Canada Day on Parliment Hill in Ottawa

It was a hot night in Ottawa, following Stuart and Therese’s wedding. It was only going to get hotter. A lot hotter.

The next day was 1 July, otherwise known as Canada Day. Otherwise known as the single biggest excuse to get horribly drunk and act like an idiot.

Especially if you’re in Ottawa.

My plans didn’t involve alcohol, though. They were much more simple: An outing with Rebecca and Stefan’s family to see what could be found in our nation’s capital.

My day started off, however, with a trip back out to Carp. This was for two reasons:

  1. Therese’s parents were holding a brunch / present opening for guests to the wedding.
  2. I’d left my camera battery charger at the house.

Brunch was perfect for the day I was about to face: Bagels, smoked salmon, and cream cheese (although I didn’t have any of that — cream cheese and I don’t get along for some reason). I took almost as many pictures of Therese and Stuart opening gifts as I had taken the day before. (The joys of copious amounts of storage in my camera.)

Brunch ended fairly early, many people looking to driving back to whereever it was they came from, and others looking towards doing something for the rest of the day. For me, it was a return to Stefan and Rebecca’s and prepare for the rest of the day’s events roaming around downtown Ottawa.

By the time I got back to the house, the temperature was already well into the 30s, and showed little sign of slowing down. From all the reports I heard on the radio, this was going to be a VERY hot day. (The next day, the radio joked that the temperature had gone to 216 degrees, or 36 without the humidex. In either case, it was just an inhumane (and generally unfriendly to animals, too) temperature for people to be out doing anything strenuous, which was exactly what about 300,000+ people were doing in the downtown/Hull area.)

We parked in a lot to the southwest of Parliment Hill, from which we hoped to be able to make a quick escape after the fireworks were over. (Hey, you can at least hope.) And with that, we jumped from the air-conditioned truck into the sweltering heat of Canada Day.

Wandering, albeit a little more slowly, we eventually found our way down to Wellington/Rideau, which had been cordoned off for pedestrian use. It was almost 2pm, and the larger shows wouldn’t start for a few hours, but already the streets were lined with revellers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much red and white in my life.

And that was just the pastey white folk with the sunburns.

Canada Day on Laurier St. in Ottawa, Ontario, 1 July 2002

We made it down about as far as the Chateau Laurier when we ran into the first major busker, who was going to attempt a rope walk on a portable rope-walking apparatus. The guy’s show was nearly completely based on the lead-up. The actual rope walk was completely anti-climactic, but a good showman will always leave people entertained. Barely into his show, he was tapped on the shoulder by a woman who asked him (he had a loudspeaker) to ask if there was a doctor in the audience — a young girl had passed out in the heat.

Yes, it was that hot. I guess I needn’t mention the thick layer of sunscreen protecting us (most of us, anyway, Stefan doesn’t like the stuff).

Now quite damp from the steady stream of sweat (and the show over), we started hunting around for the next great thing to see. As it happens, we passed the Photography Gallery (adjacent to the Chateau Laurier). At first, we weren’t going to go in, but the guard had quite the draw:

“Ladies and gentlemen! Please take advantage of your nation’s free and air-conditioned museums this Canada Day!”

The museum was small, pretty empty on the upper level, but much cooler. We took our time before running back outside.

We headed into Majors Hill Park to see what interesting things could be found. The first was a welcome relief to everyone suffering in the great outdoor furnace: a Spray Zone. This is nothing fancy, no more than a hose hooked into the city water supply and bent into a two metre arch. Anyone walking under the spray got quite wet — which was perfect for us. We nearly took permanent refuge under there.

Barely into the park, Rebecca pretty much insisted that I get some water before I started keeling over from dehydration and sunstroke. Unable to drink from the two camelback water pouches they brought (although offered, I declined due to nursing a mild cold), I purchased a pair of bottles from a vendor. There weren’t too expensive, and would keep me relatively well hydrated for the day.

Eric took the opportunity to refill his now nearly empty water gun with the ice-cold water. Eric had probably brought it along as a joke, trying to annoy everyone else. However, it kind of backfired on him when we continually asked him to hose us down so we could try and keep cool. Although it was a fair bit of fun when Stefan managed to periodically steal the pistol and turn the tables on the lad.

But Eric wasn’t the only one with a water gun. Shortly after one of the various busker shows, we walked into the cross-fire of a man slinging what can only be described as a water bazooka. I think the stream was about an inch in diametre. Rebecca got shot square in the face, but didn’t seem to mind one bit.

The park area was filled with various little booths and shows (including an extreme sports aerial demonstration), and lots of people. Onward we trudged, watching the various buskers (none of whom were particularly interesting), before finding ourselves getting on a shuttle bus for Hull.

The “National Captial Region” is not just the Ontario side. It includes Hull as well, so naturally, there were events on the other side. Of particular importance was the children’s area, complete with play areas, air-filled bounce rooms, and L’Ecole du Cirque, who set up a pair of trampolines, a pair of trapezes, and some other circus-related equipment so children of all ages could enjoy themselves.

In the oppressive heat.

Eric and Thea (Rebecca and Stefan’s kids) made full use of the facilities, as did Stefan when he tried to ride a unicycle. He wasn’t horribly successful, but did learn that it made for a great upper thigh exercise trying to stay balanced.

After the kids had run the course of the circus, we started heading back. Or rather, we would have were it not for curiousity, which drew us over to the Museum of Civilization. As nothing was immediately visible, we headed back over the bridge (sans autobus) to the Ottawa side. We took our time over the middle, as the breeze there was cooling enough to make the trip bearable.

As we started to cross the bridge, Eric announced, to our partial dismay, that the water gun was broken. The pump used to pressurize the vessel had apparently blown a seal. Had Stefan a screwdriver, it would have been fixed in a jiffy. But with only his wits and a pocket of keys, cracking the gun open for repairs was outside of his ability. We would be waterless for the rest of the day.

Once reaching the other side, we found that the pathway down to the Rideau Canal and locks was blocked off for “security reasons”. Probably meant they didn’t want to worry about some yutz getting too close to the fireworks. Within a few steps, however, the heat had become unbearable. We needed to cool off.

Despite objections from the kids, we ducked into the National Art Gallery. Almost instantly, we felt our sanity returning as the cool air slowly stripped away the veneer of heat-spawned exhaustion. It took nearly 45 minutes before we were ready to brave the great outdoors again. Our brave, energized burst outdoors came to a slow crawl within five metres of the door, as the oven-like air burned off our veneer of cool-enduced enthusiasm

We wandered back through Majors Hill Park and climbed the stairs back to Wellington St. The stairwell was completely covered in chalk drawings from someone who had left large pieces of street chalk all over the place. Thea grabbed a piece, and from the Chateau Laurier, across Wellington, down the stairs at the NAC, down the sidewalk next to the Canal, and all the way into Confederation Park, Thea would walk about five feet, stoop down and draw a happy face.

Had I not managed to sort out my differences with the RCMP and CSIS earlier in the day, I would have been an easy person to follow.

Confederation Park was the location of interesting food … well, more interesting than the plethora of hotdogs and sausages available about every 10 metres along most of the roads. Here was Egyptian, Japanese (sorry, but as much as I love sushi, there are things I will not touch in that heat), Indian, and something else I can’t remember now. I ended up having (rather spicy) butter chicken and a samosa (love those things). I almost got lucky and had myself dunked in ice-cold water when the clerk at the counter emptied out their pop bucket. Had I been actually thinking, I would have shoved my head under the stream … all I got was my foot.

We sat in the shade of a large tree and tried to relax. Even with a setting sun, the heat was still intense. We opted to wait for Reggae Cowboys to start, hoping that they’d be at least somewhat entertaining. (They were at best tolerable.) The real stars of the stage were Samba Ottawa, a band what would be quite at home at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Despite being almost entirely white folk, they played a mean beat that had everyone tapping something. Admittedly, though, I ended up watching a young woman (early 20s, I imagine), who had curves like an hourglass and rhythm that could kill. The fact that she was uber-cute certainly added to the appeal. For a short time, I forgot how hot it was.

I dunno what it is about people of Spanish or Portugese decent, but they really know how to mambo…

Extracating ourselves from the park around 8:15, we found our way to Parliment Hill, and forced our way into the crowd. Stefan and I held back a bit while Rebecca and the kids moved ahead into a small clear spot. But we could all see just fine.

Waiting for the concert to begin, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario, 1 July 2002

The show was basically four bands: The Arrogant Worms (who did double duty as emcees), two French bands, and David Usher (formerly of Moist). The Worms played their songs in between the sets of the other bands, including their biggest pro-national hits, “Rocks and Trees” (really quite humourous in a large crowd setting), and “Canada’s Really Big”.

I don’t know what it is with French bands, but they always seem to have guys who look as old as the Rolling Stones, or play the same song five times over. Okay, maybe I can’t hear French language as well as I should (damn the public school system!), but even musically it’s not too hard to VARY A NOTE OR TWO. And the singer in one band made Leonard Cohen look like a vocal genius.

And I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of David Usher. I’ve heard his songs, they’re okay, but they really don’t rock my boat. But hey, it’s a free live show, and I wasn’t about to complain. And admittedly, he put on a good show. And I do have to say, he knows how to end it.

The last song of the night was announced this way:

“Wow! You’re a great audience! [Crowd cheers loudly.] But every good party needs a little Ozzy!

Yes, Ozzy as in Ozzy Osbourne. Sure enough, his band started playing the beginning to “Crazy Train”. Now I’m not a huge fan of Ozzy, either. I like a couple of his songs, but I’ll be unable to name ’em. Usher managed to mix the music scores from two Ozzy songs, and then overlaid different lyrics, specifically “Get This Party Started” by Pink.

Sounds weird, I know, but wouldn’t ya know it — they go together really well. (Expect it on Dave’s next album.)

Following that were the ubiquitous fireworks, a requirement of every Canada Day celebration. Had we been on the Quebec side of the river, I suspect the fireworks would have been amazing. On the south side of the Parliment Buildings, however, they ain’t so hot — we could only really see the high ones.

Fireworks over, the five of us stalled a bit while the rest of the crowd of probably 500,000+ filtered out into the night. We took our time, found a stall with sausages (we were pretty hungry), and eventually found the car. Getting out of the downtown, however, was another story.

Traffic, as one might expect, as a disaster. The police had blocked off certain roads that Stefan wanted to take so we could make a quick escape. This, suffice to say, frustrated him immensely. But it ended up directing us over to Marnie’s apartment (a friend of Stefan and Rebecca) who accompanied us on our trip back to Rebecca and Stefan’s house. There we took refuge in the cool basement to relax a little.

The next morning, following a quick visit to the National Museum of Science and Technology (I wanted to get pictures of the locomotives they have there), I braved the trip back to Toronto, at fairly high speed. I wasn’t keen on getting caught in traffic.

ex-CN 6200 at the National Science Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, 2 July 2002

It was hot.

Really hot.

And to top it all off, I got a sunburn.