Category Archives: Just for Fun
This past weekend the streets of downtown Ottawa, Canada overflowed with hundreds of thousands of people thronging to see La Machine.
The “travelling urban theatre” made its North America debut in my hometown as part of our ongoing Canada 150 celebrations. A gigantic mechanical dragon and spider wandered through the streets and public parks for a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings.” The creatures lived, breathed (sort of) snorted and farted (really), and walked among the people of Ottawa 24 hours a day for four days as they pursued their quests. My social media feeds and the Ottawa news channels were full of pictures and videos of these feats of engineering at play in our city. The dragon and the spider were a huge hit.
As cool as that all sounded, as unique and interesting as it seemed, I could not summon the interest in going to see it for myself.
Cottages called to me. I spent the weekend in peaceful surroundings. Sun, water, relaxation. I couldn’t bear the thought of those crowds.
Last week, before the dragon and the spider descended on my city and before the hundreds of thousands of people flocked to see them, I went for a walk downtown. At the heart of Ottawa, a few hundred feet from Parliament Hill, I encountered these baby bunnies. They were small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. By myself I spent some quiet moments with the bunnies.
For me, quiet moments with those bunnies beat noisy dragon time.
When I attended the Canadian Writers Summit in Toronto, Canada this summer, the daily walk from my hotel to the conference site at the Harbourfront Centre took me through Roundhouse Park. When I walked there my steps slowed, and I had to stop to contemplate the metal tracks and the mighty engines on display. I could not walk through the park apace. Something about the circular shape and the radiating rail lines gave the site a sacred feel. In slowing down, in breathing in the spirit of the place, I felt reinvigorated.
In the early days of rail travel, steam locomotives could only travel forwards. Toronto-bound locomotives arrived at the John Street roundhouse for servicing and light repairs. The turntable allowed the locomotives to be turned around for the return journey.
According to the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the locomotives serviced there were “so attractively maintained that their appearance became known among railroaders as the ‘John Street polish’.”
Today, Roundhouse Park no longer services locomotives, but it still provide servicing and light repairs. Like a forward-moving locomotive, I arrived in Toronto this summer and the John Street roundhouse gave my creative soul a “John Street polish” of a different sort.
We all need a little servicing and light repairs from time to time. Where is your “roundhouse?”
Yesterday most Canadians celebrated a civic holiday. Not every Canadian (some provinces don’t have a long weekend in August) and not all for the same reason.
Because there is no specific occasion for a holiday in August (other than it’s really great to have a long weekend in the summer) provinces and municipalities have creative licence. In British Columbia, it is British Columbia Day. (Okay, maybe not so creative.) In Alberta it’s Heritage Day. (Better, if a little vague.) In Toronto it’s Simcoe Day. (For John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.) Here in Ottawa we designate the weekend as Bytown Days and Monday specifically as Colonel By Day.
Ottawa’s original name was Bytown, in honour of Lieutenant Colonel John By. Colonel By, a military engineer, was the first city planner, and he laid out plans for the area that has become our downtown core. He oversaw the construction of the first bridge across the Ottawa River, a vital link between the provinces of Ontario and Québec. Most famously, he engineered and supervised the building of the Rideau Canal and the lock system that connects the Ottawa River to the Rideau River. (Here in Ottawa, Rideau is pronounced REE-deau, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Pronounce it Ri-DEAU and we’ll know you’re not from here.)
Canadians first had the notion that a navigable trade route other than the St. Lawrence River might be a good idea after the war of 1812, when American/Canadian relations were a little more fraught. At the time, the unquestioned need to maintain water transportation avenues that could be protected from American attack made the prospect of carving through 125 miles of bush and swamp and rock seem not only possible but imperative.
For six years, thousands of Irish and French Canadian labourers and skilled stonemasons endured hellish working and living conditions with high incidents of accidents, disease and death to build the canal and the lock system. Malaria, of all things, was a major threat. They did it because they needed the work to survive, and they believed that their labours would ensure the survival of future generations.
These days we are at peace with the United States. These days our supplies travel by airplane or highway or train. These days, the trade route that Colonel By envisioned, that water transportation link that people lost their lives over, is a place for pleasure only. In the summer yachts fill the locks and cruise the canal.
In the winter skaters laugh as they glide way between Beavertail stands.
I wonder, what would Colonel By think of how we use his creation today? I walk beside the canal and the locks on my lunch breaks in downtown Ottawa. As I stroll in peaceful, malaria-free Ottawa, I imagine Colonel By surveying his city from his vantage point on the great cliff at Major’s Hill Park where his house used to stand. I envision his stiff British bearing as he peers down to watch us walk and bike and boat in the same area where men suffered and died.
I wonder if Colonel By, a man who lived in harsh times, would despair at how we luxuriously and thoughtlessly take his engineering marvel for granted. Perhaps he would scowl over our carefree abandon. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would commend us all for shaping our city into one of safety and freedom. Maybe he would give us a rousing Hurrah! for creating a vibrant, economically progressive, multicultural and compassionate city to honour his name.
Read more Rideau Canal history here: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/hist-canal.html
Not so long ago on the day when spring arrived in our city on cat feet, we convened on our front porch to savour the warming breezes. After a suitably reflective time spent surveying our awakening gardens and our peaceful neighbourhood, my husband said, “If we won a lottery and had millions of dollars, this is still exactly where I would want to be.”
What an immeasurable fortune—a life crafted such that no amount of money could make the foundations of it any finer.
This weekend—a long Victoria Day holiday weekend here in Ontario, Canada—my friend Stephen posted this picture on Facebook with the caption “Weekend getaway spot.” When I saw the caption I wondered, “Where is Stephen off to now?” (He travels quite a lot.) I smiled when I recognized the photo as the view of his own background with parkland and a gently murmuring creek beyond.
What an immeasurable fortune he has created for himself and his family. If he had all the money in the world, he would still be happiest right where he is, with the ones he cherishes around him.
My friend Jean spent the long weekend savouring the beauties of her garden in British Columbia, Canada. She posted the photos of her exploding blossoms on her blog page at Poetry to Inspire.
What an immeasurable fortune of natural beauty. If she had all the money in the world, it could not buy her more pleasure than she derives from nature bursting forth.
Speaking of nature bursting forth, we spent some time this long weekend enjoying the Canadian Tulip Festival in my home (vacation) city of Ottawa, Canada.
There is something grounding, centering and reassuring about a festival that celebrates a flower for simply being what it is. The tulips bloom because they cannot help to do so, and we stand back in awe. The tulips don’t have to try, or dress themselves up, or pretend. (The Kardashians could learn from this.)
You know you have done some things right, made quality choices and gravitated toward the positive in life when your home is a favoured vacation spot, and when you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Send a postcard to yourself, and enjoy Willow Marie’s poetic meditation on being present. Postcard: a meditation