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Canada Day Thursday, July 03, 2008

Parliament Hill is awash in red and white July 1 as thousands celebrate Canada Day in the nation's capital. Paul Brandt and numerous other Canadian performers gave a free concert on Parliament Hill that also included a visit from the Governor General and the Prime Minister.

You can't be in Ottawa on Canada Day without a visit to Parliament Hill, so my brother Stuart and I headed out that way Tuesday morning. We parked near his office on the Gatineau side of the river and, after stopping for an internet fix (see previous post), walked across the bridge back into Ottawa.

As we walked over the bridge, our timing was just right to watch a pair of CF-18 fighter jets do a fly-by of Parliament Hill, followed by a two-maneuver show by the Snowbirds.

[right] Parliament Hill, as seen from the Alexandra Bridge. [below] The Governor General's flag flies atop the Peace Tower July 1, indicating that Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Michaelle Jean was present.

Stuart and I wandered through the crowds in Majors Hill Park and over to Parliament Hill where about a dozen different bands were performing about two songs each in a spectacle broadcast on the CBC. To keep things moving, they had a rotating stage set up in front of the Parliament Buildings so that each act could set up while the previous one was still playing.

We worked our way through the crowd from east to west, but came across a barricade at the main pathway that leads to the Centre Block. As we moved forward through the crowd, it became apparent that the pathway to the stage was completely cut off to the public, and we wouldn't be able to get to the other side without heading all the way to the east gate, through a streetful of pedestrians, and back in the west side.

Noticing all of the secret service agents inside the barricade, Stuart concluded that the Governor General and/or Prime Minister would be arriving that way. So when another couple left their place at the rail, we filled in, speculating which side of the Centennial Flame they would walk on.

The secret service agents seemed particularly vigilant as Blue Rodeo finished up their set, so we started craning our necks to see the VIPs. Next thing you know, the Governor General is speaking from the stage without ever having passed our spot. Nuts. But we knew she'd have to leave that way. So we waited patiently while she congratulated the country on its 141st birthday in both official languages, and slowly made her way down the 200 feet of well-wishers towards us.

Finally, a crowd of news photographers backed past our location, and she was right there. I took several photos as she shook hands with my brother and others in the area, and then went to the other side of the walkway. That was the end of that.

But then she came back! She picked up right where she left off, shook my hand, inquired about my t-shirt ("Canada is Hockey ... Hockey is Canada, Period.") and what my favourite team is ("Montreal, of course"), and then moved on. Easily the highlight of my day.

[above] The press scrum photographs Governor General Michaelle Jean as she works the line at Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill. [right] The Governor General shakes hands with Stuart Ginn July 1 in Ottawa. [below] Prime Minister Stephen Harper (green circle) presses the flesh July 1 in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not far behind the Governor General. He also worked the line, switching sides just as he approached our area. Harper, however, did not come back to complete our side of the gauntlet. Mild cries of derision emanated from the crowd: "Boo," and "hey, what about us?" and, of course, "I'm gonna vote Liberal!"

[right] Thanks to cropping and the heat of the Centennial Flame, I captured a rather surreal image of the Prime Minister. [below] Thousands of Canadians dressed in red and white mingle on Wellington Street July 1 in Ottawa.