We have had a fantastic few days in Ottawa with friends Grace and Paul. Here’s what we’ve been up to in our Nation’s Capital:
Friday, August 9:
After rising very early in Montreal, we were treated to a lovely sunny drive to Ottawa through agricultural countryside interpersed with bluffs of trees. The corn fields were high, and everything was lush and green.
After finding a campsite, we drove into downtown Ottawa and proceeded to “Discover The Hill”, as suggested in the tourist literature. We started with the outdoor self-guiding tour booklet, wandering around the grounds with its various monuments and statues, including the Fathers of Confederation, Queen Elizabeth II astride her horse, and a selection of our prime ministers over the years. There is even a Cat Santuary on Parliament Hill, home to stray cats since the 1970s and “reflecting the Canadian values of openness and compassion”. At the foot of the central walk to the Parliament Buildings is the Centennial Flame, commemorating Canada’s 100th anniversary of confederation in 1967.
A highlight of the day was a tour of the Centre Block, featuring the House of Commons and the Senate. Standing at the foot of the stairs where we often see the Prime Minister giving his “statement” to the media, we will now view those newscasts in a totally different light. We were also fortunate to be able to see the Library of Parliament, a truly magnificent structure, both inside and out. We learned that this building survived the fire of 1916 which destroyed the original Centre Block and thus is the only part of the original Parliament Buildings still standing.
We also took the elevator to the top of the Peace Tower, built from 1919 to 1927 and dedicated to the more than 60,000 Canadian soldiers who gave their lives on the battlefields of Europe during the First World War. From the top of the tower, we had amazing view of the city, including the Langevin Block across the street which houses the office of the Prime Minister. Other structures viewed from the tower or through our wanderings through the streets of Ottawa included the National Library, the Chateau Laurier, the National Press Gallery, the National Library and National Archives, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Bank of Canada, and the Sparks Street Mall.
Ottawa is truly a city steeped in history and tradition. Regardless of the cynicism that pervades our society, the buildings, monuments and landscapes of Parliament Hill reflect its importance as the heart of our great nation. While speaking to a security guard at the Peace Tower, she commented that Parliament Hill is named as the number #1 “must see” attraction for tourists visiting Ottawa. We too had to admit to a feeling of awe as we visited the seat of our nation’s democracy. While it may not be perfect, it far surpasses the alternative.
Saturday, August 9:
Giving up our campsite, we stayed with Grace and Paul for the next two nights, revelling in the luxury of a real bed and modern bathroom.
After a leisurely breakfast on the patio, we drove out to the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. Intending to spend an hour or so, we ended up being drawn into the story of former Prime Minister MacKenzie King and the eccentric aspects of his romantic personality. In 1903, King bought land on Kingsmere Lake in the Gatineau Hills and built a basic cottage – Kingswood. Later, he bought more land until he eventually owned an estate of nearly 231 hectares with three summer cottages and a permanent residence. At his death in 1950, King willed his in Gatineau Park to all Canadians. Both Kingswood and Moorside (built in 1928 as King’s home to receive such distinguished guests as Winston Churchill and F.D. Roosevelt) were open for viewing. We also had an excellent outdoor tour by a very enthusiastic volunteer of the grounds and flower beds, as well as the ruins that King brought to this summer retreat over the years. Most of these were arches and windows from demolished buildings that he had set up as his “window into nature”. Some of these came from the old Parliament buildings (destroyed by fire in 1916) and from the Parliament Buildings in London following the bombing during WWII. The whole estate provided a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of the Canadian prime minister who still holds the record for longevity, having served for close to 22 years.
After a wonderful meal of barbequed salmon and Paul’s peach pie on the patio, the four of us headed off to Lac Leamy Casino in Hull for a stage performance entitled “Flower Power”, featuring the music and artists of the 60’s. Having all lived through this era, it was a trip down memory lane as we listened to the music of The Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, The Mamas and The Papas, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin and dozens more, along with selections from Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair and Woodstock … all performed by a group of 10 very talented performers who hadn’t even been born when this music defined our generation. It was a wonderful show of music and special effects from a time that we baby boomers certainly look back on with nostalgia and affection.
Following the performance, we tried our luck at the casino, discovering that we were all a bunch of “casino hicks”, not knowing how get quarters for the slot machines, how to play the machines, and even how to cash out. Whatever happened to the old machines where you just put a quarter in and looked for three cherries? But we had lots of fun bumbling our way through the “new rules”of casinos, and we even managed to come out ahead by a dollar or two. The Lac Leamy Casino is an impressive structure, very classy with coloured fountains lining the walkways. As we left, a fireworks spectacular filled the skies as we drove off into the sunset.
But our evening’s entertainment was not yet over. The City of Ottawa was moving a bridge, and it seemed that the whole city was there for the show. A section of damaged freeway had been cut out in two gigantic pieces and was being moved on a huge machine on wheels (Dutch technology), after which a new piece of freeway was to be moved in and attached, all in the course of 24 hours. This technique is a first in Canada and is expected to save millions through the elimination of the lengthy process of blocking off lanes for months, breaking up old cement and repaving. The process, which would normally take two years, started in April. While we watched, the old freeway slowly lumbered away, while the new one rolled in to replace it. By 12 noon the next morning, all lanes were open and the traffic was moving. This was truly history in the making as its success will undoubtedly pave the way (no pun intended) for the future maintenance of our increasingly stressed infrastructure.
posted Tuesday August 2007