Last weekend a friend of mine from my undergraduate program was visiting Ottawa so we got together for the afternoon to catch up. Since it was her first time in Ottawa (as an adult, anyway), she asked if I could recommend something to see in the city. Of course the first thing I said was Parliament Hill: the tours are free, you get to see where the actual governing of Canada takes place, and they have the most beautiful library ever. Seriously, Google Image it. It is stunning. I never get any photos of it because I am always too entranced to pull out my camera.
So last Sunday we went up to Parliament and did the tour. I’ve done it three or four times now, and the building has so much detail I always notice something new. Like this detail on one of the doors into the Senate:
They clearly had designed the door to fit the coats of arms of all the provinces and territories that existed at the time. Then, years later, Nunavut came along and they had to add it after the fact. I love that they kept it up to date. Also, Nunavut’s coat of arms is awesome, both beautiful and distinctive.
The library is undoubtedly my favourite part of Parliament, and the main reason I agree to go on the tour with anyone who comes to visit, but there is another part of Parliament I keep going back to: the Memorial Chamber. This room, right in the centre Peace tower, is dedicated to the memory of all the Canadians who have died in service to their country. The room is very peaceful, all stone and stained glass, but most importantly it contains books in which the names of each of our fallen servicemen and women are inscribed by hand. Every day at 11am one page in each book is turned over, so that all the names will have a chance to be displayed at least once a year. There are eight books in total, four of which commemorate the two World War: one for WWI, one for WWII, a separate book one for the Newfoundland servicemen & women in the World Wars (since they weren’t a part of Canada until after WWII), and another separate book for the Merchant Marine. Then there is the book for the Korean War, another for the South African War and Nile Expedition (pre-1900), and the most recent commemorating the war of 1812. The final book is the “current” one, which lists all the fallen since 1947 (except the Korean War, since it has its own book).
Yesterday evening I went back to Parliament Hill and the Memorial Chamber, to see that last book. I had to go yesterday because that was the day a very special (to me) page was being displayed: the page with my mother’s father’s name on it.
He was killed in an airplane crash during an air show when my Mom was only 5 years old, so he is a rather distant figure to my family. I hadn’t even thought to check for his name until my parents came to visit in February and we took the tour together. My Dad was the one who remembered that he might be written into this book. Taking the tour last Sunday reminded me to check the website that lists the day each page will be displayed, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw that it was going to be displayed this week. I found it extraordinarily touching to stand in the Chamber itself and see my grandfather’s name on the page in front of me, even though I never met him. I’m so proud that we have this memorial, and so grateful that our government has made it (relatively) easy and free for Canadians to access it whenever they want, even though it is in the heart of a secure, working building. Above all, I’m glad that took the time to go and see the book in person. It was totally worth the (small) effort and time out of my day to take a moment for this act of remembrance.