It seems April is National Poetry Month in the sleeping elephant to the south of us, so here’s a song called “Poets” from Canada’s unofficial poet laureate.
Une épopée des plus brillants exploits
I grew up in Ste. Rose du Lac, a village with a strong French population. From grade 1 to grade 9, I rode the bus 20 minutes every morning and every evening1 in order to attend school at École Laurier, a French immersion school in the nearby village of Laurier. There I learned to parlez en français, and all my classes (with the obvious exception of English) were taught in French. I learned my fractions in French, I learned about weathering and terminal moraines and drumlins en français, I learned about Louis Riel2 and the Métis and the plains of Abraham in French. Even at recess we were supposed to converse in French. We didn’t, but the teachers supervising would pretend not to understand if we tried to speak to them in English.3
I learned the Lord’s prayer in French. I learned my national anthem en français, too; in fact, it was years before I learned it in English. (Later I learned that the French version is the original, and the English words currently in use — not a translation of the original, but a different anthem — were written over a quarter-century after the version that I learned, and still treasure.)
On Remembrance Day, which is, of course, today, there’s a stanza in the French anthem that resonates with great power:
Car ton bras sait porter l’épée
Il sait porter la croix
En anglais, roughly, it means:
Because you understand the sword,
You also understands the cross
You can’t have war without casualties. You can’t have conflict without cost. You can’t have the sword and not expect fields of crosses, shot through with poppies.
- My dad worked out the mileage once. I’ve been around the world twice on a school bus. ↩
- When you go to a French immersion school run by a Catholic ex-nun, the pantheon goes Dieu, Jésus, l’esprit saint, Louis Riel, pape Jean-Paul II, et tout le reste. ↩
- Unless you had, say, a scalp wound or an obviously broken arm. ↩
August long weekend, Kathleen and I took a little trip, just a couple hours in a Westjet 737. We flew out to Ottawa for a family reunion of my mom’s side of the family.
See, Mom lives in Manitoba, along with me and my middle sister. My youngest sister — who ended up not making it to the reunion, and she was sorely missed — lives further west, in Alberta. My uncle R lives in Nova Scotia, out on the east coast, and one of my aunts, M, lives in either Manitoba or China, depending on if school’s in session. So my other aunt, V, who lives in Ontario — in the Capital Region — decided, Hey, I’m right in the middle! So we had the reunion out at her place.
We arrived on Thursday afternoon, and were picked up at the airport by V. We went to her house — in a bedroom community about 40 minutes from Ottawa proper — and settled in. Most of the family was there already — my sister and her family had arrived earlier in the day, having driven from MB instead of flying. Brave, that; they have four children, and it was about a four-day drive. R was there, and M, and my mom. Most of V’s kids were floating around, too.
On Friday, we went into the city to do some touristing. Kathleen had never been to Ottawa, and my last visit was when I was 17, so the time was right. We got dropped off about a block from Parliament Hill, and toured around the grounds for a bit before taking the free tour of Centre Block, which is the building that houses both the House of Commons and the Senate. Government wasn’t in session, so we got the full tour (except the Peace Tower, which was closed).
Photos from our tour (click through for descriptions):
Things I learned on our tour:
- The Queen is not allowed to set foot in the House of Commons*. Apparently it stems from an incident when Charles I tried to storm the English parliament, and got told, in short, that the House of Commons was meant for the commoners, and he should
piss right offdepart if it should please His Majesty. When the Canadian House is in session, there’s a brass bar that symbolically marks where the Queen is supposed to stop.
- After a fire destroyed most** of Centre Block in 1916, it was rebuilt using Tyndall stone, which is a type of limestone found only in Manitoba. Which explained why all the walls had the striations I associate with Tyndall stone.
After the tour, we had about an hour and a half before our scheduled pick-up, so we wandered around downtown Ottawa for while. We found a little place called Byward Marketplace (I think) and had some samosas and naan from a little Indian food kiosk. Mmmm.
Then we wandered some more, and found a park to rest our tired feet and finish off our naan. The park had a view of Parliament.
A bit more wandering, and we found the National War Memorial, which features the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
After that, we found the buskers’ festival, and for some reason I have no photos of that. After that, we got picked up by one of my cousins, and we returned to V’s house.
Tomorrow: a few more photos, mostly of family.
* She’s welcome in the Senate, though. They have chairs for her and her husband in there.
** The Library survived.
The Swamp House
Possibly the most iconic house in my home province that isn’t on the #1 highway is now in Google Street View:
I must say I’m amused at the idea of calling a provincial trunk highway a “street”. I guess it’s paved…
Happy Louis Riel Day!
So Manitoba has a long weekend in February, still relatively new, called Louis Riel Day, named for the only Father of Confederation hanged for treason.
It’s a provincial holiday, not a federal one, which means the mail still comes. Which means that today, I got a package of chocolate chip cookies from my sister in Alberta.
Woo hoo, happy Louis Riel Day to me!
(If you’re interested in Louis Riel, this graphic novel is a pretty solid introduction.)
Ha ha ha waah
This is not a political blog, nor will it become one, but:
Stephen Harper appoints senators
“Stephen Harper keeps telling Canadians to tighten their belts,” said NDP democratic reform critic David Christopherson. “But these 18 unelected senators will cost the taxpayer over $6 million a year. When will the Conservatives start practising what they preach?”
Standing on guard
W00t! It’s back!
Canadian World Domination has returned! Here I thought I was going to have to go trawl the wayback machine’s Internet archives, but someone’s resurrected the site for me.
- The redrawn world map, in the Cartography section
- The little pull-quotes at the bottoms of all the pages, like:
- The Generals. Which one is hotter? That’s up to each and every true red-blooded Canuck to decide for him- or herself.
- “You dismiss all beers under 6% as ‘for children and the elderly’.”
I’ll leave you with a piece of Canadian music, one that’s been stuck in my head for a couple days now, so it might as well be stuck in yours too.
Locked in the Trunk of a Car
And while I’m posting videos from the Tragically Hip, here’s one of my favourites:
At the Hundredth Meridian