Alone in the House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario

Monday, 23 June 1997, 11:39 am, Vancouver, BC

The sounds of jackhammers. Summer is in the air.

Rather a lot has happened during the last two weeks: Gloria and I were in Ottawa, and my relationship with the Vancouver Museum has come, as was designed, to an end. The trip was better than anticipated, and the end of the relationship not unexpected.

On the morning of 10th June, Gloria and I took the 7:45 a.m. airporter bus from Denman and Comox. I thought the museum’s new executive director somewhat guarded and nervous when he encountered us at the airport, an observation confirmed throughout the week not only by myself, but also by a colleague’s comments that he was tired, stressed, and having difficulty sleeping.

My parents met us at the Ottawa airport. The whole thing seemed a bit too much becalmed, but the momentum picked up during the week. Very little has changed; they tire a little more rapidly, but stick to their patterns.

In the morning, my parents initiated a discussion regarding their impending 50th wedding anniversary, insisting that they did not want a party as celebration, but rather simply an evening out for dinner at a place of their choice. Seems the last time out my sister-in-law again picked the time and place, and selected seating in the smoking section. We discussed other options that the two of us had in mind in the possible celebration of my parents’ anniversary, and the one they leapt at was coming out to Vancouver in the fall.

In the afternoon, Gloria and I went downtown to the conference hotel on Lyon first to pick up my registration materials, then to discuss the 50th anniversary, and then to walk along the Sparks Street mall. We also went to the Canadian Museum of Contemporary

The Bytown Museum and Rideau Canal overlooking...

The Bytown Museum and Rideau Canal overlooking the Ottawa River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photography, below the Chateau Laurier, and to the Bytown Museum, on the other side of the Rideau locks. The weather was hot and sunny. The photography museum, an affiliate of the National Gallery’s, was awash in space and money; the Bytown Museum, the oldest standing stone structure in the city, sells used pocket books in the gift shop. We assisted in some impromptu curatorial work when the front panel of the Kittredge organ we were looking at decided to disengage itself.

Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec,...

Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec, Canada. The museum building was completed in 1989. It was designed by Canadian architect: Douglas Cardinal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At half past five, Gloria and I parted, she to walk back to Overbrook, and I to return to the conference hotel to take the shuttle bus to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, for the opening reception of the Canadian Museums Association conference. The reception, held on the terrace that looks back over the Ottawa River to a truly magnificent view of the capital, with Parliament in the centre of the vista, was rather lavish: free drinks, free food, music, much sense of federally funded contentment. The later opening of the Postal Museum, in the Great Hall, was a crashing bore, despite the participation of Adrienne Clarkson and André Ouellet; and it was the tours that very few of us took through the archaeological, historical, and postal collections, and through the conservation labs that were the highlights of the evening.

I grabbed a cab back to Ottawa. It was after ten in the evening.

Two very long working days ensued.

On Thursday, the 12th of June, I attended the 8:30 a.m. meeting of the management special interest group, and, as a result of this, may become the co-editor of its newsletter. Afterwards, a dull promotional session by Canada Post.

I met Frits Pannekoek at the plenary, which was dead dull. And Sid Katz at the end of it, he inviting me to his farewell at ScienceWorld the subsequent week. Then to a session on Internet applications, which was quite interesting; and another session on First Peoples’ issues, which was not. In the late afternoon, to a reception in the Parliament buildings. It was hosted by Sheila Copps, who, I thought, gave a nicely provocative speech to the assembled, well-watered, well-fed, throng, in which she made the observation that political action rather than whining complacency might be a better order of the day. I liked it.

The entrance to Canada's Parliament Hill in Ot...

The entrance to Canada’s Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the reception I wandered to the House of Commons. And, quite suddenly, I found myself completely alone in the chamber. I found myself moved; for, I thought not only that here still is a country in which an ordinary citizen can walk unattended into the essentail democratic chamber of the land, but also that that land represents the opportunity that my parents took when they left a Netherlands ravaged by war. I was approached by a security guard, not to throw me out, but to offer me information on the architecture and finishings. He talked of the Russians’ gift of the ceiling, of the flowers in the stained-glass panels; identified the seats where Chrétien, Manning, Charest, McDonough, Duceppe (and Nunziata!) would sit. The prime minister’s is the eleventh, in the front row,  from and to the right of the Speaker’s chair.

The guard and I shook hands and parted amiably.

I began walking along Elgin to the Museum of Nature; but the rains came down, and I took shelter in the Lord Elgin Hotel; and, when the rains did not relent, grabbed a cab there to go the museum.

This was a nostalgic return, for this is my first museum, the one around the corner from where we lived on Argyle Street in 1952-3, the one where the staff allowed me, as a boy, into the collections. The exhibits are all modernized now, and not, I think, for the better. I missed the cases full of gleaming rocks and minerals, and the stark, huge skeletons of the dinosaurs standing immense in the natural light. Majesty has been swept away by interpretation.

I spent most of the evening at the reception (for the opening of an Arctic exhibit). The Inuit dancing was powerful, and the throat singing electric. The food was of great interest: seal, rabbit, bison, caribou, wild vegetables in a number of presentations. I spent some time afterwards wandering through the building, and recalling myself of forty years ago. It was a compelling, and oddly pleasant, experience.

I had intended to look at Argyle Street, but, it being nearly eleven, I was too fatigued, and I took a bus back to the War Memorial. I did not have the right change, so the driver let me ride free, and we planned his trip to Vancouver, where he has not yet been but wishes to go to. On Rideau Street, I grabbed a cab for the rest of the way. The driver was a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. A master’s degree in agricultural chemistry. He is waiting for a federal job in the capital. I advised him he may wish to consider Alberta or B.C. instead, for there there may be work.

The next morning I was off again, again driven downtown by my father, to a morning coffee meeting of the management special interest group, and then to a plenary with Adrienne Clarkson, who gave a good speech, with, though, rather too much inapplicable theory. Then a session on the Virtual Museum, with an excellent paper by Jean-Pierre Hardy of the CMC; another plenary and another session (on revenues), both somewhat dull. I then had to get out for a while for some fresh air, and walked Bank Street to Somerset, and back, to yet another session on sponsorships, also somewhat dull.

I then had several hours available to myself, and I took the opportunity to walk along Bank Street to Argyle, there tarrying to look at the house (number 49) where we had lived, and then to walk back to the Ottawa River by way of Elgin, which is both changed and not; changed by the many streetside restaurants, and unchanged because many of the old buildings still stand, even if they are used for different purposes — for example, the Elgin Theatre now houses several fast-food outlets. The old apartment house at 180 Cooper is gone; and so too the fine groups of old trees at the back of the lot, and the tranquil lawns surrounding the building. And, thus, too, is gone the light.

I made my way to the Byward Market, and poked through the area with great interest, and settled again on Clair de Lune to have a bit to eat while watching the crowds pass by. Good gazpacho, an excellent plate of mussels, with two glasses of Mâcon Chardonnay; and then I was on my way to look at the old quarter: the basilica, the old convent, the old hospital, and from there to the National Gallery, where a sumptuous evening, complete with oboe quartet and tables groaning with superlative desserts, had been prepared. But, again, the most interesting part of the evening were the behind-the-scenes tours to the conservations labs (with beautiful views of the river), and where paintings I had known since I was boy were being restored, and to the collections. Again, it was late when we concluded, and around eleven, I took a cab from the Rideau Centre back to the house.

The next day, Saturday, began with a plenary, an astonishing speech by Ontario Ombudsman Roberta Jamieson, which explored the theme of inclusivity through diversity in such a meaningful way that it brought tears to my eyes. A very moving speech imbued with that rarest of emotions: passion.

Then a session on international marketing, again rather dull; and a luncheon plenary where John Dickenson joined me. The speaker, an academic, was incredibly trite. I skipped the AGM. Instead, I walked back to Parliament, there giving a short guided tour of the grounds to some American visitors from New Jersey; and had a fine moment when, watching a boat make its way up the locks, I could hear the quarter-to-four bells of the basilica. And, from there, I walked along Rideau Street and Montreal Road back to the house.

Gloria had arrived back from Montréal just before I arrived. She had taken the bus there two days before, and had had a good visit with her mother, her sister (with whom she had a good discussion on the matters of import — taking care of their mother, the probability of a move elsewhere should Bouchard win a referendum), and a Saturday breakfast with Cécile at her apartment in Laval.

And, by four, it was time to go to the airport.

As my parents drove away, an alarm sounded at the airport, and the entire facility was cleared. Firefighters arrived; workers walked around with cellular phones; overweight security guards wandered around somewhat lost. Eventually, the crowd all piled back into the terminal.

Gloria and I were able to negotiate adjoining seats this time; and, after some talk, we watched the in-flight film (Dante’s Peak), and I read the opening section of Newman’s Wagner (I do not tolerate turgid prose very well any more).

We grabbed the airporter bus back to the West End; unpacked quickly; ordered pizza.

Next evening Gloria went off to UBC to run the Summerfest 10K; and I relaxed and indulged myself. I prepared a steak au poivre with fresh vegetables, prefaced with sushi, and concluded with Brie, fresh figs, and grapes; and took in an evening of music: Brahms’s Third in the Toscanini rendition (with that remarkable reading of the third movement), Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth in the Toscanini renditions, Bach’s second cello suite in the Casals rendition, Bach’s second violin partita in the Szigeti rendition, Bach’s concerto for four harpsichords, and Soler’s Fandango, Sonate No 90 en fa dièse majeur, and sonate en si bémol majeur (“double”) in the Chojnacka renditions.

Gloria returned having finished first in her age group, and having run the best 10K of her life.

Saturday, I worked on the assignment for the SFU advanced writing study; went off to the Through My Eyes opening at the Museum (it wasn’t, regrettably, much); and later finished off some work for the Editors’ Association.

Yesterday, Gloria and I went to the Dragon Boat festival so that she could do a photo shoot. We walked there by way of the seawall along False Creek. Afterwards, we looked at the Asian Conversation Awareness Program exhibit, and then continued our circumambulation of the Creek to the Granville Island, there purchasing groceries, and from there taking the ferry across to the West End. By then it had been raining regularly for two hours.

As Gloria also fancied steak, I made a meal similar to Friday’s, repeated the same musical programme (adding only Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes), and had a very pleasant evening, thank you.

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