My day today so far had been completely dedicated to exploring nature: first I visited the Fatal Attraction Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about the art of seduction in the animal world. Then I had a chance to explore nature in a real-life setting in Ottawa’s nature playground: Gatineau Park.
At about 4 pm I headed back into the city, got changed and checked my messages at the beautiful McGee’s Inn and got ready to head out to my next stop: Major’s Hill, one of the official locations of Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. From the leafy neighbourhood of Sandy Hill I strolled through Ottawa’s ByWard Market area and explored a local landmark: the asymmetrical spires of St. Brigid’s have been inspiring Roman Catholics since 1890.
Just a few hundred metres northwest is one of Ottawa’s most magnificent edifices: the Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral, Ottawa’s oldest surviving church. Its site is the location of the first Catholic chapel accessible to both Anglophones and francophones of Bytown.
Right across the Street from the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral is another architecturally imposing structure: The National Gallery of Canada, a masterpiece of modern architecture, designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 1988 to develop, maintain and make known, throughout Canada and the world, a national collection of works of art with special but not exclusive reference to Canada. Part of its mandate is to further knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of art in general among all Canadians.
Just oustide the National Gallery and facing the Notre Dame Cathedral is a monumental sculpture of a spider, created by French-born sculptor Louise Bourgeois. This sculpture, entitled “Maman”, features a sac of 26 pure white marble eggs protruding from the spider’s belly. With a height of 30 feet this enormous outdoor sculpture was designed in 1999 and cast in 2003, and it is the last in a series of six environmental sculptures by this artist. These sculptures have been seen in numerous high-calibre locations, including New York City’s Rockefeller Center and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I also saw a copy last year together with a smaller version in Havana, Cuba.
From the plaza in front of the National Gallery all I had to do was to cross busy Sussex Drive and I found myself right in Major’s Hill Park. This public space dates back all the way to 1874, although it was originally named after Colonel By, the creator of the Rideau Canal. As a matter of fact, the park is the site of the former residence of Colonel By who was succeeded by Major Daniel Bolton who ended up giving the official name to this public space.
Major’s Hill is indeed one of the most prominent spaces in Ottawa, with perfect views of the Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and the National Art Gallery. It is just steps away from Sussex Drive, location of the Canadian Prime Minister’s residence, as well as Ottawa’s prime entertainment district, the ByWard Market. Today the park is managed by the National Capital Commission and one of the main venues for many of the city’s festivals and special events.
As one of the official events for the Tulip Festival, Ottawa’s largest festival, and the largest festival of its kind in the world, Major’s Hill was hosting a number of special attractions: the International Tulip Friendship Village, the Artisans Marketplace, strolling entertainers, the Family Zone and the Get Out! Ottawa Citizen Concert Series. I particularly enjoyed the 150 five-foot tall tulips, all of which are unique, painted by local artists. These sculptures were a great addition to the thousands of real tulips who were already a bit past their prime, considering Canada has had an early spring this year.
5 pm was still a bit early, but people were starting to come in to get ready for some of the concerts that were going to be held here tonight. I admired the real-life tulips, the artist-painted man-made versions and various photos and paintings of tulips in the Artisans Marketplace. The sun was peeking out occasionally and a beautiful view presented itself on the west side of Major’s Hill, overlooking the Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal’s lock system.
One of Ottawa’s most distinguishing features, the Rideau Canal is a designated Canadian National Historic Site and was recently nominated as a World Heritage Site as well. Connecting lakes and rivers between Ottawa and Kingston, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. Its locks have been open for business since 1832. Several tourists were enjoying the view until all of us got distracted by an oversize groundhog that was sitting quite relaxed on one of the walkways, chewing away on some leafy branches that had been blown down by the wind. He was not at all deterred by our fascination for him.
Well, my serene afternoon was going to come to an end shortly since I was scheduled for a 3-minute live appearance on Ottawa’s primary news channel, CTV. This might not be a big deal for someone else, but for me personally it was my first television appearance. To be beamed live through Canada’s capital on the 6 o’clock news was a very exciting, yet nerve-wrecking experience.
Max Keeping, CTV Ottawa’s news anchor and Vice-President of News Programming, had suggested that we do a live interview from Major’s Hill Park where he would ask me several questions related to travel in Canada. He would of course be located in CTV’s Ottawa studio. Max and I had met earlier this year at the 26th Annual Bedzzz Race where he was the emcee of this charity event.
Indeed, Max is renowned all throughout the National Capital Region for his community involvement and he has helped to raise more than $100 million for important causes over his 34 years at CTV Ottawa. He makes appearances at more than 200 community events a year and is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Order of Canada, the Ontario Medal of Good Citizenship, a 2003 Gemini, the 2004 Ottawa United Way’s Community Builder of the Year, and dozens of other awards.
No wonder I was nervous in anticipation of a city-wide televised interview with such an illustrious personality. As time drew closer to 6 pm I had to make two nervousness-induced trips to one of the port-a-potties on Major’s Hill. About 20 minutes to 6 pm I located the CTV satellite news truck and I went up to the camera man to introduce myself. He outfitted me with an earpiece and a miniature microphone that went on my jacket with a transmitter box mounted to my back. Once I was wearing this equipment I realized there was no turning back, I was going to be on TV, no matter what.
I have to admit I was hugely nervous as the camera man started to position me in different locations in front of the bright spotlight he had set up. From about 6 pm onwards I started to hear the live newscast in my earpiece and the producer of the show occasionally came on to fill me in as to how much longer it would be. She had a surprisingly calming influence on me. Time seemed like an eternity, but finally at about 6:15 pm I was live on the air, with Max Keeping, Ottawa’s most popular newscaster.
He asked me several questions about travel in Canada, and in particular whether I thought that higher gasoline prices would or should have an effect on travel in Canada. I answered frankly, stating that despite higher gas prices it still only took me about $60 in gasoline to drive to and from Ottawa. Canada as a whole and Ottawa specifically, is a great travel destination, since there are always so many things going on as evidenced by my own tight schedule during the Tulip Festival and it is still very affordable to travel and explore destinations within Canada.
Well, the butterflies started to subside and a few minutes later my on-air interview was finished. I felt exhilaration and relief at the same time and thanked the camera man profusely for the professional support he provided to me. I also thanked the producer who came on one more time to let me know that things had gone okay.
By this time it had started to drizzle a little, so I put my rain jacket on and headed for another round of excursions around Major’s Hill. The place was getting busier. A local singer was creating renditions of various Avril Lavigne songs and a young band, the Diableros, took to the stage who were going to be followed by two more musical performances as part of the Get Out! Ottawa Citizen Concert Series.
I crossed the street and strolled through the ByWard Market to my dinner destination, Bistro 115, where I would get to chat with the owner and find out more about another one of Ottawa’s hospitality entrepreneurs. At the end of this exciting, action-packed day I was looking forward to a good conversation and a nice quiet dinner.