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Ontario Legislative Building Tour

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

"The following is an article written after our visit to Toronto for a tour of the Ontario Legislative Buildings. The tour was conducted by our local MPP, Lou Rinaldi. To truly appreciate the Legislative Buildings, you need to visit them in person. Have fun!"

Winter at Queen’s Park…
This past spring Judi and I had the opportunity to tour Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa with our local MP, Rick Norlock and his wife Judy. Since Ontario Festivals Visited is all about Ontario’s festival, events and attractions, I thought it would be great to arrange for an Ontario Legislative Building Tour (aka Queen’s Park Tour) in Toronto. With that thought in mind, I contacted our own local M.P.P., Lou Rinaldi’s office to see if a tour could be arranged. As I mentioned, the tour in Ottawa took place into spring, at the same time as the Canadian Tulip Festival. Since it was now winter, I thought Christmas at Queen’s Park would make a great theme. A tour was arranged for mid-December, just before the Holiday break. As it turned out, the date we had chosen was the last day Parliament was sitting. When traveling in the winter months we are always wary of the weather. The outlook for this travel day looked promising. The weather bureau said that there might be a few local snow flurries, but nothing major. Our tour was scheduled for 11:00 AM, so we left Cobourg at a little after 9:00 AM, plenty of time, we thought, to get there. However, the traffic “gremlins” were at work in Toronto (when aren’t they?) so we were running a little late! There is no public parking in the Queen’s Park area, so we had to park in a Yorkville Parking Garage. Yorkville is located just north of Queen’s Park so we had a good hike to our final destination. We finally made it to the building, picked up our visitors’ passes and joined the tour that was just about to start. Fortunately the Ontario Legislative Building Tour group was having a group photo taken. It takes a lot to organized 50 some odd children and teachers…

The Tour…
The Ontario Legislature Building is located in the heart of downtown Toronto. The building is situated in the middle of Queen’s Park. To the south of Queen’s Park is University Avenue and some of the world’s finest hospitals. To the north is the trendy Yorkville Village with all its glittering shops and restaurants. Surrounding the Legislature Building is the University of Toronto downtown campus. If fact, the University owns the land that the Ontario Legislature Building is built on and has leased it to them for 999 years. Construction of the building was started in 1886 and completed in 1893 at a final cost of $1,250,000. In 1909, during the construction of the north wing, the west wing caught fire and its interior was destroyed. To learn more about the history of the Ontario Legislature Building, you can go to either of these 2 websites. (About Ontario - History of Legislative Buildings or Wikipedia - Ontario Legislature, Queen's Park). The Ontario Legislative Bulding Tour, which started in the centre lobby of the complex, split into two groups. Our group started the tour in the western wing of the building. The tour guide told us the history of the wing and about the fire that destroyed the interior. High above us in the ceiling was Ontario’s coat of arms presented in stained glass. Scattered throughout the wing’s hallway were display cases full of Ontario’s past. From the west wing the guide took us to the east wing. Along with more historical memorabilia display cases, there was a large framed map of Ontario plus examples of Parliamentary protocol. One room contained a miniature Legislature Chambers. We were led into the room and asked to take seats in the mock Chamber. Judi and I sat inconspicuously in the back while the students rush around the room in a “musical chair” way, clamoring to gain the most sought after chairs. The teachers quickly settled things down by assigning the few remaining available seats. The guide then started to ask questions about Canada and Ontario and its Parliaments. I was both amazed and proud of how the kids quickly and enthusiastically answered all of the questions asked. It bodes well for the future of our province and our country. Once all the questions were asked and answered, the tour was over. The students were going to the Visitor’s Gallery to view the Legislative Assembly in action. We were going to have lunch with our M.P.P. Lou Rinaldi

Through the Snow…
Once our Ontario Legislative Building Tour was over, we still had 20 minutes to go before our luncheon date. Our tour had finished in the front lobby and when we looked out the front doors, the clear day had turned into a winter storm! We still had our coats on so we decided to go outside to see what the Building looked like in a snow storm. I know this might sound odd, but the Ontario Legislative Building is a magnificent massive structure that commands the whole view of Queen’s Park. I thought it would be great to look at and that it would make a wonderful photograph. I was right! Looking at the Building with the snowflakes streaming down around it was magical. Like a scene from a Walt Disney movie, the Building loomed through the haze of snow! After taking a number of photographs we tramped through the snow back to the front entrance. Our visitor passes allowed us access to most places on the 1st and 2nd floors. We still had plenty of time before our meeting, so we decided to do some more exploring. We had already covered most of the first floor, so we walked to the main central staircase the led to the second floor. We had to bypass the huge Christmas Tree that dominated the first level of the stairway. Halfway up the staircase there was a hallway to the North Wing. Looking down the hallway we could see that the Legislative Library was at the end. The hall was lined with wall plaques list the names of former legislators. Back at the staircase, we climbed to the second floor. Right across from the stairs is the Legislative Assembly Chamber. We had to be very quiet as the Assembly was in still in Session. We wandered around the different public sections of the second floor, taking photographs were possible. Everywhere you looked the history of our province and country could be seen. (photos, paintings, lists, busts and display) Taking it all in was impossible, there was just too much to absorb! It was hard to leave, but it was now time to go down stairs to meet our host…

Lunch…
We were to meet Quinte West M.P.P. Lou Rinaldi at the bottom of the Grand Staircase at 12 Noon. However, the House was still in session, so we had to wait a few minutes. Finally the morning session was over and the member came flooding down the stairs. Lou Rinaldi was amongst them and as promised met at the bottom of the staircase. I had met Lou informally over the past few years, but never formally. We introduced ourselves and then followed Lou down another set of stair to the basement. The Legislative Dining Room was located on this floor. After we had checked our coats, Lou led us into the dining room. The dining room, called “In Camera”! I’m not sure whether that was the room’s name or that was how people were to conduct themselves during lunch and I never asked! Lunch was served buffet style so we joined the long line up of hungry Legislators. The food was plentiful and delicious. Judi had salad and cake on her first plate. She wanted to make sure she got her dessert before the rest of the crowd grabbed them! I had the fresh cooked turkey with gravy. Hey, it was Christmas time and I’m traditional! During lunch we were able to get to know Lou much better. Lou is very passionate about Ontario and his riding and wants to help make it a better place to live. We also found out that Lou and his family live in picturesque Brighton and that he founded the Brighton Speedway. Lou’s son now runs the Speedway. Our discussion about racing (I am sure Judi was bored!) led to our experiences when we were younger. I told Lou about going to the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix race at Mosport many years ago when the likes of Stirling Moss, Jim Clarke and Graham Hill were racing. He had been there and had actually working for one of the suppliers. It is certainly a small world! All too quickly it was time for Lou to go back to the House Chamber for the afternoon session. Fortunately we had arranged for Gallery Passes so that we could enter the “House” and watch the “action”! Lou graciously led us upstairs to the second floor and took us to the Chamber’s public entrance. The fun was about to begin…

Democracy In Action…
If you have watched Question Period on TV channels or read my article about our tour of Canada’s Parliament, you will know that “Question Period” in Ottawa can become quite raucous. The Ontario Legislative Assemble, although smaller in numbers, is no different. Anyone who is a fan of democracy understands that this is an important part of the democratic process. True, since television cameras were installed, the sessions have become a little more boisterous, but that’s the fun of it! It wonderful to think that people can strongly voice their political positions without fear of being arrested in the middle of the night for their points of view! The Ontario Legislative Assembly, although structured similar to its Federal counterpart, is much different in temperament. We found that the Federal session was much more formal, both for the members and the public gallery. In the Ontario Chamber, during a session, members seem to be free to come and go at will. Although there is still banter between the political parties, it seems to less structured and controlled. Even the Gallery visitor can come and go as they please plus some of the seats are much closer to the action. Fortunately, for us, the day we visited the Minister of Finance was delivering his Fall Economic Statement. In his statement he announced “the Ministry of Tourism’s $10 million Celebrate Ontario 2008 - Enhancing our Festivals and Events funding initiative.” This additional funding ($30 million before) will certainly be a boon to Ontario’s festivals and events. We were particularly interested in this initiative since our website is all about Ontario’s festivals and events. The Minister’s Statement was followed by opposition statements and questions. Question Period then started in earnest! It always amazes me that people who has been laughing and joking a few minutes before become angry and indignant when Question Period begins, but this is Democracy in Action. I wouldn’t want it any other way! With weather outside turning nasty, we left Ontario’s “Seat of Power” with full stomachs and greater knowledge. Thanks Lou for your hospitality and for the Ontario Legislative Building Tour

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