Friday, July 11, 2014

Canada Day in Canada's Capital (and surrounding area)

Call me cheesy but I love watching new Canadians celebrating Canada Day. Some of them barely speak English. Some of them rarely step outside their ethnic communities. But on this day, they leave their Little India/Chinatown/suburbs and don souvenir red-and-white t-shirts, bringing their small children on the OC Transpo bus, excited for an adventure and an opportunity to celebrate living in a country that they had worked so hard to get to.

I remember the excitement of my first Canada Day that I was old enough to remember. I was eight years old. We took the bus downtown and I was amazed to see sleepy Ottawa transformed into such a huge sea of crowds, so jam-packed in red and white that not a single car could squeeze through. There were street parties at ever corner. People everywhere.  My parents had grown up in Toronto and Vancouver so they were used to big cities (and Ottawa is not, they insist to me, a big city), but up until that point I had grown up in small town America and I had never experienced a city crowd like this.

We sat on a picnic blanket right on the lawn of Parliament Hill, and whenever I wanted a better view, I climbed up the fences to be higher.  There was continuous entertainment, various Canadian musicians. And the fireworks! And then the masive rush to catch the buses afterwards. My parents, though declaring themselves to be city folks, were overwhelmed by the commuting masses, and compared the situation to a war zone.  I guess it would be frightening to try to navigate your way through the celebrating masses with small children. Nowadays, my parents spend Canada Day quietly at home.  Canada Day in the capital is old hat for them, since they have been Canadian citizens for decades. But for those people experiencing it for the first time...

I love that some of the most enthusiastic celebrators of Canada Day are recent immigrants and new Canadians who have worked their butts off to get here and continue to work hard to make a better life for their families. They're the ones who appreciate Canada the most. They know where they are coming from and they know what they are going for.

I started this year's Canada Day off by watching a red car get towed by a white truck.  The red-and-white theme of the scene seemed almost patriotic.

My first real stop was at a book launch for a series of children's books that my friend Dustin wrote.  It's a series of picture book that explains the Charter to kids in a fun narrative manner.  I was stopping by there first before heading to a little party...which means, I later realized, I had brought beer to a children's book launch.

Gloria and the author

Still, it was pretty cool to see Dustin.

Afterwards I met up with my friends and after a few refreshments, we decided to brave the heat and the crowd and wander around downtown Ottawa.

and got matching tattoos

We stopped at the Cock and Lion Pub on Sparks Street for a few beers and Canada Day-priced nachos. As we drank, the skies grew dark with clouds and the wind picked up.  My friends checked their smart phones: there was a tornado watch coming in for Gatineau, the Quebec city across the river.  Everyone was being advised to take cover.

It was around then that I got in touch with my friend E, who I was supposed to meet. The conversation went something roughly like this:
"Wanna go for a drink in at a bar in Gatineau?"
"Like, in Quebec? On Canada Day?"
(Note: only federalists do Canada Day in Quebec.  Quebeckers do St. Jean Baptiste Day a week earlier.  Canada Day is moving day.)
"Yeah, it sounds weird, but it'll be quieter there and we'll be able to get seats."

She had a point.  On one hand, there was a tornado warning in Gatineau, Quebec. On the other hand, there was beer and free seats.

So I walked over the bridge into the tornado warning zone.

the streets of Gatineau

And it was, indeed, very quiet.

We met up at a microbrewery called Gainsbourg, named after the legendary French musician, where I enjoyed a pint of their locally brewed beer and a delicious poutine made with beer sauce.  The Quebecois know how to do such things right.

It was, however, a million degrees in the empty bar and I had sweated right through all of my clothes.  It was an odd feeling; you don't really do that very much in Nunavut.  We moved over to our friends' home nearby where we watched the rain storm hit from a courtyard window while we played card games.   Thankfully the tornado never hit; just a pleasant torrent of rain that washed everything down outside.

the skies after the storm

After the storm, I decided it would be wise to start heading home, or at least in a direction closer to home. I hopped on a bus and napped while it took me to my childhood stomping grounds of Kanata, which was having its own huge celebration in a park.

I met up with my friend L there, and we were all set to dare each other to go on an amusement ride...but we found out that the lines to all of the rides were really long, except for the carousel, and we didn't think we could pull off going on the carousel as grown adults without any children.  I suppose we'll have to get kicked off the berry-go-round another day.

Instead, we hung out at the beer garden, which is kind of like the amusement park for adults.

Afterwards, we climbed up the toboggan hill and watched Amos the Transparent performing from there.

big crowd