Big City Tales

Pomp and Circumstance in Ottawa | March 8, 2018

When it comes to global capital cities, Ottawa, Canada is still a relative “young pup” next to the likes of London, England or Paris, France. 2017 was a significant milestone year, however, and there was no lack of fanfare to mark the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday, especially in its capital region. Indeed, the pomp and circumstance in Ottawa on Canada Day (and throughout the year) extended from the heights of the iconic Peace Tower to the far reaches of the Rideau Canal and beyond instilling a strong sense of pride within the hearts of all Canadians in our nation’s symbols, institutions and its historic landmarks.

The Maple Leaf

Canada may have declared itself a country in 1867 but its national flag, known as the Maple Leaf, wasn’t unveiled until nearly a century later in 1965. True, debate over using the maple leaf had been going on since 1895 when the idea was first suggested but subsequent committees struck to broach the subject in more depth could not reach a consensus. It wasn’t until Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was in office during the 1960s that the contentious matter was finally resolved and the maple leaf has been flown high and proudly worn ever since.

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Parliament Hill

The primary venue for Canada Day celebrations on July 1 is Parliament Hill (commonly referred to as ‘The Hill’), an area of Crown land located on the southern side of the Ottawa River. The Hill features a suite of three modern Gothic Revival buildings that make up the Parliament of Canada.

The main building of Canada’s parliamentary complex is referred to as the Centre Block. It contains the House of Commons and Senate chambers, as well as the Library of Parliament, administrative offices and ceremonial areas such as Confederation Hall and the Hall of Honour. The Centre Block is one of Canada’s most recognizable buildings, particularly because of the Peace Tower that fronts the building and dominates the downtown skyline. Standing nearly 100 metres high, it is both a focal clock and bell tower, as well as a memorial to Canadians who died during World War I.

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The other two buildings on The Hill are the East Block and West Block that contain offices for ministers and senators along with meeting rooms and other general administrative spaces.

The grounds surrounding The Hill cover close to 90,000 square metres and include a quadrangle where many public events are staged, a gazebo and a series of English-style gardens featuring statues and monuments mostly of famous politicians and monarchs.

Confederation Square

Located to the east of Parliament Hill, Confederation Square is noteworthy for its association with the City-Beautiful Movement that was prevalent around the turn of the 20th Century, as well as its central location and proximity to landmark historical buildings such as the Chateau Laurier Hotel, the National Arts Centre, the Central Post Office and Langevin Block, the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.

The square is considered to be the second most important ceremonial centre in Ottawa, after Parliament Hill, and is the proud home of the National War Memorial that commemorates all Canadians killed in past or future conflicts, as well as the Valiants Memorial.

The main features of the National War Memorial are a tall granite arch, bronze sculptures, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The bronze figures underneath the arch represent the branches of the Canadian forces called into war and who subsequently helped to forge peace, which is symbolized by the figures shown in movement emerging through the arch from war on one side to peace on the other.

The Valiants Memorial commemorates fourteen of Canada’s key military heroes and consists of nine busts and five statues. The figures chosen to be memorialized date back as far to conflicts that occurred when Canada was part of New France, and more recently to participants in World War II.

Rideau Canal

Operated by Parks Canada, the Rideau Canal is a waterway that connects Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The canal uses a lock system to transport boats through it between mid-May and mid-October. As the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

When the water freezes during the winter, a portion of the canal is transformed into an outdoor skating rink, the world’s largest in terms of width and second longest. The skateway is the focal point of the annual Winterlude festival that takes place in February.

Tulip Festival

Tulips may be the symbol of Holland and Amsterdam but Canada has also become famous for this beautiful bulb. The Canadian Tulip Festival held annually each May in Ottawa displays over one million tulips of all colours at five theme sites around the city:

  • Lansdowne Park – The Art & Culture Tulip Experience
  • Commissioners Park/Dow’s Lake – The Garden Tulip Experience
  • ByWard Market – The Urban Tulip Experience
  • Garden Promenade – The Community Tulip Experience
  • Zibi Gatineau — The Culinary Tulip Experience

Of note, Canada’s association with tulips dates back to World War II when the Dutch Royal Family sought refuge from the fighting in Ottawa, and Canadian troops helped to liberate the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. As a show of thanks after the war, the Royal Family sent a gift of 100,000 tulips and has continued to do so to this day. The Canadian Tulip Festival was established in 1953 to acknowledge this generous gift and showcase the flower as an ongoing symbol of friendship and peace.

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