Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thin edge of a very fat wedge

On the heels of Sicko hitting the screens of North America, The Globe and Mail reports this morning that the Canadian Medical Association has forwarded a proposal that Canada should have a two-tiered health system in which doctors can practice in both the private and public systems.

To his eternal credit, Prime Minister Harper has replied that this paradigm would provide doctors with an incentive to stream their patients into the for-profit side of the system.

Good for the Prime Minister. What we need to concentrate on is finding ways and means to improve a system that guarantees us all the same access to health and care we're due as human beings, regardless of how well fate and circumstance have favoured or failed us. Returning to a system of greedy doctors and pampered rich patients is not the way for a modern, democratic, civilized nation. Who will this system benefit? First and foremost, the health insurance industry. They will take the cream and decide who gets the milk. The doctors will benefit too, though they'll have to be scrappy, and the lawyers they inevitably have to employ to sue for recompense will be pleased. Less so the rich, who assume they'll get better and instant access, but forget that this will be at the behest of HMOs, who will be selfish and stingy and reject their claims whenever they're legally able. Worst of all will be those who can't afford to promote themselves to the for-profit side, as the inclination in society will be, over time, to starve that system since it only serves the poorest and meekest.

No way. Stick to your guns, Stephen. You've made the right call.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Stroll on Sunday

P-Doug and I decided to stay close to town for our hike this weekend, and we resumed our trek along the Humber that we started in March. This leg took us from Eglinton past Dundas to Bloor. One of our favourite pubs is at Jane and Bloor, so this trek had an immediate reward at the end.

Generally speaking, I like to hike barefoot in the countryside. P-Doug recently half-jokingly challenged me to try it in town, so this time I did, and carried my sandals on the two hour trail between one end and the other. Pavement, clay, leaves, grass, gravel, sand... Well, this is what parkland is for.

We saw some really beautiful and interesting things over those three miles...

Music to my feet. Don't mind if I do. :)

Old Dundas Street. Several decades ago, this was Dundas Street. Behind me in this view would have been the bridge that crossed the Humber. A map I have from the 1950s suggests that this bridge, and the current one just to the north, coexisted, at least for a while.

Samuel de Champlain... whew, this guy got around. Two weeks ago I was up in Ottawa looking at the statue of him, and this weekend we come across this set of plaques by the Humber about him. Anyway, here he is, happily helping the Algonkins snuff the Iroquois to make a better Canada for us all.

The Old Mill bridge over the Humber. We were getting so close to beer...

Two hours and three miles leave their mark, proudly earned. :)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Nu, Pogodi!

Lately I've been getting involved with Russian animation. Zip.ca has a number of titles available now and I've been renting disks from a couple of series called Masters of Russian Animation on the one hand and Soviet Animated Propaganda on the other. Both have been fascinating, often insightful, and occasionally delightful looks at the both the state of the art in Russia over the years and a mindset interestingly at odds from our own sometimes.

But the most interesting thing I've found lately I didn't get from Zip, but rather found on YouTube. It's series that, I gather, is technically still being made, but really saw its heyday between 1969 and 1986. It's called Nu, Progodi!, which I'm told can be translated variously as “Well, Wait and See!” or “Just You Wait!” or “I'll Get You!” The main two characters are Vulk (Wolf) and Zayetz (Hare). Of the two, Vulk is far more interesting. Zayetz is usually merely a cipher... a target for Vulk and the cause of his antics; less well-rounded as a character as a result.

Vulk is portrayed as a dissipated, bourgeois hooligan, dismissive of the rights and feelings of others (not the least of whom is Zayetz, whom Vulk means to eat). His antics in pursuit of Zayetz are elaborate and comic, often artistic. He plays several instruments, figure skates, is an athlete of some ability, and is a reasonably able plotter. The violence in the plots is lesser in extent than in Western versions of this same paradigm like Tom and Jerry and the Coyote-Roadrunner cartoons; they tend more towards embarrassing or compromising situations that allow Zayetz a chance to escape, at which point he is invariably called after by Vulk with the show's title: Well, Hare, just you wait!

The character designs are charming and the animation itself above par. I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's shot on ones; the motion is often that fluid. Action, responses, and situations, while cartoonish, are somewhat more realistic than would be typical in a Roadrunner cartoon, and a little more sophisticated in terms of setting and circumstance than you would typically find in a Tom and Jerry short.

Dialog is sparse; often the most 'talking' done is singing, which may add to the situation but doesn't seem to detract from the plot if one doesn't understand Russian. There are signs here and there, but circumstances usually render them redundant, with a few exceptions. Effectively, the plots are not hard to follow for speakers of foreign languages.

If you're a fan of animation, you might enjoy tracking them down on YouTube. There are 16 classic episodes, two more recent ones, and two others that don't seem to have made it online just yet. They run between 9-10 minutes each, so all-told, they would take up about an hour and a half to watch end to end to end. Might be fun to try sometime.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Trip to Ottawa: Overview

The last time I was in Ottawa, the capital of my country, I was 17 years old. That was over twenty years ago now. A time before cell phones, digital cameras, Windows, and the internet you're now reading this on. CDs were cutting edge and too expensive for me; I was still buying hits on 45s, playing them on a turn table and recording them on cassettes to listen to in a Walkman that actually had moving parts. Yeah, okay, you get the picture, right? It's been a while.

At various moments sober and drunk in the past few years I've wistfully remarked to friends that someday, invariably "soon", I meant to go back. I've always felt "Canadian", but when I was there in my youth, it gained a real substance. Standing on Parliament Hill as the Peace Tower's carillon played that day long ago, I realized, palpably, that I was standing in places that I shared with millions of other people I'd never meet... some because they lived far away, but -- and this was what really took hold of me -- many more because they had already lived and died, or would be born after I was dead. It was the first time in my life I got a real sense of the nation as a river, something in which I was embedded for a moment, but that had existed before me and would (I certainly hope) exist long after me. That I was a moment in that, and instance of it. From childhood I had always known Canada belonged to me; suddenly there was a sense that I belonged to it. And that was a revelation to me; a moment in growing up and stepping just a bit outside of myself.

I don't really think I can ever quite recapture that moment but I did want to revisit its circumstances. I never took it upon myself to do so. Both Toronto and Ottawa are in Ontario, but, Ontario's a big place. Ottawa's at least a four hour drive away, and effectively that means it's not a day trip... unless your idea of a day trip is to drive till you get within sight of a place, glimpse it, do a U-turn and go home. Ottawa meant planning, hotels, expenses. No reason I couldn't have done it, but all that is very lonely if you're going by yourself. Wonder is meant to be shared.


Update: Nov. 24, 2007. I have added the following video, which is a ten-minute vignette of some of the things I recorded during the trip. Hope you enjoy.

Trip to Ottawa: Journeys

To Ottawa

P-Doug and MG have been to Ottawa a number of times (in fact, she was born there, if I recall). Last May, he proposed my joining them on a long weekend trip. And so I did, from July 13-16. My share was to be a very reasonable 1/3 of the hotel and the gas. Time to stop pining and experience something, it seemed.

What do I remember about the trip? A week ago right now as I write this, we were still in transit. Let me see... they picked me up a little before 10 and after a quick trip to liberate cash, we got on the 401 and headed east. Now the plan was to get off the 401 at Hwy 115, but we breezed right past that exit without any of us noticing. Fortunately, we were in time to exit at Route 28 and head north to reconnect with the 115. On the way there, we had to slow down for a car turning left into a place selling raspberries, one of P-Doug's faves. MG suggests stopping. I invest in three apples and two bananas. Then we go into this boutique adjoining the stand. Unbelievable inside. The spices, the utensils, the teas, coffees, cakes, cheeses, sauces... it was like something exclusive you'd expect to find in Yorkville, but this was out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't imagine what kept the place afloat. The irony was that despite the fact that it wasn't my idea to stop, I was the only one who bought anything. I ended up leaving with a bottle of spicy "Texas" hummus, an ingenious little pair of one-handed salt and pepper mills, and seven ounces of a very aromatic cheese (an ounce of which I'll be trying tomorrow in a two-egg omelet with onions and peppers). $40 lighter already, I joined them back in the car and off we went. Hwy 115 eventually took us to Hwy 7, which led us pretty much the rest of the way to Ottawa.

P-Doug's parents were from a couple of twin small towns along the way, and we lingered in each as he reminisced. It's a little strange, but kind of compelling, to see a place that at first has no significance to you shine under the light of someone else's experience. Suddenly the place is dear, and full of meaning. The sad fact is, you come to realize that's true of every place you see. Every home is someone's sweet childhood memory. Every corner is where 'the guys' used to hang out and watch the girls go by. Every store is where someone read something amazing or earned that sacred first buck absolutely their own; every school, where someone was turned around by a great truth, felt a first love, first heartbreak, first rise phoenix-like from the ashes. It's all around us, but we think it's all ordinary. You know, it's all amazing, if we only knew.

There were long stretches of 'empty' woodlands that reminded me of the central spine of Nova Scotia from my boyhood. Lakes that suddenly appear from nowhere. Hills that rise up and then swing you, as though by the arms, into the next valley where the next hill grabs on. Finally we were led to the 417 which brought us into Ottawa. We were going against traffic, for the most part. The lanes out of town were jammed. Construction in town forced us to improvise with our route, but we managed to navigate fairly ably to the Econo Lodge, which would be home for the next three and a half days. This was on Rideau Street, which is really the same street as Wellington Street on which the Parliament Building stand about a mile west.

In Ottawa

MG's not much for walking these days, but I wanted to get out and look around a little. P-Doug agreed to join me, and we pledged to be back in time to go to dinner. I think P-Doug understood me to want to walk to Parliament Hill, but I had it in mind to go the other way, to the Rideau River (not to be confused with the Rideau Canal; our hotel was between them). It was a short walk but a pretty one, and while we paused on the bridge, we speculated as to whether there had once been on older bridge on structures just south of the current one.

We did walk to Parliament Hill after that. It had been raining in Ottawa earlier in the day, and as we approached the Hill, there was a rainbow off to the south. I took pictures of it as we passed the National War Memorial. Corny, I know, but a serendipitous gift horse you don't look in the mouth. We took some shots of the Parliament Buildings and walked around behind them on the east side. I was trying to get a video of the Peace Tower as it chimed various quarter hours. At one point, I was standing near the statue of Baldwin and Lafontaine, with the Tower in frame. I stood stock still for nearly a minute, waiting. Moments to go. Then the Carillon began ring out the tune associated with the tower housing Big Ben in London... just as a French-Canadian family with a little girl came by, chattering loudly her questions about something.

Baldwin and Lafontaine. I don't know as much about them as I should... I don't think most Canadians do... but I do remember being awed by them when I did read about them. Chances are, most people in Canada wouldn't even know who they were. But they made Canada possible. Trouble with Canada is, most of us think the place started in 1867. There are a winks at history before that... the French and Indian War, the American Revolution (inasmuch as it affected us), the War of 1812 (okay, that's a biggie here), the Rebellions of 1837... but hardly anyone knows what happened between the rebellions and Confederation. Upper Canada and Lower Canada... Ontario and Quebec today... were united by the British government in 1841 into a single colony. The idea, stated plainly in Lord Durham's report recommending the idea, was to assimilate French Canada. Naked cultural genocide. Fortunately, the dual majority system that was set up was too unwieldy, and French Canada too proud, resourceful, and resilient for this to happen... witness Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine (who was, in fact, the first Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada). And not everyone in English Canada was a monster out to destroy French Canada... witness Robert Baldwin. Together, through the turbulent period of the 1840s and 1850s, Baldwin and Lafontaine worked out compromises and a modus vivendi for the two founding (European) peoples of Canada, and laid the groundwork for Confederation to come in the 1860s. Of course, everyone today credits instead a different Anglo-French pair for this; Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. While of course it's only right to remember the people who built the edifice of Confederation, I think it's sad that we, as a nation, have nearly forgotten the people who laid the foundation and set in place the keystone of compromise and mutual recognition that, sometimes shakily, has seen us through to the 21st century.

On our way back to the hotel to link up with MG again, we passed an Indian restaurant called The Sitar. The aroma coming from it was arresting; it slowed us in our tracks and we finally stopped to breathe in the inviting scent. Unfortunately, MG's tastes do not tend to the spicy, and so idea of fetching her and coming back was kind of a non-starter. We made vague plans to hit the place for its lunch buffet the next day (Saturday) between our planned tour of the Parliament Buildings' Centre Block and the National Gallery of Canada. And so instead, we all went to the Korea Garden across the street, where the food was tasty and reasonable.

Parliament Hill on Saturday took up a lot of our time and wore us out (“us” being P-Doug and me; MG, as I said, is not much for marching around and had had her fill of the Hill in previous visits anyway). I'll blog on Parliament Hill separately. The point is, though, that we were pretty tired, and we abandoned our idea walking to the National Gallery in favour of first having lunch at The Sitar and then getting P-Doug's car and parking at the Gallery, which promised to be another wearying trek. The Fates were playing games with us that day. First, we arrived at The Sitar at 2:30... half an hour after they closed. The buffet lunch lasted daily till 2... after which time the place closed up till 5, probably for prep. So, instead, we ate up the road at the Shawarma King, where we eat had a huge plate of shaved beef and chicken on rice with salad and potatoes. Neither of us could finish it, and that's saying something. By then, it was getting late, and we knew the Gallery closed at 5. But, we thought, it's a short drive, we'll be there by 3:30 or so, and that should be enough time to see a few things. So we grabbed the car and off we went. An early turn on the way put us onto King Edward Street... which takes you across the Ottawa River, into Hull. Before we knew it, we were on Autoroute 50, bound for Montreal. We managed to get turned around and back to Ottawa. It was the first time I'd been in Quebec in several years... but it was hardly to be the last.

Time was ticking away. We found the Gallery, and set ourselves the task of finding parking. Following a large green P parking sign, we looped around behind the Gallery... only to find ourselves on yet another road that committed us to a trip across the river! Back in Hull, we turned around again and headed back to Ottawa...

The exact details of our misnavigation are lost to my memory now, but I can tell you this much: in the course of Saturday and Sunday, we made seven trips to Quebec and back (six on Saturday)... two of them deliberate.

By the time we got the Gallery, it was 4. P-Doug decided there was no way he was going to get to see the things he'd like with any kind of time to appreciate them, and so decided to put it off to the “next trip”. Instead, we haunted the gift shop with several dozen other people for an hour. There was an interesting dichotomy about the place. It's just a guess, but in overhearing snippets of conversation, I'd have said the majority of the people in the boutique were French-speaking. And yet the scarcity of French-language books in the store was remarkable; I'd say not one book in fifty was French. This, in the National Gallery, a mile or two from Gatineau, Quebec? Strange indeed.

Afterwards we ended up in Hull again, somehow, but this time P-Doug decided to just go with it, and we ended up driving for half an hour or so along the north shore of the Ottawa River. We finally stopped in a park at some sort of marina, sitting and talking as we looked south through a screen of trees across the river for most of an hour.

Gatineau – Aylmer, specifically – was beautiful, I thought. Lovely. Suburban but still somehow vaguely rural. As we headed back the way we'd come (our only sure way back!), P-Doug spotted a St. Hubert. This is sort of the Quebec version of Swiss Chalet, and it was in Ontario for a while before most of them folded up a few years ago. MG favours St. Hubert, so we headed back to the hotel and got her and had great supper there. I don't know why St. Hubert didn't make it here. Frankly, I thought the portions, the service, and the value for the meal at St. Hubert trumped what I'm used to at Swiss Chalet.

Sunday was about the National War Museum... which, again, I'll blog about separately... and a trip back to Gatineau... again, deliberate. This time, to visit Tigre-Geant, which is the French corporate name for what is Giant Tiger here in Ontario... another of MG's favourites. This one isn't a restaurant; it's a bargain store. Yet again, it wasn't my idea to go, and yet again, I was the only one who bought anything. Three pairs of nice shorts for work, three t-shirts (one with a Quebec fleur-de-lis on it, one with a squirrel complaining about his family driving him nuts, and one with a happy face skull-and-crossbones design), and a three-tape VHS set of Bob and Margaret episodes. Seventy bucks. If you're keeping score, that's $110 dropped in places I wouldn't have walked into in the first place on my own. Ironies abound.

But before we took off for the museum on Sunday morning, I took a little stroll on my own, just for fifteen or twenty minutes. It was a peaceful walk along Rideau Street to Cobourg Street, overcast and wet after the night's rain. There was almost no one around, and even Rideau Street was virtually empty of traffic. I took some pictures of a quiet park, some street scenes, curious features of buildings... it was a pleasant little side trip.

Monday, before we headed out, I walked back down to the National War Memorial to get better shots of the arrival of the Honour Guard, especially the motion capture I'd missed the day before. I had over half an hour spare before they were due, so I made a quick circuit of some of the things down there... the US Embassy (no doubt they have pictures of me too now), the monument to our peacekeepers (Reconciliation), the headquarters of Revenue Canada (booooo!)...

Back to Toronto

We left Ottawa early on Monday morning. It was decided we'd do the scenic route, and scenic it was. We first went to Kingston. There was a strange, ancient department store there called S&R that reminded me a little of Honest Ed's as it must have looked in its humbler days. This was someplace MG wanted to shop; P-Doug was interested in getting out on the block and visiting the book stores he drops into whenever he's in Kingston. For once... I didn't buy anything! It was interesting to see the spot where the first Prime Minister of (the Dominion of) Canada, John A. Macdonald, started his law practice, and a strange thing to walk the street he once saw every day.

In Prince Edward County, there's a place where you take a ferry across to the island of the same name. This takes about five minutes and puts you on what would be called “the scenic route” back to Toronto, roughly parallel to (but some distance from) the 401. The drive certainly was scenic, but after seven or eight hours on the road, the trip was beginning to wear on me. I was anxious by then to get home, make sure the cats were alright, call my folks and let them know I'd made it back safe, put things away, and press the 'reset' button for the next day (which was a workday) before there was no time left in the evening to accomplish those things. It seemed like a much longer trip back from the outskirts of the GTA home than it did when we were going!

Trip to Ottawa: Parliament Hill

Speaking purely for myself, the central goal of the trip was a visit to Parliament Hill. It seems to me that a trip to the capital of the country demands a visit to the very heart of government.

As mentioned previously, my first visit to the Hill during our stay in Ottawa was on the night of our arrival. The second was the real, grandiose visit, and it took place the following morning.

P-Doug and I got up early. MG wasn't interested in going because first of all, she's been to the Hill numerous times, and secondly, a lot of walking and standing takes it out of her. So P-Doug and I decided to walk from the hotel to the Hill.

The hotel we were staying at offered a complimentary Continental breakfast from 7-9 every morning. We were tardy getting there, arriving a little after 8 or so, and the place was packed. One family seemed to have perfectly timed their routine such that one or the other of their members was forever at the serving table, mastering the toaster, or picking over the pastries, or being extremely choosy about cereal... its type, its quantity, the depth of the milk. We had trouble finding a seat but we did eventually manage it and had enough to get us going.

The Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill

P-Doug and I set out just before 9, taking our time walking along Rideau Street and Wellington Street. I decided to pull out all the stops for this... when was I going to be on Parliament Hill again?... and I brought all three of the cameras I ordinarily shoot with these days... the S70 for infrared shots, the S80 mostly for motion capture, and the Rebel XT with the 28-135mm lens attached for some strong close-ups and detail work. The first order of the day was the Changing of the Guard on the Hill, and so when we arrived at 9:30, I immediately staked out my vantage point at the outside corner of the field by the East Block and set up my tripod. P-Doug expressed surprise that I was dedicating myself so soon, with half an hour to go, but I knew what I wanted and that was the price of ensuring I got it. He excused himself to take pictures of the Centennial flame. I imagined he'd be back shortly, but as it turned out I didn't see him again till after the elaborate ceremony was over. I did catch sight (and long-distance, digitally-zoomed images) of him photographing details in the arch under the Peach Tower, though.

As I waited for the Guard to arrive, I noticed people gathering at the far end of the same field I was stationed on; nattily-dressed people seated in rows of chairs to review the ceremony I also caught the approach, from my right, of a man who appeared to me to be a French (French from France, I mean, not French-Canadian) general, accompanied by a woman who was, perhaps, his wife. They passed behind me and eventually joined the crowd up at the other end field.

The Guard arrived sharply and were on the field when the Peace Tower chimed ten o'clock. Two different regiments; one from Saskatchewan and one from Quebec, I think. They looked magnificent; “spankin' in red”, as Sgt. Obadiah said in one episode of Sharpe. A hundred of them, maybe more, marching to their own brass band music and bagpipes. For half an hour they owned the field and the eyes of the couple thousand spectators gathered all around them. When they left the field, traffic halted as they marched away down Wellington Street. I was surprised; I would have expected that was typical in London, but I hadn't expected patience with that kind of thing on this side of the Atlantic. I have to say, it was kind of heartwarming to witness. I mean, I guess people didn't have much choice, but they didn't make a fuss, either.

The tour of the Centre Block

Afterwards P-Doug found me, packing up my gear, and we wandered the grounds for a bit. In his travels, he had noticed a large white tent on the west side of the Hill and it turned out to be where one acquired the (free) tickets to tour the Parliament Buildings. P-Doug snagged what were just about the last two for the Centrel Block tour just before noon. So we looked around, mostly at the statues of Canadians, monarchs, and Fathers of Confederation to be found there, before queuing up for the tour. When I last toured the Parliament Buildings in the mid-80 as a teenager, the group simply gathered before the Peace Tower and were led in the front. Not anymore. These are the days of post-9/11. We had to line up to a lower door around the side of the Tower, and for the next half hour we trudged forward, a little more, a little more... finally we came to security centre where we had to empty our pockets, demonstrate cell phones really worked, and things like that. P-Doug had his Swiss Army knife confiscated for the duration of the tour; my camera tripod was taken from me (P-Doug pointed out that this was actually a blessing in disguise since it saved me from having to lug it around for nothing). I suppose I'm glad someone's taking this stuff seriously, but it makes me sad. For hundreds of years, people could just tour the Hill and no one made them feel like potential criminals. Someone in the 1960s actually did plan to bomb the House of Commons and ended up killing himself instead when his bomb went off in the washroom while he was setting it up, but even then they didn't make you jump through security hoops afterwards. Yet some people hundreds of miles away crash planes into a couple of buildings – something that security on the sites of those targets would have done absolutely nothing to prevent – and suddenly, here we are. It's weird, don't you think? It's like burning your finger taking out a roast, but not bothering to wear oven mitts till your neighbour dies from smoking in bed.

The suggestion while we were in line was that we weren't going to see much of anything. The list I could see suggested that we weren't going to get to see the Commons, or the Memorial Chambre – both, actually, the two things I most wanted to see. But just to be inside the building would be enough. Surely, there would be wonderful things to see and photograph.

Our guide was a young woman in her early 20s. She showed us first the foyer of the House of Commons. This is where the reporters wait to pounce on MPs, cabinet members, and the Prime Minister as they either emerge from or enter the House. Our guide pointed out the corner where well-known Parliamentary reporter Mike Duffy routinely sets up. It was a nice, homey touch that just about any Canadian would have appreciated. It made the place real, immediate, ours. The place in our living rooms nightly, with those familiar faces.

To my surprise and delight, we were indeed ushered into the House of Commons, with its green seats, wooden desks, and stained glass. The Prime Minister's chair was tipped forward to let visitors know which it was. We were told that the stained glass windows had been ordinary glass till the 1970s, but that they had been replaced with these beautiful ones, each of which represented a province or territory (at the time, there were 12 instead of 13, since Nunavut wasn't created till 1999). Though we were only there a few minutes, I felt honoured to be in there, thinking of the people who've passed through, both Canadians and statesmen from abroad, and the history that's been made there.

We passed through a hall that formed a gallery of all the British monarchs of Canada, from its earliest days to the present. We were taken to a conference room that also doubles as a gallery for all the French monarchs of Canada, up to the French and Indian War when New France effectively ceased to be.

From there, the Senate. Canada's Senate is unelected, and some provinces are vastly over-represented and others vastly under-represented. Some people want to make it elected and essentially equal to the Commons. Some people want to abolish it altogether. I personally would like to see it elected, so long as the Commons has the final say when push comes to shove, and the power to tax and spend stays with the Commons alone. Regardless of all that, the Senate Chambre is beautiful, clothed in regal red. It is in the Senate that Parliament is opened, since the monarch is forbidden by practice from entering the House of Commons (at least in any official capacity). Canada's thrones are here; ordinarily, Parliament is opened from those thrones by the Governor General, though there has been at least one occasion that I know of where Queen Elizabeth II herself opened Parliament in Canada; in 1957, I believe, when John Diefenbaker became Prime Minister after his massive electoral victory.

Eventually we were shown to the Library of Parliament. One of those “obscure” facts that everybody knows is that the Library was the only part of the Centre Block to survive the fire of 1916 that destroyed the rest. People seem to marvel at the sheer genius of... closing the doors. I'm pleased it was done, but a little amused by the way people seem to treat this as something akin to glimpsing relativity. Closing thick iron doors in advance of a fire... I have to imagine that idea predates World War I. Still, it's good that it was done. The building is a jewel, and its loss would have made Canada a little poorer, no matter what replaced it. Having just been re-opened to the public after years of renovation, it's beautiful just to look at. We were told that the statue of Queen Victoria, which dates to the 1850s (I think), had to be wrapped in “miles” of bubble wrap when it was removed to prevent damage to it during the restoration efforts.

The official tour ended there, but just about everyone in our group made their way up the Peace Tower to the elevators that take you to the observation deck. P-Doug pointed out something I'd forgotten: once, the elevator stopped below the bells of the Carillon, and you climbed stairs the rest of the way. But that meant the deck was unavailable to people in wheelchairs. An ingenious elevator was designed that moves slightly sideways, around the bells, a bit like one of the turbolifts on the Enterprise, and takes visitors right up to the observation deck. The view of the Ottawa River and Gatineau on the other side is something everyone in the country deserves to see at least once. Ottawa itself is a city of trees, not unlike Toronto in that respect, and here and there landmarks of significance can be easily discerned... the statue of Champlain, the Rideau Canal, Rideau Hall where the Governor General lives, the National Art Gallery, the National War Museum, the National War Memorial, the Museum of Civilization, the US Embassy...

On the way down, the next stop, virtually obligatory, is the Memorial Chambre. This is where the Books of Remembrance are kept, recording the names of the Canadians of various services who have given their lives in war or in other service to the country. The central book records the names of those lost in World War II. The chambre is lined in marble, its walls carved with crests, poems, and quotes in English and French about the sorrows of war and loss. It is a place of solemn reflection, not vainglory. The pride to be felt there is the pride of having endured what had to be endured to preserve a way of life, not that of having destroyed someone else's. P-Doug and I lingered there for quite a while.

From there, we made our way back to the hotel, and launched the abortive, many-Quebecked attempt to see the National Art Gallery laid-out elsewhere.

The National War Memorial

Though it's strictly not part of Parliament Hill, the National War Memorial is so close-by, and the ceremony so similar to what we'd seen on the Hill, that I think it bears mention here rather than elsewhere.

Sunday morning we on our way to the National War Museum. It wasn't due to open for a while yet, and so it seemed only fitting that we stop and take a few shots of the National War Memorial near Parliament Hill en route. We got there at quarter to 9, took some beautiful shots of the cenotaph, and were on the verge of leaving when I noticed something exciting. Up out of the stairway from Rideau Canal, five soldiers in red coats and a piper in kilt were emerging. They assembled themselves, and marched past. I realized that they were the honour guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Two of them broke off, given instructions by the commander, and the piper and remaining three red coats departed (I gather the soldiers are relieved hourly). The two soldiers in the honour guard performed a few synchronized maneuvers before setting up, stock straight, to stand their watch. It was moving. I was horrified to discover, though, that my camera hadn't been set up right to record the march past. So I determined to get up and out early before we left Monday morning and record it properly, and I did. Some of the shots you see here are from that second session.