One week ago today, Ottawa celebrated Canada Day, the only day of the year the nation’s capital feels even vaguely (and really, it is only vaguely) like New Orleans during Mardi Gras, what with downtown streets closed for tens of thousands of pedestrians and buskers and hucksters… and politicians. It all culminated in the traditional concert and fireworks display on Parliament Hill:
Sixty hours later – on the morning of Friday, July 4 – the stage for the Canada Day celebrations not yet completely dismantled, tourists gathered on Parliament Hill for another traditional display: The changing of the guard. The bagpipes-and-drums-and-brass-and-tall-fuzzy-hats extravaganza packs them in on the Hill three deep every summer morning at 10 a.m. On Friday morning, though, tourists who expected unvarnished Canadiana may have been surprised to hear the band strike up a medley that included “Hooray for the Red, White and Blue” and “The Star Spangled Banner”. Right in the shadow of the Peace Tower.
Later on, U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins returned the favor during his own (yes, traditional) July 4 extravaganza at his residence, where the ubiquitous Canadian tenor, John McDermott, sang “O Canada” (as well as the Star Spangled Banner) in front of a U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard:
Earlier, before his thousands of guests showed up for the party, Wilkins spoke to reporters in front of the beautiful century-old property overlooking the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers:
This was Wilkins’ fourth and final Fourth in Ottawa. He will be leaving Canada, he said, when George W. Bush, the man who appointed him, leaves office next January. He told Canadian reporters that he’s “seen more of your country than I’ve seen of mine” and that he’s “seen your heroes in action” in Afghanistan.
Indeed, the theme of the entire party was “A Salute to Heroes” – i.e. members of the Canadian and American military. American servicemen and servicewomen were bussed up from Fort Drum, New York to participate in the celebrations. Wilkins chatted with a few of them before other guests arrived, telling them that “it’s a good thing you aren’t here in February” and hugging one of the two soldiers present from Wilkins’ home state of South Carolina.
Wilkins was very… diplomatic… when asked about his future plans. He is rumored to be interested in running for governor of South Carolina, but would only say that he and his wife, Susan, were looking forward to returning to the Palmetto state to be closer to their new twin grandchildren.
Guests at the ambassador’s shindig – and there were probably about 4,000 people there at the party’s height – were treated to music, dancing, a joint American and Canadian military fly-by, and six giant tents full of
food from different parts of the United States, from southern pulled pork and shrimp & grits to northern Boston baked beans and codfish cake. A special tent was reserved for the ambassador’s personal favorite, boiled peanuts, a southern fave, which… despite intense diplomatic efforts… never did quite catch on in Ottawa.
One guest in particular drew a bit of attention: Rick Hillier, two days after retiring as Chief of Defense Staff, and already looking like a civilian. Here is an exclusive photo. And below… the back view: