On Parliament Hill, thousands gathered to celebrate the birth of Canada. Flags were raised high, red & white was plastered on everything and everyone, and rowdy screams declaring their love for this country filled the streets. Musicians performed on every other corner, patios herded thirsty customers in and the free events at Confederation Park, Major’s Hill Park, Parliament Hill, and across the river in Quebec at Jacques-Cartier Park had everyone on their feet. Ottawa Ontario, the capitol of Canada, truly knows how to throw a party fit for a country this big.
While walking through the streets to Parliament Hill wasn’t exactly what I’d call fast, it was always fun. Whether it was the young adult shot gunning a beer in front of a family with 3 kids, only to have the Dad high five the young fellow for his expert drinking speed, or watching people who aren’t so good in crowds panic and find the nearest corner to breathe. Seeing these little moments pushing through crowd made the journey much more enjoyable.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Eager people visited many of Ottawa’s beautiful sights, including the popular National War Memorial, located near the corner of Elgin and Sparks. It’s hard not to stop and watch as eager Canadians & visitors stand with the guards for photographs. As the day progressed, miniature Canadian flags (which are handed out for free throughout the city) begin to be piled all over “The tomb of the Unknown Soldier“. I learn that this is a tradition in Ottawa, that’s done each year during Canada Day and Remembrance Day.
Party on Parliament Hill
Arriving at Parliament Hill, the stage is lit, children sit on the shoulders of their fathers, and people young and old climb, stretch, and squirm their way into the best view they can possibly get for the show that’s about to start. The excitement in the crowd rises with each minute. “God Save The Queen” follows into “Oh, Canada”, and as the Snowbirds fly over the top of Parliament Hill a loud roar explodes throughout downtown Ottawa.
A Giant Parks Canada Beaver
After watching some award winning performances, including that of one of my favourite female artists “Feist”, along with a quick speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the noon hour shenanigans on Parliament Hill dissipated, and the party spread to the streets and several of Ottawas finest parks. I made a quick walk to the Rideau Canal, and watched as boaters climbed the historic Ottawa locks. Parks Canada was out in full force educating children and adults about the incredible parks in their own backyard. There was also a giant blow-up Beaver, which could make even the most grumpy of Gus’s smile.
A Wall of Red & White
As my mid-day hunger kicked in, it became clear to me that food was the only thing that would keep me going. I set my sights on Major’s Hill Park, where the Chicken Farmers of Canada were serving what they did best. Chicken! As I slithered my way through the crowds, I hit a human road block. It would appear the entire city of Ottawa was playing a giant game of “Red Rover” with me, preventing me from eating. Hungry Corbin is not a pleasant person to be around; so I Hulked out, and in my most Canadian way, “Sorry’d” my way past roughly a thousand people.
Chicken, Chalk, and VIA Rail
I arrived at Major’s Hill Park and watched as the worlds happiest children climbed aboard a miniature VIA Rail train that was cruising around the park. Chalk artists and chalk amateurs coloured the pavement with flags, words, animals, and whatever else their imaginations could come up with. I promptly found myself a $4.00 chicken sandwich and sat back people watching and resting my legs for what was sure to be a busy evening.
Ottawa Jazz’s Up Canada Day
After resting up, I made my way to Confederation Park, where the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival was taking place. July 1st was their free day, and the park was a superb reprieve from the business of Canada Day. A beer gardens in one corner, wide open spaces perfect to lounge on the grass, and some incredible musicians from around the world performed to a happy crowd. I sat back in a chair in the beer gardens, consuming my first beer of the day. Beau’s Lug-Tread Lager, a beautiful local Ottawa beer that couldn’t have tasted better on what might have been one of the hottest Canada Day’s I’d ever experienced.
It was approaching 7:00pm and my energy was fading fast. Between the heat, the long walks, the heavy backpack filled with camera gear, and the heavy crowds, I made a decision. Cold shower! I wandered back to the historic Lord Elgin Hotel where I was staying for the night, and jumped into my incredibly awesome shower. I was in and out, feeling like $100, and ready get back at it. I worked my way back to Parliament Hill and just caught the start of the 7:30pm show.
Live Music & High Fives
After watching Simple Plan do their thing on stage, and watching as the talented Roch Voisine woo’d crowds, the sun was setting fast. The fireworks were going to go off in just over an hour, and judging by the speed I moved through the crowds earlier in the day, I suspected I should leave early. After a 45 minute walk, high fiving the worlds happiest Canadians, I made it back to Major’s Hill Park to watch the fireworks.
Fireworks over the Ottawa River
I set up my tripod, my camera, my remote switch, I had the view framed perfectly for an interesting photo with the parliament with fireworks in the background. I waited patiently, excited for the results. The perfomers in Major’s Hill Park stopped playing. The lights went out. People spread out on the grass, tilting their heads skywards. Then suddenly, an explosion of light and sound. I watched the first one go off, and realized then that I am a big dummy. Turns out I was way off, and I had somehow boxed myself behind a wall. There was going to be no photos of this spectactle.
I quickly grabbed my camera from the tripod, switched into video mode and hit the record button – I figured worst case scenario, I could grab a frame from the movie. The young couple standing next to me laughed, as did I. We were all shaking our head in disapointment, as we had all arrived early to score the best spot, only to be stuck behind a wall. “Nothing a little laughter and beer can’t fix” – said someone standing behind me. “So true“, I replied. I followed the fireworks for the next fifteen minutes with my camera, grabbing each moment of excitement, laughing at myself the whole time.
As the final explosion went off, a thunderous roar could be heard from Parliament Hill and across the river. The sound of thousands of people screaming for a short 30 seconds was almost deafening. As the bands started up again they played as the massive crowd that had gathered in the park slowly drifted downtown to partake in as much drinking as humanly possible. My beard must be turning grey, because I was beat and didn’t have the energy to party for another 3 hours. A couple patio pints of Beau’s and Kichesippi beer and I was beat. Is this what being an adult feels like? As I finished my beer and wandered back to my room at the Lord Elgin Hotel I couldn’t help but think “I honestly am happier with a few patio beers & an easy wake-up than ridiculously loud club music & all night whiskey & tequila shots. Hello adulthood! You’re pretty okay. And Canada, you’re beyond awesome!”
Looking for a place to stay while in Ottawa?
For budget travellers, be sure to check out the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel. The history behind this unique Canadian building will amaze you. If you’re looking for a beautiful historical hotel in the downtown core, be sure to check out the Lord Elgin Hotel. Don’t forget to have lunch at the Lord Elgins Grill 41 & order the Seafood Chowder. You’ll thank me later!