40 for 40: Day 39 – Ottawa, Canada

It’s funny how, when you return to your home country, things slow down a bit. That’s not a judgement or indictment or anything along those lines, just a statement that, when you’re someplace a little bit familiar, things like taking extra long to turn off that alarm, or rolling around in the quiet of your bed become a bit more common.

I’m lucky enough to be staying with my friends Meeka and Rene, just outside of Ottawa, who offered up their place as a base for the last two days of my journey. I haven’t been to our nation’s capital as an adult, and remember being here in my late teens on a rainy, cold day while on a family trip to watch my sister play hockey. So there was a lot to discover. First up was the National War Museum, where Meeka sand Rene were nice enough to accompany me!

Recreation of the landscape of Paschendale.

The museum has been open for years but just recently went through a major renovation, and as weird as it is to say that I “loved” a war museum, it’s the first word that comes to mind here. It details the history of wars in Canada, going all the way back to pre-colonization wars between the First Nations people, with incredibly detailed exhibits about World War I and II on display, detailing how those two wars helped define Canada as a country. It goes all the way up to our most recent war, the Afghanistan mission, and has some fascinating pieces, including Hitler’s parade car, plenty of old tanks and planes, tunics of famous Canadian officers with bullet holes in them, and countless displays about Canadian war heroes. The best thing about the museum is that it doesn’t shy away from Canada’s role in darker things, detailing interment camps that we had in WWI for Ukrainians and Germans, and Japanese camps in WWII, and questioning techniques and tactics that were in various wars. There were also a few veterans walking around offering various insights, and one gentleman gave us an in-depth talk about a scarf that Queen Victoria knitted for a soldier. Fascinating, sobering museum.

Oh, and they had a display on armour, which also featured the Iron Man armour and Captain America’s shield, so that allowed for a bit of nerdiness. Plus, a fantastic World Press Photo exhibit, on for a limited time, with some of the best pictures from important world events, including the Charlottesville Protests, protests in Venezuela, and other timely and important photos that detail various struggles around the world.

We ended up spending much more time in the museum than I anticipated, so when Rene and Meeka went for lunch, I made my way to Parliament Hill, easily the most pictured part of Ottawa. The area contains the Gothic-style buildings of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Supreme Court, monuments to various important Canadians including the “Famous Five” who helped advance women’s rights in Canada and national hero Terry Fox, and the nearby Rideau Canal, which I would get a better look at later. The area is totally walkable and you can spend quite a bit of time going around snapping pictures and taking in views of the nearby river.

At this point of the day, I was looking for something to do, and the museums and galleries I wanted to see would be closing soon, plus I had a 6:30 dinner date with some friends, so I picked a place a little further afield to see, Rideau Hall, where the Governor General of Canada lives. For those not versed in Canadian politics, the Governor General is the Queen’s representative in Canada, who has to rubber stamp various political activities, and it is a fairly prestigious, if not ceremonial, role. Julie Payette, a former Canadian astronaut who actually worked with my dad on a council or two, is the current holder of the seat. I thought about knocking on the door to say hi, but figured it wouldn’t work out how I thought. The grounds of Rideau Hall were beautiful, though, as was the outside of the building itself.

On my way to the 6:30 dinner, I wandered down Sussex to Byward Market, which is one of the older parts of Ottawa, checking out the various views as I went, before settling down to beers and wings with my fraternity brothers Danno and Nigel, and Nigel’s partner Mo, herself a fellow teacher. We were at the Clocktower, which had a fantastic wings and beer special going on, so more delicious Canadian craft brews were had. We were there for a couple of hours, and by the time I walked back to where I could catch a bus back home, I was able to catch some great sunsets over the Rideau Canal and near Parliament Hill, which would be having its nightly light show soon. I stuck around until 9:30 and took in the half hour show, which details the history of Canada in a way that could have been much cheesier but was actually really impressive. At the end, they started playing “O Canada”, and everybody on the lawn stood up and sang along. Great little moment of patriotism.

Long bus ride took me back to my temporary home, where I saw another camp friend, Sarah, who I actually hadn’t seen for 20 years. I managed to stay awake for a bit before crashing for the night.

So today ended up being a bigger day in Ottawa than I thought, though one major sight was left unseen. Going to fix that tomorrow.

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