(james benedict brown) on the road

James in Ottawa shocker…

Posted in Uncategorized by James Benedict Brown on 1 July, 2006

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Much of the length of Wellington Street in Ottawa is closed for Canada Day. Running along the north-western edge of Ottawa’s downtown, this broad boulevard separates the cluster of diminutive skyscrapers from the elegant parliament complex that overlook river below. The pedestrians and four roadway lanes normally occupied by traffic are heaving with pedestrians, most dressed in red, carrying flags, wearing temporary maple leaf tatoos and blowing whistles. And here, at the adiministrative and symbolic heart of Canada, is a demonstration of democratic freedoms unlike any other that I have seen this year. Parked alongside the kerb from one end of Parliament Hill to the other is a line of tractors and other agricultural vehicles. Canadian farmers, frustrated by protein imports and the lack of support offered to their industry by the Liberal and now Conservative governments, have come to the capital to protest. And they have parked what must be fifty tractors, trailers and trucks here for the duration of Canada Day. The police do not (apparently) have any tow trucks big or strong enough to move them. Everywhere people are milling around wearing ‘Farmers Feed Cities’ badges, and eating free sample cups of Canadian pure dairy ice cream.

My previous visits to Ottawa have been interesting, but not exactly comparable with the trips I’ve made to other world capitals… Otttawa has a population of about 775,000 (one quarter of that of Montréal). It can feel even less on a cold, windswept winter’s afternoon, when the grand wide boulevards are inhospitable to anyone not in a car. The shining skyscrapers are forgettable, and everyone here seems to be bilingual and employed in a government department. It’s the governmental capital of Canada, but hardly in the same way as Paris or Berlin. Even thinking of it as a miniature Washington DC is a little off.

But today, I can understand Ottawa’s qualities. Most city centre roads are closed, and three massive out door stages have been built on Parliament Hill, Majors Hill Park and in Confederation Park. Live music events are running all day, and thousands of people of milling from one part of town to another. Everyone is in red and white, everyone is smiling, and suddenly everything in the world seems alright. Is this the famous Canadian national spirit?

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We watch the changing of the guard and then the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s choreographed ‘Musical Ride’ show. Then at 1100 I slip away through the crowds to an awful English-themed pub near the Chateau Laurier Hotel to watch a certain football match. The game is dire: neither team deserving a win and too many players auditioning for theatrical troupes with their childish dives and false claims of unfair tackles. The beautiful game has not been this poor in a long time. We eventually leave the bar, reluctant to give any of the hostile and unfriendly staff any more of our business. We watch England’s final defeat in an electronics store upstairs: we’re suddenly much closer to a much better television, and are enthralled by the incredible level of detail visible on a new ‘HD’ (High Definition) television: we watch blades of grass placidly get uprooted by the sprawling game, and then watch tears trickle down the faces of white shirted English players as the final penalty goal goes against them. I have no real emotions, except a slight twinge of sadness. Seen from a distance, England doesn’t even have a decent football team any more. I decide to pretend to be Canadian for the rest of the day…

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