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Canada Day in Ottawa

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Cross-posted at

Our planned trip to Ottawa for Canada Day did not start off auspiciously, what with 60% chance of rain predicted for every day we were there.

Fortunately, as has often been the case this weird summer, they were wrong about that. We had mostly sun for our entire visit, and the predicted probability of rain declined each day, til it was down to a 0% chance that day—a prediction that turned out to be right on.

And it’s cool to be there in advance and see the preparations—the stage being built and so on. On the Monday there was music from the stage on Parliament Hill, so we went closer to investigate. The name “Suzie McNeil” flashed on the big screen there. That might not excite most people, but I was a big fan of Rock Star INXS, and have kind of followed Suzie’s career since, through her stint on the We Will Rock You stage musical, her album, her song “Believe” being picked as an Olympic fundraiser. Anyway, we got to get up close to the Parliament Hill stage and watch her and her band rehearse that.

On Canada Day itself, when we back to Parliament Hill first thing after breakfast, it wasn’t nearly so easy to get close to anything. People. People everywhere. Seas of red and white. Of course, we knew there would be people, but this was really a lot of people. We managed to sort of peak at the Mountie musical ride performing—kind of seeing their little hats bob up and down—when we decided that was enough of that atmosphere and headed to the big Information Centre (much easier said than done, actually).

They had Terry Fox’s original van parked there, along with one of the original police escort cars. Apart some of his family were on hand as well, though we didn’t spot them. (We later met a woman at the hotel who did meet his parents.) We did spot a statue of Terry Fox then felt a bit stupid, wondering if that had always been there and we just hadn’t noticed. Anyway. We picked up the brochure of Canada Day events and headed into the Market area.

That was a popular area, too, but we found a little enclave in a court, where we sat to have a drink. (Our only alcohol of the day, in the end.) We seemed to start a trend there, with the space filling up more and more as we sat, but it was a relaxing interlude.

We headed to the NAC next, where they were holding various free performances. That turned out a bit disappointing. Due to a schedule change, we missed most of the student orchestra performance. We did get a tour of one of the NAC stages, but it really wasn’t anywhere near as good as the Centre in the Square tours we’ve had. Then we were interested in the free NAC orchestra concert, with 400-member choir, but frankly got discouraged by the length of the lineup a good one hour, 15 minutes before that was due to start.

So instead we went to Major Park to see what was going on there. “Oh Canada Idol” was one thing—a contest to find the best rendition of karoke “Oh Canada”. Some of the kids singing were pretty cute. Fresh lemonade was another—definitely worth the lineup. And we sat and watched some “urban dancing”! About as much as Jean could stand.

Then we went for lupper (lunch + supper) at a Thai place in the Market that wasn’t terribly air-conditioned (though the high was only about 25, 26, so it wasn’t that bad), but had pretty good food. A perusal of the concert programs revealed that Suzie McNeil was performing only at Jacques-Cartier park at night. (She played the noon show on Parliament Hill, but we were at the NAC being disappointed at that point.) So that, combined with our fears of the crowd size at the big concert on Parliament Hill, convinced us to head there, even though we didn’t know any of the other performers.

We stopped back at our hotel before heading over, to pick up folding chairs and change into less sweaty clothes. Lots of streets are blocked off in Ottawa that day, so we were able to walk over to Jacques-Cartier park. It’s actually in Gatineau, Quebec, but that didn’t seem to diminish the presence of maple leaves. The crowd size was much less intimidating than on Parliament Hill, and we were able to set up chairs very close to the big stage.

It was a really good show. Jordan Croucher was the first performer. The woman in front of us was horrified at the thought that he might be about to play rap, but it was mostly R&B / soul—though with a little rapping in the last couple. It was good; might pick up a few numbers.

McNeil, suzieSuzie McNeil was next. Woman has a great voice, but is kind of a goofball, which is rather endearing. At one point she managed to get a bunch of kids up on stage, past the barricades, dancing with her—very cute. She did do a few numbers from the “Rock Star” series—Roxanne, Losing my Religion, and one of INXS’. And “Believe”, of course.

Next band were Eagle and Hawk, who played a very palatable pop-rock with some native influence, but they had very little stage presence—only on their final song, about a car, were they able to really rouse the crowd to sing along and get involved.

Everything changed with the next act, Swing, who just blew the place away almost from their opening chord. Though Jean and I had never heard of them, the crowd obviously did, and they had everyone on their feet, dancing, singing, clapping… They’re a franco-ontarian band, singing mostly in French, but with some English mixed in. Their music builds on traditional French-Canadian folk but adds in hip-hop and other modern influences. It’s really infectious.

Their sing-a-long was a hoot, touching on quite the range—Who Let the Dogs Out, the Flintstones theme (in French, then English), Hot Hot Hot, and more. They were of course called back for an encore, and I am definitely getting some of their albums.

It left us feeling a bit sorry for the supposed top performer of the night, Sylvain Cossette—again very well-known in Quebec, though new to Jean and me. He is a good singer, does have some stage presence, but certainly couldn’t quite match Swing’s energy. What really surprised me, at least, is that after performing a couple songs in French, he did nothing but hits from the 70’s. Now, he did mention that he has a new album out of 70’s covers. Still, I would have thought he’d have wanted to present more of a range.

But, the limited range worked for me, as I know all those seventies songs—Boston, Pink Floyd, Police, Elton John, etc. He concluded with some Queen numbers—a really nice job on “Somebody to Love” (he does have a good voice), then We Will Rock You (I thought he should have invited Suzie to join him for that one) and We Are the Champions.

Then, fireworks. I mean literally, since the Canada Day fireworks started then. Very nice light show, as usual, but really didn’t seem to last long.

Then, for mysterious reasons, we had to wait until about 11:00 until they opened up the bridge to pedestrians again. There was really no other way back to our hotel, so…

One more pass through the Market, where spontaneous dancing and other parties were breaking out, then we called it a night.

It’s good to live in a country where so many can all get together for the day and mill about in the public streets and parks without have to be searched or go through security fences. Where there is a definite police presence, but little police action required—I didn’t witness or hear about any fights, break-ins, or public mischief.

Happy 141st, Canada. Party on.

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