“Eh guys, wanna go out?”
“… It’s 37º C, Juliette.”
“I know! Awesome, isn’t it?”
Feng and Mark looked at me as if I were crazy. “Oh, come on! Yeah, I get it, it’s hot. But it feels good after months of cold weather and all that spring rain. Let’s do something. We could…”
I drew a blank. Truth is, there isn’t much to do in Ottawa on a Sunday evening.
“The Inspiration Village! I wanted to check it out.”
“Google it. It’s downtown, opened recently I think. I haven’t seen any of the ’Canada 150’ celebrations yet.”
I used to be excited about festivals and activities, but yearly-event fatigue set in. I’ve been living in Ottawa for over a decade now, and annual events all follow the same predicable format. Been there, done that.
Take the Great Glebe Garage Sale, for instance. As the name implies, it’s a super popular community garage sale in one of Ottawa’s most “bohemian-bourgeois” neighbourhoods. It’s a big deal in Ottawa—thousands of people show up—because for some reason, people love garage sales and the Glebe is a very walkable district with a distinct feel (and a NIMBY attitude…). But I just can’t be bothered anymore. It’s impossible to find parking and I don’t want to get up at dawn for boxes of National Geographic magazines, computer monitors, hockey equipment or play sets with missing elements.
Then a week later, our neighbourhood has garage sale as well. We participated once because I had baby stuff we no longer needed. I wouldn’t do it every year, though, especially considering Canadian social etiquette somehow states that the best time for garage sales are between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. On weekends, I’d rather be sleeping than dragging crap from the basement to the driveway, waiting for customers who will bargain down $2 items they don’t even need to $1.
But I also don’t want to turn into a cranky suburban lady who doesn’t go anywhere, so yes, I was looking forward to seeing something new.
I first heard of the Inspiration Village when—unsurprisingly—local businesses complained about the loss of parking spots and when—surprisingly—the website’s “call for performers” stated “there is no compensation available” and that performers should work for “national exposure.”
It was easy to find, between Sussex St. and ByWard Market Square, on what’s normally a parking lot.
It starts with a predictable giant sign—well, two, actually, “Ottawa” and “#Stand for Canada.” They were set up to capture the “ultimate selfie” because supposedly, you can see the Peace Tower in the background (nope). Meanwhile, Mark spontaneously sat down when I snapped the picture, and I found it funny given the sign’s message. As for the “Ottawa” sign, the background is … Barefax, a strip club.
We walked in a global exhibit composed of 41 sea containers, each one filled with elements to showcase Canada’s provinces and territories. Or at least, that’s what the map promised.
The first five containers are filled with Parks Canada, the exhibitor with the biggest presence on site. I can understand why—I mean, Canada is a giant open-air playground and we have hundreds of amazing parks to visit. It’s a good thing I know that as a Canadian because frankly, a fake fireplace, tree logs and Adirondacks chairs don’t make me want to grab a canoe and explore nature.
The Nunavut container had a sleigh and a very bored-looking woman who stood there, checking her phone. The Cape Breton exhibit had two lobster traps. Manitoba has cut outs of polar bears, beluga whales and a trophy lake trout.
“Is that the best they could do?” I muttered.
Most exhibits were obsessed with “photo ops.” You’re encouraged to take selfies, share photos with various hashtags and “get interactive” and take more photos of “immersive setups.” Look, Ottawa, there is this cool thing called “Internet.” If I need info on Ontario, PEI or Quebec to plan a trip, I can find resources easily. I’m not going to stand there looking at a TV playing videos.
Finally, at the end, we stopped by the “kid entertainment” container, located right beside the toilets. Mark played with LEGO for ten minutes. It’s only when I went online later that evening that I learned it was the “Build a Nation Station,” hence the LEGO blocks—ah ah!
Bottom line, it looks and feels like a boring tradeshow featuring provincial and territorial tourism organizations. There are no artistic elements, no passion, nothing original. I still don’t understand what the hell you’re supposed to do there. Does it make me proud to be Canadian? Hell no. Does it make me want to celebrate Canada? No, eh.
Canada Day is just a few weeks away. Come on, we can do better than that for Canada’s 150th birthday!