As my friends back home get ready to celebrate the big Fourth of July, I am slowly coming down from the radiant high of a very momentous Canada Day weekend. Not only was I in Canada for it and not only was I in the country’s distinguished capital of Ottawa–amazingly, I got to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the flesh during their current royal tour. I just love when our paths cross like that.
To be one of the 300,000 gathered on Parliament Hill and to see newlyweds Will and Kate was another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (I’m having a lot of these in Ontario, actually). No, I did not get to shake their hands or engage in memorable royal conversation, but I did observe them take on the sizable crowd with aplomb. It was also a distinct reminder of the main difference between Canada and the United States: Canadians have a monarchy. In his speech to the crowd, Prince William even referred to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II as “The Queen of Canada.”
Although one sees the Queen’s face every time you buy something in Canada, you rarely (i.e. never) hear Canadians refer to “their queen”. And yet here I was, in Ottawa, on the national day of Canada, listening to their “head-of-state-to-be” speak to his subjects in both English and French. I will leave the deeper political analysis to the talking heads–as an observing traveler, it was an awesome occasion. For me now, as a place, Ottawa has changed meaning. It will no longer just be a beautiful North American capital city with lots of grand buildings and old-world British flair. No, for me, Ottawa is where I watched Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton laugh and smile in a pretty white dress and glossy red shoes and shake hands with hundreds of elated Canadians.
The reality of Canada Day is that it’s a huge party for Canada with much drinking, dancing, bagpipes and wearing of red. It was good fun. Given that I celebrate my own country’s party on July 4th, I think from now on, I just might make a 4-day weekend of it.