Canada Day in Ottawa, 150 Edition – Report from the Front

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“So … are we going or not?”

On Friday night, twelve hours before what had been hyped up as “Canada’s big milestone” in “Ottawa, the place to be,” we had facts but no specific plan.

This year, Canada Day didn’t look promising. Since the beginning of the week, we had been dealing with street closures, an increasingly large “security perimeter” being set up downtown Ottawa and a traffic gridlock plaguing the city. It had rained constantly on Thursday, then on and off, and more rain with severe thunderstorms were forecast for Canada Day, where 95% of activities and events are outdoor. For the first time ever, partygoers would have to go through extensive security screening checkpoints to access Parliament Hill. The prohibited items list was getting longer every day and there was confusion around umbrellas, as security officials initially stated they wouldn’t be allowed. “Pack light, don’t drive and expect lineups” was the motto in the media.

All in all, Canada Day felt unnecessarily complicated and was beginning to feel like an ordeal.

“I just don’t know if it’s actually gonna be more crowded than usual,” I told Feng. “The business district was super quiet today. Most of my clients and friends got the hell out of here for the long weekend.”

I know many Ottawa residents who’ve never celebrated Canada Day downtown. Canadians don’t like crowds, and locals use of “crowd” negatively and very liberally because we are spoiled with big, open spaces and a low population density.

“Yeah, but people are gonna come from Montreal and all.”

“Ah, doubt it. Quebec is busy with moving day. Okay, but if it’s pouring rain, is it worth the trouble? I mean, we aren’t gonna queue for a spot on the Hill.”

“No way. I’m not standing in line for hours.”

“So, should we just do the usual?”

The usual,” for us, includes driving to downtown a bit before noon, parking a few streets from the events, catching a glimpse of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds and the show, wandering around Major Hill’s Park, being handed out a few promotional items by brands exploiting national identity, enjoying buskers, the crowd and various activities until we are sick of it.

On Saturday morning, it was indeed raining and Parliament Hill looked pretty soaked and empty on TV. We wanted to drive to Tunney’s Pasture, just outside Ottawa, then take the bus, but we couldn’t find anywhere to park.

“Fuck it, then. I’ll drive to downtown.”

And of course, we did find parking downtown. Lucky start. I’d say it went downhill from here, but we never actually reached the Hill!

I knew many streets were closed but I thought pedestrians could still get through. Unfortunately, they were really closed. It was impossible to get anywhere near Parliament Hill. We heard the Snowbirds but didn’t see anything. Then we took Sparks Street, but were quickly stuck in the crowd gathered around the live broadcast of the Parliament Hill show. Crossing Elgin was difficult, again because there were roadblocks—police cars, concrete barriers or City of Ottawa snowplows (!)—and the city was a complete maze.

I didn’t even know where the lineup to enter Parliament Hill began. It was crazy. I checked Twitter and people reported waiting for four, five, eight hours even to be admitted within the secured perimeter.

Somehow, we made it to Major Hill’s Park where it was as muddy as Woodstock—without the cool bands. Most people were just lining up to grab something to eat, either pizza slices or hot dogs. There wasn’t much going on, so we walked to the Byward Market and back to the car.

And that was the extent of the four hours we spent downtown on Canada Day.

On the plus side, we didn’t get soaked and the atmosphere was friendly in less crowded places, like the Byward Market. On the downside, this has to be the most uneventful Canada Day I went to. You had to make a conscious effort to enjoy a specific event/moment of the day since getting around was so difficult. I kept on hearing people complaining about the lineups going from nowhere to nowhere.

Canada Day revolves around wandering around the city and soaking up the atmosphere. And when you can’t get from point A to point B, it kills the mood.

Honestly, it wasn’t that crowded. However, because so many streets were closed to pedestrians, there was a higher concentration of people in several spots. Security checkpoints to Parliament Hill meant that the crowd didn’t ebb and flow as usual—people were stuck, either in a lineup or on the Hill.

The “swatting flies with a sledgehammer” approach feels so wrong. I can’t help thinking terrorists won when we gave in to fear.

I wish Ottawa would have done better. The city is a mess with construction sites everywhere, OCTranspo failed as usual and I feel the national capital milked “Canada 150” but didn’t deliver.

Media are already calling this edition of Canada Day “an absolute fiasco” because of the security lines.

I don’t regret going and we had a relatively good day after all, but I’m glad we didn’t make any “sacrifice,” such as waiting in line for hours or paying big bucks for a hotel room.

And at least, Canada didn’t invite Trump to celebrate our national day with us—looking at you, France. For this, I’m grateful.

Canada 150 poster in Ottawa, Canada Day

Street closures on Canada Day in Ottawa

People in the lineup several blocks from the Parliament hoping for a spot on Parliament Hill

Rainy Canada Day

Long lineups under the rain on Canada Day, Ottawa

Canada Day was a controversial celebration for some members of the country’s indigenous population

The Canal and the Parliament from Mackenzie King Bridge, under a grey sky

People on Mackenzie King Bridge

On Colonel By Drive, downtown Ottawa

On Colonel By Drive, downtown Ottawa

On Colonel By Drive, downtown Ottawa

Family eating pizza at Major’s Hill Park

Major’s Hill Park

Apparently, suing the Queen isn’t an option

Sussex Drive, closed

In the Byward Market

In the Byward Market

Canada, where snowplows are used to blocked streets during special events

Deep-fried cheese curds… yeah, no thanks

Two dudes with the portrait of Nickelback’s singer

Rideau Street, early afternoon

Happy Canada Day!

My souvenir of the day: a small paper Canadian flag

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

12 Comments

  1. Hey, even here Canada Day crept up! Today was my first day at work, and someone was Canadian, who during the Orientation, gave everyone mini-pancakes dipped in maple syrup!

    • Wow, nice! That shows dedication to Canada, must be hard to find maple syrup in Germany.

      We saw Canada Day being celebrated in London a few years ago. I was surprised, it was a large public event.

  2. Martin Penwald on

    Oooh ! Nice one : “Canada 150 is a celebration of ongoing land theft.” And Québécois are not specially happy with the celebration either.

    • I can see why in both cases… but I still think Canada has one of the most inclusive national celebrations among world countries. And not too much of a military show, which I appreciate.

      • Martin Penwald on

        Indeed. But it is great that First Nations can protest, in some countries, their leaders get jailed or worse.

        • … if there are any leaders left in the first place :-/

          Yeah, I completely agree, while I think it’s good to celebrate Canada Day, it’s definitely worth pointing out that it can be a controversial date with a controversial meaning.

  3. J’aime tes photos 🙂 J’ai toujours un peu de mal avec les longues files. Je me demande toujours ce qui peut bien valoir que je perde autant d’heures de ma vie à attendre !! Mais ça avait quand même l’air d’être sympathique. Gageons que l’an prochain, pour le 151e, les événements seront revus à taille humaine !

    • Merci 🙂

      Je DÉTESTE faire la queue. J’essaie d’éviter ça autant que je peux. Je suis plutôt patiente en général, mais les files d’attente, je peux pas. Je ne resquille jamais. évidemment, mais j’essaie de me débrouiller pour me présenter plus tôt/tard selon les situations.

  4. Thanks for the insider’s perspective!
    And I can relate regarding the crowds! A lot of pple drive to Calgary to our small town and it felt very crowded. BUT it’s nothing at all compared to a Saturday afternoon shopping in my home town in France. It’s all relative.
    It was very sunny and hot here (32 degrees). We went to a “market” which was mostly local businesses promoting themselves, food trucks (usual fried junk food but also Thai, Sushi, crepes…) and a couple of bands. There was also a ton of stuff for kiddos and a demo of canine agilityor whatever it’s called. We only watched because my friend’s sister in law was participating. I have to say we laughed so much though! Some of the dogs were more into saying hi to the crowd or running full speed.
    We escaped on the river and to our yard for the rest of the week-end, watched the fireworks from home.

    • Sounds like a perfect, relaxing Canada Day weekend! The events in Ottawa were definitely hyped up this year. Usually, Canada Day here is busy but more relaxed.

  5. We just gave up 🙂

    Although we did bike till the Rideau falls and spent some time there; enjoyed looking at Snowbirds and later in the night watched the fireworks from the front seats from our apartment.

    • Nice! Sounds like a good Canada Day. I can’t believe that next year (if my calculations are correct) you’ll be eligible to apply for citizenship 🙂

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