I’ve never felt so, um … American … as I did on Parliament Hill: Commentary

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While Canadians certainly feel as patriotic as any American, we generally don’t broadcast our love of country very much except on very special days. On Canada Day we certainly wave our flags as highly and proudly as anyone. I’ve always considered our reticence to be a good thing and the American way of doing it a bit suspect, over the top and even nationalistic.

To celebrate the final weekend of summer we decided to go to Ottawa for the better part of a week. We haven’t been there for a decade other than to pass by on the way to la belle province or to stop on the outskirts at a lookout over the Ottawa River.

On our first day in town, which was Labour Day, we went into the city for one of the final Northern Lights shows of the season on Parliament Hill. I assumed it was something along the lines of the rousing spectacle that is performed at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel……a gorgeous kaleidoscope of colourful waterspouts timed to various musical genres. To be honest, I somewhat assumed that Vegas would do a better job just because spectacle IS its job.

Instead, thousands of people gathered to witness an event that put Vegas – and America – in the shade, in my humble opinion. The story of Canada’s history was vividly portrayed against the limestone backdrop of the main parliament building in images that morphed from purely historic to viscerally emotional. It was all the more moving because it was narrated in both official languages. I was joyfully reminded of every history lesson I’d ever heard. The reminiscing was gripping and emotional. Later on, we learned that the new Prime Minister had requested a big change to the light show that better represented First Nations, Inuit and Métis contributions to Canada.

The display was in historical sequence but my recollections are all over the place. We saw and heard the story of Canada’s First Nations and the arrival of the Europeans into this new-to-them land. We saw the great Chief Tecumseh marshall his warriors to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the British and fledgling Canadians to beat back the Americans who were having expansionist thoughts in our direction. In a letter to Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, General Brock wrote: “A more sagacious or more gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist.” Not to be too political, I couldn’t help but wonder – given that we owe our sovereignty to First Nations – how it came to pass that we now treat First Nations peoples so poorly and if they sometimes wish they’d let the U.S. take us over.

The voices and images of the men who fought in the horror that was Vimy Ridge floated above our rapt, upturned faces. The segment from the “war to end all wars” segued into World War II and pictures from photos and old film reels from places like Vimy Ridge. The photos and names of nurses who served on the front lines partnered with their own words to tell the story of the struggle to fix some of the damage that war inflicted; and they recounted their sorrow when no effort could be enough.

By the time Canadian soldiers were in places like Afghanistan, there were female soldiers and high-ranking officers offering their take on Canada’s involvement. Again, not to make this meaningful event political, I pondered our level of care for damaged and sometimes irrevocably broken veterans. After this graphic reminder, I think that whatever we do…it’s not nearly enough.

We arrived at least 45 minutes early for the show and had a chance to chat with a few attendees. It’s amazing how milling around looking for a comfy place to perch or lean unites people. We chatted with a couple of American families and an older couple from England: I would have loved to get together for a coffee afterwards to hear what they thought of the show but they got lost in the crowd.

One thing I really noticed is how much more multicultural Ottawa has become. It used to be a pretty white bread sort of city. It was small but cosmopolitan by virtue of an educated, bilingual population with good to great government jobs. But it felt kind of insular, too. That has all changed for the better and our nation’s capital is far more representative of Canada’s changing mosaic.

And that observation led to the single most moving event of our magical evening on Parliament Hill.

There was a family of five standing in front of us to our right. It seemed to consist of a man in his 50s, his wife and two daughters and his elderly mother in a wheelchair. The mom and grown daughters were wearing the hijab and very modest dress. The man was somewhat ‘dressed up’ and his mother was fully covered. They all watched the show quietly and respectfully but when the national anthem played at the end and people started to sing the mother and daughters jumped to their feet, hugged one another, smiled joyously and joined in. The grandmother tried to stand repeatedly but her son gently held her in the chair and seemed to be telling her that it was okay to sit in her wheelchair. Then he smiled and helped her place her hand over her heart and then did the same himself, continuously casting encouraging glances at his mom.

I can’t know for certain but I believe the family to be Syrian Muslim refugees judging by their features and their dress. I can’t know for certain but I believe they will be admirable additions to Canada. I can’t know for certain but I believe they will speak one more official language than I do tout de suite! I can’t know for certain but I believe that they already love Canada.

The evening and its touching conclusion made us feel so proud to be Canadian that when we got back to our city campground, we ordered a Canadian flag and a flagpole. It isn’t very common to fly a ‘personal’ flag here in Canada but we see it everywhere in the U.S. I can’t wait to see it fluttering in the breeze above our entryway as a daily welcome home.

Dale PeacockFollowing a career in the hospitality sector and the acquisition of a law and justice degree in her 50s, Dale embarked on a writing career armed with the fanciful idea that a living could be made as a freelancer.  To her own great surprise she was right.  The proof lies in hundreds of published works on almost any topic but favourites include travel, humour & satire, feature writing, environment, politics and entrepreneurship. Having re-invented herself half a dozen times, Dale doesn’t rule anything out.  Her time is divided equally between Muskoka and Tampa Bay with Jim, her husband of 7 years and partner of 32 years.  Two grown ‘kids’ and their spouses receive double doses of love and attention when she’s at home. 

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3 Comments

  1. I agree! It’s a great show, quite different than I expected, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I attended with some friends who are new to Canada, who arrived just last January. It moved us all, especially the 9-year old who, with emotion in his voice, said he wanted to join the armed forces to protect Canada.

  2. Beautifully written. Personally, I would change “nationalistic” to “jingoistic” in your reference to Americans. (I even found out recently that the NFL is PAID to include a military presence in their pre-game homage to America the great.)

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