It seems to be almost sacrilege to say anything against La Machine - unless of course you're objecting to massive pagan icons perched atop the Notre Dame Basilica on Sussex Drive! Certainly, those who went downtown specifically to view the spectacle seem almost unanimously to agree that the show was totally awesome and, well, spectacular. Nevertheless, I do have a couple of major objections to the show which have nothing to do with graven images or eye popping price tags, so at the risk of coming across as a crotchety old curmudgeon, I'll outline them here.

First of all, the crowds, road closures and just plain general chaos that inevitably results when staging an event of this magnitude. If this had been Canada Day or even just a regular long weekend, I could maybe understand it. Everyone knows that on July 1, or Remembrance Day, or some other major occasion, it's going to be difficult to get around in the downtown core. But in this case, the event began on a regular summer weekday, when many folk had no choice but to show up for work, doctors' appointments or whatever. Many were also planning to go to things that one can normally expect to be able to do on a summer Thursday (and to which they may have had nonrefundable tickets purchased when they didn't know about La Machine) - say, visiting the Art Gallery, going to a Chamberfest concert or a play at the NAC. Many no doubt just needed to get their everyday shopping done at the Rideau Centre or in the By Ward Market. Surely the event could have been staged in some central area which we at least know and expect to be closed to traffic - Majors Hill Park? Parliament Hill? The Sparks Street Mall? Though come to think of it, it's pretty tough to avoid vehicle traffic on the Sparks Street Mall these days, even though it was always supposed to be a pedestrian mall! I've no problem with having a big event for those who actually want to go to it but the fact is that people were obliged to tolerate it whether they wanted to or not. Heck, maybe they could have done it somewhere that's still fairly central but outside the immediate downtown core. Lansdowne Park? Strathcona Park? That beautiful area behind the Library and Archives on Wellington Street? Compounding the whole problem was the fact that they weren't willing to divulge the full itinerary until it was actually happening. Ergo, MORE chaos!!!

Secondly, this was supposed to be a Canada 150 event. Does La Machine have anything to do with Canadian history and culture? Not really, as far as I can tell. It's an import from France and while we do indeed have some important historical, cultural, linguistic and diplomatic ties with France, surely it would have been better for this sort of event to showcase homegrown talent, ingenuity and creativity?

Am I just a lone voice in the great Canadian wilderness?
This land is not your land. This land is not my land. It's all sacred unceded indigenous territory.

Or so the current thinking seems to go. I may have been born and raised right here in Ottawa, but nowadays it almost seems I have to apologize for being a Canadian!

On Saturday, July 1, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people descended on downtown Ottawa hoping to get to Parliament Hill or at least one of the nearby sites to enjoy the festivities, only to be met with four- and five-hour lineups for security screening. Worse than the airport, for sure. The main difference being that if you go through all the indignities and freedom-losses of airport security screening, you at least have a reasonable hope of getting to some far-flung exotic place you've never seen before, whereas in this case, people were bravely enduring all this just to get to their own backyard. Oh, wait - we mustn't consider it our backyard any more, because it's all contested land! Then, on Sunday July 2, thousands of hardy souls did it all over again to be able to say "Oui!" to We-Day.

Luckily I stayed home both days but those who did make it to the Hill were met by a cacophony of conflicting national and cultural and celebratory symbols and personae: a teepee, Charles and Camilla, Gordon Lightfoot, Gord Downie, fireworks, weather (including thunderstorms and summer downpours), and so forth. Shards of broken glass making up the vertical mosaic?

But according to one letter to the editor in today's paper, the national anthem was not sung once during all those hours the letter-writer was on the hill for the festivities. Of course, maybe that's because no one is sure any more what the words are to "O Canada". Maybe some thought it might be more appropriate to sing "God Save the Queen", given that the heir to the throne was on the Hill - but didn't know for sure what the protocol was and didn't want to offend anyone or risk getting kicked off their hard-earned spot on the Hill.

Maybe we should forget about our current national anthem and go with "Land of the Silver Birch" instead?



October 2017



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