory at the Central Experimental Farm

What’s been studied

Among other things, these items have been studied/are being studied at the Central Experimental Farm

  • soils and Canadian land inventory
  • food and dairy products processing technology
  • horticulture and ornamental plant breeding
  • agriculture engineering and farm mechanical systems
  • animal and poultry breeding and production
  • agricultural and forest insect identification and control methods
  • agricultural chemistry analysis methodology
  • plant and animal pathology
  • bacteriology and plant health
  • cereal and forage crop production utilization
  • tobacco
  • bee research
  • plant studies on hardiness during Canadian winters


The mission of the Central Experimental Farm

If you wander the grounds at the Central Experimental Farm, you may discover a commemorative plaque placed there by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada when the CEF was designated as a National Historic Site in 1998. It reads:

“A rare example of a Farm within a city, this outstanding cultural landscape brings together two strong 19th century interests: agricultural improvement and picturesque design. Established by the federal government in 1886, the Farm has supported Canadian agriculture by undertaking critical scientific research and by developing and demonstrating good farming methods. Its 426 hectares are organized into three distinct areas: a central core of science and administration buildings, an arboretum and ornamental gardens, and the experimental fields and plots. The Main Dairy Barn with its attached stables laid out around a barnyard, was at the heart of the model farm. The individual parts of the landscape are orchestrated into an organic whole intended to enhance nature’s inherent beauty. Adopting picturesque features of a British country estate the Farm combines large stretches of lawn and field, winding paths and pleasing water vistas. This site is a symbol of the critical role agriculture has played in shaping Canada.”

Return from Central Experimental Farm to Ottawa Attractions

Return to Ottawa home page

Did you like this? Share it: