Feeling the nation’s history in Ottawa

They say history sticks to your feet, but sometimes it stops you in your tracks

The Parliament Buildings are ornate creations. Few walls, pillars or doors are without intricacies.

The hallway where the Sergeant-at-Arms office lies is different, however. The walls are plain, the signs are small and simple, and the lighting, unlike most of the building, is artificial.

The 2:50 p.m. tour in English was about to begin. My tour group was led into the welcoming hall, which is lined with gold plaques inscribed with the names of every sitting parliament in the history of Canada. I didn’t recognize any of the ones beside me, except for the Prime Ministers at the tops of each list.

What took me to Ottawa was Nash 77 – the national conference for Canadian University Press, an organization of student newspapers from all across the country of which The Omega is a member. Although it was a long ways away, I was excited to see Ottawa, a city I’d never thought to travel to but was now given the opportunity to explore, with our hotel just blocks from the Parliament Buildings.

The double doors capping the welcoming hall closed and our guide stepped onto an inconspicuously placed platform and welcomed us. Alex was warm, funny and young. I thought about how much work it probably took him to get this job. As he took us into another hallway that led to a staircase, he flung open the wooden doors with both hands and we walked directly towards an ascending staircase. I was excited. This was my first trip to Ottawa and I felt that I couldn’t leave without seeing Parliament.

I couldn’t tell you what it was about the Sergeant-at-Arms’ office that caught my eye, but it did, and immediately after it did, chills rushed down my body as we approached the staircase. By the second floor, they were gone, but my reaction surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t have.

The Canadian Capital often feels like it’s a long way from B.C. – not just geographically, but ideologically, too. But during my week in Ottawa, just like the week of the Oct. 22 shootings, it felt a lot closer.

Parliament is a place of recent history – very recent, compared to most of the buildings and the objects that live within them. Just outside the senate chamber lies a portrait of Queen Victoria – an original, unlike some of the others hanging nearby. Her portrait survived four fires over the years and has seen a lot of hardship as it was dragged through the country’s history.

I can definitely admire that particular portrait’s history. In fact it fills me with wonder. But what it doesn’t do is give me the chills. It doesn’t put the image of a map in my head and drop a pin at Ottawa. It doesn’t force me to instantly and overwhelmingly understand how important this place is. It doesn’t inject the historical significance of all of the major decisions made in this building every day. It doesn’t bring to mind the staggering number of people who work for our government and dedicate their lives to public service because they believe in the high standard of living we try to maintain or improve upon.

The brief sighting of the Sergeant-at-Arms’ office did exactly that, and I felt all of it so quickly that I was overwhelmed and proud and so happy to be where I was. The winter waiting for me outside, a sharp -28 C with wind chill that I’d already braved once to get there, wasn’t just worth braving, it was a reminder that Canadians are a hearty sort and have been for a long time