Shielded from many public massacres, Canadians have mostly escaped the controversy and horror associated with one of America’s biggest debates: The second amendment, aka “The Right to Bear Arms”. Following mostly in the footsteps of its superpower neighbors, Canada’s been forced to enact many of America’s post 9/11 anti-terrorism laws at airports as well as a myriad of other rules for stepping up security levels. Until today, touring the nation’s capital and its governing halls was never off-limits as White House Tours have been for years. Sadly, thanks to an armed lunatic with a gun and a chaotic scene today, I’m confident we’ve seen the end of the Parliament Building tours for the public.
Fortunately, the Experimental Expats visited Eastern Canada during my American expat days in Calgary. Long before our intended move to Malaysia was hatched, we wondered what “The East” was all about. Rather than glorify today’s violence, I’ve chosen to share snippets of our wonderful trip to Ottawa complete with a video of The Changing Of The Guard parade, a highlight of any visit.
Believing every citizen should visit the capital city and governing hall of their nation, Diane and I chose Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City for our Eastern Canadian excursion, Although distinctively NOT part of an annual Expat Research Destination Vacation due to weather and various other east versus west factors, we learned an immense amount about the history, politics and workings of the Canadian government.
Located north of Canada’s “center of the universe” (Toronto), Ottawa enjoys a low-key existence, mostly in the shadows of its massive neighbor to the south. Possessing a pro hockey team, excellent East Indian food, a famous canal for skating most of the year and a host of very informative museums, Diane and I bypassed the Hockey Hall of Fame in favor of an educational experience.
Being Canada and all, the first thing we saw when we ventured out of the hotel was a giant hockey statue.
Walking distance from reasonably priced hotels, the Parliament Building is a beautiful and grand structure that comes into view almost immediately. Evidently more British than The White House and its environs, it maintains an old world charm you can’t help admiring as soon as you see it.
Connected by pedestrian friendly bridges, touring Ottawa on foot is relatively easy and we spent about four days enjoying sites such as The Bank of Canada Currency Museum, the Canadian War Museum and the Governor General’s Residency, all sites worth seeing. Clearly one of the most popular events is the Changing of the Guard Parade. Having been re-Americanized, I offer the following brief explanation of the ceremony courtesy of Wikipedia. I would screw it and all you Canadian readers would hurl poutine at me.
The primary and most visible function of the Ceremonial Guard is, the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, the national capital of Canada. The Changing of the Guard Ceremony is a parade representing the changing of the guards/sentries posted at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Canadian monarch when in Ottawa, and her representative, the Governor General, in her absence.
A full company of two platoons is employed in daily public duties, with both divisions of one platoon parading as the ‘new guard’ – those to take over duties at Rideau Hall – and the other platoon of the company split, one division parading as ‘old guard’, and the other performing sentry duties at Rideau Hall and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the day.
Thoroughly entertaining, the parade highlights the ceremonial differences between America’s mostly solemn war based history and Canada’s quirky association with a “motherland” and a more laid back policy of neutrality. (Canada did take part in World War II before the USA did, however, and that was without being attacked.) Occurring daily from June thru August,, Diane and I saw it on a rainy morning and we owned crappy cameras so please excuse the poor picture quality of the video.
Touring Parliament was easy and demand is much less than getting tickets to anything in Washington D.C. Taking about three hours, we walked through the halls, marveling at the beautiful mosaic tiles, stained glass roof and main hall where the Senate meets. Remotely different functions differentiate the Canadian Senate from America. Mostly ceremonial in nature, the Senate’s function is minimal and most policies are made by the MP’s (Members of Parliament).
Moving on, we visited the Canadian Equivalent of The Library of Congress, enjoying its beautiful Gothic structure.
Easily recognizable, The Peace Tower is a bell and clock tower sitting in the center block of the parliament Buildings. Perhaps not as elegant as The Washington Monument, it’s nonetheless beautiful and inclusive as part of the tour.
Finally, we made our way to Rideau hall, the official residency of Canada’s Governor General,
who is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Located at 1 Sussex Drive, the estate has 75 rooms, takes up 102,000 square feet and features 24 outer buildings around the perimeter.
The Experimental Expats know it’s a poor idea to mix politics with expat life. Wishing not to offend any readers, I offer my take: Thankful most Southeast Asians don’t define their identity based on a right to own weapons of mass destruction, I hope we only see guns when we see the police, the army or other representatives of an armed militia.
Prime Minister Harper already called President Obama after today’s incident. Let’s hope they didn’t discuss enhanced security detail that prevents Canadians from enjoying the shining beacon of their democracy.
Coming soon: Our six course three and a half hour dinner at a real French restaurant in Montreal and why we think Montreal remains stuck in 1976.