Mack Hall, HSGMhall46184@aol.com
Because Ottawa is not a Fortress
On a perfect summer morning several years ago, two delightful children took me on a walk through downtown Ottawa and then all over one of their favorite (or, rather, favourite) green spaces, Parliament Hill.
Long ago, Queen Victoria chose the little community of Bytown as the capital of Canada. The site was then given back its original First Nations name of Ottawa, and a great city developed there at the confluence of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.
Canada wisely made its Parliament a park instead of a fortress, and what stands out about Parliament Hill is not its many noble buildings but rather the expanses of grassy lawns, the banks of flowers, and the children at play. Any grim-visaged Member of Parliament who means to bring a bill must first work her way through children playing hide-and-seek, eating ice cream, blowing soap bubbles, pushing baby brother or baby sister about in a pram, chasing soccer balls, and maybe suddenly crying in need of a nappie-change. All this childhood merriment reminds the MP whom she serves, and why she should take a brief recess from thinking Very Important Thoughts in order to hear a still more important thought – the name a little child has given her new doll.
Abbie and Alexander (for these of the names of the children in charge of me that happy morning) took me to their favorite places on Parliament Hill: the Summer Gazebo, for instance, and the Peace Tower, and some other places I don’t remember because of the children’s haste to their favoritest place of all, an ice cream kiosk attended by a cheerful man in a striped vest and a straw boater.
Here I must confess that although I was reminded by Abbie and ‘Zander’s parents to provide the children with a healthy, nutritious mid-morning snack during our ramble, well, nah, it was all a prolonged sugar-shock. If the kids had asked for tofu sandwiches made from ranch-grown fungi, or cholesterol-free salads made of acorns and leaves, I would have given them that. They didn’t. Now they are grown up and in university, and one assumes they eat only fashionable bacteria and mould, and are never tempted by ice cream.
We looked across the bluff to Quebec and the city of Gatineau (“Our house is about there…”) and down on the Ottawa River, the Rideau River, and the Rideau Canal, which flows to Lake Ontario.
The First Nations lived on what is now Parliament Hill, and then the French built a fort there, which the English took from them, and now there is ice cream and play outside great buildings, and, inside those great buildings, the making of laws and the administration of a great nation. And the making of laws and the administration of a great nation is for this: that children may play in safety, even if they make a bit too much noise outside the windows of the Prime Minister’s office.
Alas that law and happy children are not universal.
Last week, Parliament Hill became better known for a bad reason.
Last week, two young, unarmed soldiers died for Canada and for civilization. They were murdered because their uniforms offended some little mansies who never accomplished anything in their meaningless lives and who now never will.
The two brave young men were guardians of a nation where children are meant to play safely, in St. Jean sur Richelieu and on Parliament Hill and in Nunavut (except when the polar bears are being tiresome). Those two young men, barely out of childhood themselves, will be remembered. Their families, their comrades, their friends, their schools, their communities, their nation – all will remember them with pride. Of each of them Canada can say
Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt:He only lived but till he was a man.
- Macbeth V.vii.39-40-30-