Ottawa Ontario Saturday Sept. 13
I had $550,000 in my hands today. But I gave it back. Actually I had no choice as it was a 28 pound gold bar, watched over by a police officer and attached to a really heavy chain. Just one of our activities on a rainy, cool day in Ottawa.
Parliament Hill was our first destination. We arrived early, behind a tour group from Alberta. The guy right in front of us had a name badge indicating he was from Swift Current so we told him about our stay at Grandma Bep’s B & B in June 2013. He said she was still going strong.
Our tour was of the Centre Block of Parliament which is where the chambers for the House, the Senate, and the Library of Parliament are housed. Since Canada is a bilingual country, tours are offered both in English and in French. We had to wait about 25 minutes for the next English tour. Bilingual may help keep the country united but it also imposes a cost for dual signage, tours, and even church services. In any event, our wait was much shorter than the line which was present when we finished our tour and left the Parliament building
The tour lasted about one hour. Since this was Saturday, neither legislative chamber was in session. We were able to enter the Senate chambers but could only view the House chambers through windows along one wall. The construction we viewed Friday was of a new House chambers being built in a portion of the West Block.
The Centre Block of Parliament that we viewed today had been extensively destroyed in a fire in 1916. The cause was never determined. As the nation’s capital, the complex and building is quite impressive. The library was the round building pictured in yesterday’s blog. It is the most original building as a librarian closed metal doors between the library and the fire, blocking the passage of the flames.
Technically, Canada is part of the English Commonwealth and Queen Elisabeth II is the Monarch of Canada and head of state. Her duties are strictly limited in the Canadian Constitution. Our tour also included an observation deck in the Peace Tower 200 feet above the ground. The tour concluded with a visit to the Memorial Chamber.
The Memorial Chamber is dedicated to the memory of Canadians who have died in military service. It was designed after World War I, the war which was thought to never have to be repeated. The central point is an altar of Belgian stone with the names of the dead from World War I. As time has progressed, side tables hold books of remembrance for other wars since World War I. Pages of the Books of Remembrance are turned every morning at 11 o’clock, according to a perpetual calendar. These calendars allow for each page in each book to appear at least once in the course of the year. We were present at 11 AM when a uniformed officer of the military performed the ritual.
The history of Canada is still not a complete picture in our minds. During today’s tour, it was mentioned that only several of the provinces united to form Canada in 1867. Newfoundland, for instance, did not join until 1949. Thus the building does not always have flags or seals from all of the current provinces since it was built a century ago.
After walking in the pouring rain, we came to our second stop. The Bytown Museum, housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building, does a nice job of describing the history of Ottawa. A major force in the establishment of the town is the Rideau Canal. (You may have heard of this. In winter there are frequent pictures of Ottawans skating down the canal to work.)
The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in the 1820s, the first canal build for steamships, not horse drawn boats. The impetus for its construction was to create a clear shipping channel around the rapids in the rivers to allow for a secondary passage for Canadian and British forces in case the St. Lawrence River was blocked by the U.S. Our friendly relations now were not always that way-more details in future weeks. The canal was a success although newer technologies negated its need. The canal is about 120 miles long,connecting Ottawa to Kingston. It is now used primarily by pleasure craft. The locks in Ottawa lift boats a total of 80 feet. The locks are still turned by manual labor as they were when it was built. We observed the crew opening the locks in the rain.
Ottawa became the capital of Canada by chance. Ottawa had started due to the Rideau Canal and lumbering. In 1867, there was competition among several cities to be the new nation’s capital. Queen Victoria made the decision, never specifying the exact reason but it was more defensible, farther from the U.S. border, and more midway geographically for the young country. It has grown immensely, governmental functions are still its main reason for existence.
After lunch, a nice respite from the rain, we went to the Royal Canadian Mint. At the Ottawa location, the Mint makes primarily investment and collectible coins; mass production of circulation coins occurs at the Winnipeg facility-which also makes coins for 75 other countries. It was while waiting for the next English tour that I lifted the gold bar worth $550,000.
The tour, cheaper on weekends when production is not occurring, shows you the design and production areas. We saw rolls of gold metal worth $20,000,000 each (from a distance, behind glass walls), plus rolls of silver worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Canadian mint is a leader in new technologies; producing the purest gold coin (99.999% pure), the first locking mechanism for bi-metallic coinage, the first colored circulation coin, and others. They made four large gold coins. (I forget the exact size.) One of these sold for $2.6 million. The owner in Dubai has made a coffee table out of his. It is currently valued at over $6,000,000.
The tour had 15 people on it. There were people from Alberta, Montreal, Minnesota, Trinidad, London England, and Russia. Quite a mix.
The tour finished in time for us to make the short walk for the 5 PM Mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. The Cathedral is colorful and ornate, although it appeared less than 100 people were in attendance. The service was bi-lingual. I thought saying many of the prayers and readings in two languages would mean it would take longer than the usual 60 minutes. The service was completed in 45 minutes.
This mass came a week after we had toured the St. Paul Cathedral. While we have been to church there often, we had never taken the tour. Come to find out, the St.Paul Cathedral is the 4th largest in North America and listed by Fox News in 2013 as one of the 12 most beautiful churches in the U.S! The Notre Dame Cathedral struck me as much brighter and colorful; St. Paul seems dark in comparison.
The St. Paul Cathedral has a series of six shrines constructed and funded by various European immigrant communities that settled in St. Paul. (Italian, Irish, German, Slavic, French Canadian, and St. Therese patron of all missions.) While the first Mass was held in the Cathedral in 1915, it took until 1941 before it was essentially complete.
One story from the St. Paul tour. There are two organ consoles. One (the original) is in the sanctuary and one (from the early 1960s) is in the choir loft. In the early ’60s, the long time organist announced his retirement. He proposed that his assistant, a woman, succeed him. This was approved but since at this time, a few years before Vatican II, women were not allowed in the sanctuary during Mass they had to construct a second organ console up in the choir loft.
Ed and Chris 9/13 11:15 pm