Canada Day Celebrations - Ottawa Afternoon


by Festival Nomad "Scoop" Correspondent, Judi McWilliams


OTTAWA Here We Come …

Over the years the Festival Nomad (a.k.a. Gary) and I have made a point of travelling to as many different Canada Day Celebrations as possible across Ontario. Cashing in on a “rain check” from last year’s “series unfortunate events” we found ourselves on our way to Ottawa a for a “series of fortunate events”! We were proud and honoured for the invitation from the Canadian Minister of Heritage & Official Languages, the Honourable James Moore (now Minister of Industry) to attend the official Canada Day Celebrations in Ottawa. This year’s afternoon celebrations were hosted by the Ministry of Canadian Heritage.

Finding our way to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Ottawa was a bit of a challenge, as we expected the hotel to look larger. The Hotel has a quaint front entrance and is located just "up-the-hill" from Parliament Hill. We were exhausted from the drive and rested a bit before the excitement of exploring downtown Ottawa began. We hit Sparks Street and enjoyed the stroll through cobble stone walkways with unique restaurants, bistros, beautiful flower displays and lights. At the corner of Sparks and Bank Streets is The 3 Brewers (Les 3 Brasseurs). This brewery displays the massive "Brew Tanks" in a large open window. The place was jammed with Canada Day celebrators.

So here we are, in downtown Ottawa, Canada Day just around the corner, at one of the largest pubs in Ottawa and the waitress asks the Festival NomadWhat can I get you to drink?Gary replies, “Well, what would you recommend for someone who never drinks beer and doesn’t even like it?” Too funny I thought. The waitress guided Gary to a rich mellow choice (which he hated), but the fun of it all overrode any distastes. The food, by the way, was delicious!

Outside a stage offered a platform for everyone to see and hear the wonderful sounds and music of live street performers. The sun was setting, the Parliament building windows sparkled in the evening sun, and you could feel the excitement in the air for the upcoming Canada Day Celebrations in Ottawa!

Up and early, we thought we’d get a head start and beat the crowds that we anticipated we be ultimately on the "Hill". (As seen on T.V. over the years). As we walked down Sparks Street again, it was difficult to stay together. There were so many people on their way to the Canada Day ceremonies. As we approached Parliament Hill we realized, at 9:30 a.m., we were already too late! The place was jammed with hundreds of people. Not only that, as we finally stopped to “read over our instructions and map” of where we should enter the V.I.P. entrance, we realized we were at the west entrance and we needed to be over at the east entrance. I’m telling you, you could not move. Celebrators had already arrived and were claiming their spots. Panic came to both our faces. Then it happened!

I put on my “please help me I’m lost pathetic look” to an RCMP Officer, told him our plight, showed him our “Official Invitation from Minister Moore". The RCMP Officer graciously opened a gate and led us through an inner part of the grounds not yet open to the long line-up of folks waiting to get in.

About halfway across the grounds, crowds still growing, the RCMP Office stopped, pointed to “just go over there”. PANIC again … "over where?" I asked! He pointed. I had to put on “my most vulnerable pathetic helpless look”. The RCMP Officer shrugged his shoulders in his “oh my goodness lady look” and again he graciously escorted us the rest of the way, winding through gates, crowds and the "chaos of excitement".

Once we arrived at the V.I.P. tent entrance, we were, much to our surprise, “too early”! Event staff looked over our invitation, checked a list, went to pull two “blue wrist bands” and then re-checked the list, and ended up giving us “silver 3D wristbands”. We had no idea what the significance of the “silver bands” was; however, I did overhear the women at the entrance say “this allows you access to anywhere you want, enjoy yourselves!” No one was in the V.I.P. seating area, as no-one else had arrived, no one. However, thousand of other folks lined up outside the fenced perimeter that surrounded the V.I.P. and centre stage area. There were "Red and White" proud Canadians everywhere! I did feel a tad uncomfortable as Gary and I don’t consider ourselves “V.I.P.'s" We normally like to attend festivals and events incognito and experience festivals and events the same as everyone else. Finally visitors started to fill the seats, security police and guards were deployed.

The show was ramping up. Official announcements were read as a pre-welcome to Ottawa's Canada Day celebrations. Bagpipes lead in a precession of dignitary, “O’Canada” was sung. Not for the last time that day. I was able to obtain some great “shots” from behind the scenes. TV stations, lights, camera, action. The red carpet led down to the “Eternal Flame” where TV personalities were doing “their thing”. I even walked up onto the centre stage curved stairway and got a shot taken by the Prime Ministers assistant who was gracious enough to take myself and our acquaintance, Mr. James Maunder (Chief of Staff to Minister Moore). Meanwhile, Gary was sitting safely in his seat taking all this in.

RCMP officers in full uniform were wandering around the area. As I had been told “you can go anywhere you want”, I took that literally and did. I nonchalantly, aimlessly strolled down the centre isle (I did not walk ON the red carpet though). I was overwhelmed by how much the crowds had increased as they opened that centre area. I panicked a bit and was grateful to be safe where I was. I had no idea the Governor General and Prime Minster and dignitaries were minutes away from arrival. Again, TV live, cameras rolling. Suddenly a “man in black” approached me. The Secret Service man said “excuse me madam what credentials do you have to be in this area?" Innocent me, stunned, I pulled up my sleeve and said, “Well, I have this 'silver wristband', I don’t know what it symbolizes but we are guest of Minister Moore”. “Well” Secret Service man replies, “I don’t know what the 'silver wristband' symbolizes either, all I know is that you are walking “out of protocol”. I’m thinking, “What?”. “Yes Madam, did you not see the map behind you?” I looked behind me and there it was … “the protocol map”. The timing and execution, precision of Canada Day in Ottawa is exact and precise. TV, live, cameras rolling. I quickly “thanked him” for bringing this to my attention and all but ran back to my seat safe and sound back with the Festival Nomad.

The arrival of the dignitaries was exciting. As it happened, our seats lined up directly across from the Prime Minister's. Our new acquaintance, Bonnie and her husband from the National Capital Commission, had the seats directly at the red rope line. Bonnie was great to let me squeeze by her, right to the rope, to get some great photos. The pomp and circumstance began. It wasn’t un-noticed to me anyways, how many “eyes” were watching. Security was visible from Ottawa Police, to the RCMP Officers, to Secret Service, to the Snipers on the rooftops. After my “little run in” with the Secret Service, I felt the eyes were on me everywhere watching every photo I snapped!

Whether you like or dislike politics or politicians, Prime Ministers or Premiers, there is something special about seeing these folks up close and person. They seem like very dedicated, passionate people, who ultimately are proud of their country!

A few highlights of the afternoon performance had us seeing the “Stars” up close and personal. Carly Rae Jepsen, for example, engulfed the stage from corner to corner, engaging the ecstatic crowds. She is a petit and light bubbly person, always smiling. Sitting right in front of us during the afternoon performances was Astronaut Doctor Thomas Marshburn, who was the physician aboard the International Space Station when Astronaut Chris Hadfield was the Station Commander. Chris Hadfield surprised everyone as he sang “his song”. After he sang, he sat down in front us. To mention how genuine I felt he was, is an understatement. He walked the fence line shaking hands, signing autographs and taking photos. After the ceremony he took time to first, let the little kids get his autograph on their Canadian Flags, hats and shirts. Then the big kids, me, got my photo taken with Astronaut Hadfield. He put his arm around my back so naturally I had to hold him in return. What an amazing moment. He just got back from “SPACE” for goodness sake.

After the hot sun shone down on a fantastic performance, it was time to join in the reception held in Centre Hall. We walked with the several hundred dignitaries and lined up to enter the lower level of the Parliament Building. As we stood waiting in this crowd, a Capital Security Guard approached us. He announced that we were “in the wrong place”. Panic grew as we thought we had “not walked in protocol” again. He went on to tell us that we could walk up to the front door of Parliament Hill and enter through there. We hesitantly walked up to the doors. The door was held open and we were told “welcome, enjoy your afternoon”! There we were, with a cool beverage in hand, some yummy treats and grateful for such an amazing experience.

As the others joined, the room became full and the noise got louder and louder. Several afternoon performers had joined in. I was very fortunate to have my photo taken with Minister James Moore. This was my second meeting in person with him. He too is a very gracious man, who gave me a few moments to share with him. All in all, this Canada Day was one to remember for life!