Big City Tales

Pomp and Circumstance in Ottawa

March 8, 2018
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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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Exploring the New Found Land of St. John’s

January 30, 2018
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As one of North America’s first established settlements, the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland is also the continent’s most eastern point. Rich in both natural resources and natural beauty, and full of history and lore, St. John’s is a city worth exploring by land, sea or air.

Location Location Location

Located on the Avalon Peninsula, the city’s harbour flows into the Atlantic Ocean and was an ideal landing port for European explorers sailing from Spain, Portugal and England as far back as the late 15th century.

While John Cabot is largely considered the first explorer to make landfall in St. John’s in 1497 and claim the region for the King of England, it would take the Brits nearly a full century to officially establish the city in 1583.

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Signal Hill

Given its strategic location overlooking the harbour, fortifications were constructed on the top of Signal Hill many centuries ago to provide protection and alert the locals of impending enemy attacks by sea.

In addition to its military value as a flag mast signalling post, the site eventually became useful for testing and completing the first transatlantic wireless communication between North America and Europe in 1901. Signal Hill was also utilized by the Americans during World War II to thwart off German aircraft and marine vessels attempting to attack the east coast.

While it’s just a mass expanse of ocean water looking to the east of Signal Hill from Cabot Tower, the view to the west includes St. John’s Harbour, Gibbet Hill and Deadman’s Pond. The latter two names may be morbid, but it’s actually a very pretty and peaceful area complete with whimsical heart-themed arches and flower beds along a winding gravel path.

Government House

Whether driving or walking along Military Road, it’s not hard to miss the grand main entrance to Government House.

As the official residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, Government House is a two-storey Georgian-style stone home situated on sprawling grounds complete with gardens, stables and a greenhouse.

Completed in 1831, the design of the house was intended to reflect the status of its occupants and thus included a salon, dining room, and ballroom meant for entertaining dignitaries. The main entrance hall was also configured to allow for full pomp and circumstance ceremonial processions.

Military Monuments

The National War Memorial in downtown St. John’s is the most elaborate World War I monument in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The base of the memorial starts on Water Street and extends up to the large cenotaph on Duckworth Street.

The five figures depicted in the cenotaph are representative of Newfoundland involvement in World War I. The centre female figure symbolizes devotion to the Empire and the fight for freedom. The two figures below are representative of the fishermen and lumberjacks who enlisted and served with the Merchant Marine and Forestry Corps. The two figures on the right and left pay tribute to those who served with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Further west along Water Street is the Thomas Ricketts Memorial. Ricketts was only 17 years old when he began his service in World War I and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery on the battlefield, the youngest ever army recipient in a combatant role.

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Dedicated in 1855, the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is situated on the highest ridge overlooking St. John’s.

At the time of it’s opening, the basilica was the largest Irish cathedral anywhere outside Ireland, was the largest church building in North America, and was notable for its base materials. Limestone and granite were imported from Galway and Dublin, Ireland; 400,000 bricks came from Hamburg, Germany; and local sandstone was quarried from St. John’s and Kelly’s Island in Conception Bay.

Today, the basilica is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada and is the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland.

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Jellybean Row Houses

Perhaps one of the most charming aspects of St. John’s is its brightly coloured row houses.

Local lore suggests that fishermen of yore started the practice to help them pinpoint their lodgings during foggy weather, but the reality is the initiative is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Back in the late 1970s, the downtown core was in dire need of a revitalization effort and paint was used as a way to spruce things up and add some cheer to rundown buildings. The idea caught on and eventually spread to the city’s outer neighbourhoods; local businesses also joined in by modifying their storefronts.

When it comes to paint colours in St. John’s, the brighter the better reigns supreme and there’s no need to be matchy-matchy with the trim: contrasting colours are just fine.

Quidi Vidi

The fishing village of Quidi Vidi is famous for its microbrewery and Mallard Cottage, one of the oldest wooden structures in North America.

The district extends inland and includes Quidi Vidi Lake where the Royal St. John’s Regatta is held the first Wednesday in August, weather permitting. The regatta is North America’s oldest annual sporting event and attracts numerous men’s and women’s crews (6 members and a coxswain) eager to navigate the course and lay claim to the coveted rowing championship.

Terry Fox Memorial – Mile 0

In 1980, a heroic young man who lost his right leg to cancer began a cross-Canada run called the Marathon of Hope to raise funds for cancer research.

The starting point of Terry Fox’s epic journey was in St. John’s Harbour and the Mile 0 memorial fittingly marks the spot where Terry dipped his artificial leg into the North Atlantic Ocean and headed out for the TransCanada Highway.

Tragically, Terry’s cancer returned before he could complete his journey (he had to stop in Thunder Bay, Ontario and he ultimately passed away in 1981), but his Marathon of Hope efforts continue to this day.

Terry Fox Memorials can also be found in Thunder Bay and Victoria, British Columbia.

The City of Fog, Wind and Cloud

Not surprisingly, considering St. John’s geography the city is the foggiest, windiest and cloudiest in Canada. The good news is that while socked in dense fog conditions are common, once the wind picks up it rolls out the fog as quickly as it rolled in. When the sun is shining and the sky is blue, there’s nothing like a stroll along the harbour to take in the large shipping vessels docked and waiting to head out to sea.

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