Tag Archives: Ottawa

Put a happy face on it

On Tuesdays when I work in downtown Ottawa, Canada, I get out of my office at noon and go for a walk.

Ottawa is a beautiful city for a walk. I pass the tremendous Parliament Buildings that never fail to awe me with the power of their structures and the peace and freedom they represent.

Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

I stroll down by the Rideau Canal locks and along the Ottawa River.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

I walk by green parks and look up at rugged rock cliffs.

The cliffs behind Parliament Hill

No matter what’s happening in life, the sights of my noon-hour walk lighten my spirits, re-place events into proper perspective and bring me joy.

Everything in life might not be perfect, but I can smile regardless.

The bicycle path where I walk along the Ottawa River flooded last year in the mighty spring flood. The concrete developed potholes that repair crews later patched. Someone who enjoys a touch of whimsy added a smiley face to one of those potholes.

Even though we occasionally get flooded, even though we need to get patched up from time to time, we can smile and know that all shall be well for moving forward again.

All is well.

From war and hardship to pleasure cruising: Thoughts on Colonel By Day

Yesterday most Canadians celebrated a civic holiday. Not every Canadian (some provinces don’t have a long weekend in August) and not all for the same reason.

Because there is no specific occasion for a holiday in August (other than it’s really great to have a long weekend in the summer) provinces and municipalities have creative licence. In British Columbia, it is British Columbia Day. (Okay, maybe not so creative.) In Alberta it’s Heritage Day. (Better, if a little vague.) In Toronto it’s Simcoe Day. (For John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.) Here in Ottawa we designate the weekend as Bytown Days and Monday specifically as Colonel By Day.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

Ottawa’s original name was Bytown, in honour of Lieutenant Colonel John By. Colonel By, a military engineer, was the first city planner, and he laid out plans for the area that has become our downtown core. He oversaw the construction of the first bridge across the Ottawa River, a vital link between the provinces of Ontario and Québec. Most famously, he engineered and supervised the building of the Rideau Canal and the lock system that connects the Ottawa River to the Rideau River. (Here in Ottawa, Rideau is pronounced REE-deau, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Pronounce it Ri-DEAU and we’ll know you’re not from here.)

Canadians first had the notion that a navigable trade route other than the St. Lawrence River might be a good idea after the war of 1812, when American/Canadian relations were a little more fraught. At the time, the unquestioned need to maintain water transportation avenues that could be protected from American attack made the prospect of carving through 125 miles of bush and swamp and rock seem not only possible but imperative.

For six years, thousands of Irish and French Canadian labourers and skilled stonemasons endured hellish working and living conditions with high incidents of accidents, disease and death to build the canal and the lock system. Malaria, of all things, was a major threat. They did it because they needed the work to survive, and they believed that their labours would ensure the survival of future generations.

These days we are at peace with the United States. These days our supplies travel by airplane or highway or train. These days, the trade route that Colonel By envisioned, that water transportation link that people lost their lives over, is a place for pleasure only. In the summer yachts fill the locks and cruise the canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

In the winter skaters laugh as they glide way between Beavertail stands.

Rideau Canal Skateway

Rideau Canal Skateway

I wonder, what would Colonel By think of how we use his creation today? I walk beside the canal and the locks on my lunch breaks in downtown Ottawa. As I stroll in peaceful, malaria-free Ottawa,  I imagine Colonel By surveying his city from his vantage point on the great cliff at Major’s Hill Park where his house used to stand. I envision his stiff British bearing as he peers down to watch us walk and bike and boat in the same area where men suffered and died.

I wonder if Colonel By, a man who lived in harsh times, would despair at how we luxuriously and thoughtlessly take his engineering marvel for granted. Perhaps he would scowl over our carefree abandon. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would commend us all for shaping our city into one of safety and freedom. Maybe he would give us a rousing Hurrah! for creating a vibrant, economically progressive, multicultural and compassionate city to honour his name.

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Read more Rideau Canal history here: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/hist-canal.html

Choosing to go uphill

Most work days I go for a lunch-hour walk around one of Canada’s iconic sites—Parliament Hill.

I arrive at the east slope of the hill and descend to where the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal meet. The view of the water and of Nepean Point where Samuel de Champlain holds his astrolabe aloft is motivation enough to descend, even though I know eventually I will have to ascend.

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I discovered something interesting during this daily walk. Like me, many people choose to go down and up this hill every day, but unlike me, they choose to do it over and over again.

Down, up, down, up, down, up.

Some of them do it as part of a torturous “boot camp,” so they carry a medicine ball, or drag a sled with a heavy weight behind them, or tote a heavy pole over their shoulders. Down, up, down, up, down, up, with extra weight to make it more difficult.

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The decision to make life more difficult when we have the option of coasting seems counter-intuitive. Don’t we all long for the easy ride? Life is challenging enough, one would think. Do we really need to make it harder?

We do, actually, because choosing the easy road early in life leads to a hard road later in life. If we want to run and jump and bend and stretch in our later years, we have to run and jump and bend and stretch in our youth. Life requires hard stuff early on, so we can enjoy good stuff later.

Life is full of ups and downs—some chosen, some thrust upon us. Training for the uphill grind is a good idea.

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By canoe, with a two-year-old

shaws-pondOn the weekend of our Canadian Thanksgiving, my mother, my family and I went for a hike at the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. Before we left I downloaded their excellent information sheets about the trail we planned to take. (Ever the dutiful mother, I wanted our walk to be educational as well as healthful and fun.)

We had to drive for an hour and a bit from our home in Ottawa to get there, and my daughter fell asleep in the car. When we arrived, she was in a groggy, just-woke-up place. “Hiking,” she grumbled. “Why do we have to go hiking?”

We set out on our path, and I began to read aloud about John Shaw, a miller from Inverness, Scotland. “John arrived here in 1847 by canoe from Bytown [now Ottawa] with his wife Barbara Thompson . . .”

I stopped reading. “They came here from Ottawa by canoe,” I said. I pictured the two of them paddling through rain into strong winds. I imagined them straining under the burden of heavy loads as they portaged all their worldly goods around rapids.

What a hardship.

I read on. “. . . and their two-year-old son, John.” “They did all that and they had a two-year-old with them.” I said.

Toddlers in warm, safe homes are challenging enough. Imagine travelling by canoe for weeks with one. Were there even life jackets in 1847?

I turned to my daughter, “That sure makes our little hike in the woods seem pretty easy by comparison, doesn’t it?”

Forages into the past that dig up reminders of the hardships our ancestors faced help to put all our petty little problems into perspective. Whatever comes at me today, at least I’m not in a canoe in the rain with all my worldly goods and a two-year-old. 

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My daughter later in the hike, smiling.

The first “Palladium-Corel Centre-Scotiabank Place-Canadian Tire Centre” hockey game

It’s hockey season in Canada again. The Ottawa Senators will play their first home game (pre-season) this Thursday.

Do you know who played in the first hockey game at the Canadian Tire Centre site? Do you think it was the Ottawa Senators? The Ottawa 67’s maybe? Good guesses, but nope.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was among those who played in the first ever hockey game at the Palladium-Corel Centre-Scotiabank Place-Canadian Tire Centre site. Yes, you read that right. Here’s the proof:

First hockey game at the Palladium site.
All photos courtesy of Daniel Allard and Paul Huppe for
In Your Face.

That’s me to the left, standing under the sign.

Palladium sign 1 - Dec 1992 - 1

Okay, so the building wasn’t actually built yet, and we weren’t even wearing skates, but we won’t quibble about that. It was hockey, and it was at the site where the Senators play.

In 1992, I worked for what was then Maclean Hunter Cable TV (later Rogers TV), and my co-workers produced a show called In Your Face. The producers, Daniel Allard and Paul Huppe (with contributions from Mike Waterhouse) put together a comedy show of unusual undertakings, skits and on-street interviews. One of the unusual undertakings was the first ever hockey game at the Palladium site.

We arrived on site with road hockey nets and jerseys the Ottawa Senators supplied for two teams. After Paul’s father sang the national anthem (You can’t have a hockey game without a national anthem, now can you?) we were underway.

Here I am making a fine hip-check on my co-worker, Stan Newton.

He was wearing a Buffalo Sabres jersey. He deserved it.

He was wearing a Buffalo Sabres jersey. He deserved it.

Here’s, Dan Allard, making a great save.

PH work - Cable - IYF Palladium 1 - Dec 1992 - 2

You won’t find it in the record books, but it’s true nonetheless. Long before Wade Redden and Chris Phillips defended our goal, and long before the Anaheim Ducks broke our hearts in 2007, and long before Daniel Alfredsson brought his class act to our ice and to our city, we were there.

Oh yeah, baby, thanks to Paul and Dan (with contributions from Mike Waterhouse) we were first.

Arlene, Paul, Dan, Shahid, and the Sens' Zamboni Man

The best team: Arlene, Paul, Dan, Shahid, and the Sens’ Zamboni Man

The other team: Jason, Stan, a mystery goalie, Wendi and Scott

The other team: Jason, Stan, Paul, Wendi and Scott