I’m sitting in the lobby of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel in downtown Ottawa as I type this, within an hour of departing for the airport, and then home to Calgary. A bus just pulled up and a small group of military officers from Canada’s Army, Navy and Air Force are now making their way through the lobby and into what I would suspect is a conference room, perhaps putting finishing touches on this week’s commemoration ceremony. Ottawa has been a nice place to visit once again, though much of my time was cooped up in a conference centre (make that a hockey arena) participating in… …yet… …another… …trade show.
Ottawa is such a pretty city. I’m sure its suburbs are like those of any other, but the diverse downtown area and its proximity to Quebec certainly offers a lot to see. Maybe it’s the socialist in me, but I really like capital cities and especially those that have grandiose public buildings. None I can think of are more majestic than Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Today I walked past and around them, and down the street to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is possibly even more impressive. A modest distance further is the new Canadian War Museum, which, being only two days before November 11, was curiously closed. It too exudes imagination, soul and fervour in its design.
But I began my meander across the street from the hotel, at the War Memorial, where, two days from now, up to 20,000 people will gather to mark Canada’s Remembrance Day. The site is a spectacular homage to sacrifice and honour; its broad granite pedestal bearing bronze statues of soldiers engaged in battle, who appear steadfast in their duties, though wishing they were anywhere but there. At the foot of the monument lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a raised coffin-like edifice drawing attention to the many Canadian soldiers who died at war for their country, but were never identified and whose families never completely understood how they fell. It was around the tomb during my visit that several school children were being spoken to by an instructor, and where on Wednesday countless thousands of spectators will set their poppies in tribute. I left mine there today, since I won’t be attending the ceremony.
Though I can’t say I’d ever join the military (perhaps only if Canada were ever definitively threatened, and in modern times I’m not sure such a conclusion can ever be drawn again), a part of me is overwhelmingly appreciative of our forces and their continuous selfless sacrifice. I am not one who believes in war, except under the most extreme of circumstances, and I question our participation in places like Afghanistan, but my appreciation and my cynicism are wholly separate. My disagreement is with our politicians – those who send our soldiers to war. The soldiers only do as they’re told. Sometimes to their death. One can’t express more loyalty and patriotism than to die for their country, and especially to do so when the cause is mirky and the reasons insincere.
I feel fortunate to be able to visit Ottawa so close to Remembrance Day, because even though I cannot be amongst the crowd on the actual day of remembrance, I am able to pay my respects to the sacrifice our military has made for us throughout our history, and witness the significant preparations our nation’s capital makes leading up to that special day.
At some point in the not-so-distant future I will endeavour to process this trip’s photos, though I can safely say it won’t be before the end of the month. I’m off to Whistler on Thursday for four days, where I will no doubt wonder why the grass is green and the mountains bare, only two and a half months before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Thank you again to the efforts and sacrifice made by our soldiers now and throughout history, on behalf of all Canadians.