My journey to Ottawa began a year ago. Last November, I had attended the Social Studies Teachers Institute on Parliamentary Democracy (SSTI) in Regina, Saskatchewan. This was a three-day event that took place within the walls of our provincial Legislative Building. Twenty-four teachers from Saskatchewan gathered to learn about our province’s government and its history. Upon my return I was motivated and inspired to learn more.
The following April, I applied for the same institute but on a national level. And, in June of this year, I received my acceptance letter that informed me I would be attending The Teachers Institute on Parliamentary Democracy in Ottawa. I was drinking hot chocolate when I found out and my excitement tipped the hot liquid into my lap! Hard work, determination, and a goal had finally been reached – I was heading to Ottawa.
I felt a massive amount of support from friends and family and my Silverwood Heights family as well. Praise from teachers, students gave me “high fives”, and the division did a piece on me for their social media account. It felt pretty cool to be “tweeted.”
Perhaps my biggest supporter is Dave. From day one he told me I could do it. He kept my spirits up when the task of filling out the application process, planning lessons for my students, and completing an online course I was working on at the time seemed daunting. He was there and is there and for that, I am grateful.
We arrived in Ottawa. Our drive from the airport took us through a neighbourhood framed by low-hanging autumn cloud cover. Bright green lawns held within them the roots of blazingly coloured maple trees. Leaves of orange, yellow and red sprinkled the land and some still danced on branches.
After settling in to our hotel room, I was off to officially register for the institute. Forms were signed; nametags and security clearances were handed out. Things were getting real again!
With the rain coming down, it was time to make my way to Parliament Hill – where the tour began. I had been to Ottawa before but walking up the paved pathway this time was different. I walked with a sense of reflection. I smiled at the newly constructed hockey rink on my right. And as the Canada 150 sign glowed with colour, so did my heart. But perhaps what made me smile the most were the walls set up around our Confederation Flame constructed in 1967. As a part of the Canada 150 celebrations, Nunavut is now being added to this Canadian symbol. It was absent from the original structure as Nunavut did not become a province until 1999.
Entering the Parliament Building is similar to that of being screened at an airport. Bags are checked, individuals walk through a metal gate and a guard waves you through. Anything deemed not welcome, is kept for you until your tour is over.
We began our tour in the Welcome Chamber. Lining the walls are gold coloured plaques from each sitting of Parliament. PM’s and MP’s are listed. The most interesting plaque is the one from the fourth sitting. During this time there were only five Prime Ministers listed – FIVE!
Our guide pointed out symbols of Canada that were represented in stained glass, oak carvings and paintings. From the high arches above, the story of Canada’s people can be seen replicated in ornate cream coloured, three-dimensional carvings. Images depicting Canada’s first peoples, ships representing European arrival, vast landscapes of wheat to the mountains to the development of the railway – a feat that motivated B.C to join confederation.
We walked along the Hall of Honour and I couldn’t help but stop and reflect. In 2014, a deranged man ran through this hallway toward the Library of Parliament. Our then Prime Minister, Stephen Harper was meeting in a committee room on the left hand side of the corridor. The then Opposition Leader, Thomas Mulcair of the NDP was in another caucus room directly across the hall. It was in the Hall of Honour where guns were fired and the man who had minutes before shot and killed Nathan Cirillo had now been fatally shot. One can’t help but get chills standing right where this played out! There was no mention of where to look for bullet holes or even what had happened here. This wasn’t that kind of tour. And out of respect, no one asked about it at all.
After a moment of self-reflection, it was time to enter the Library of Parliament – stunning, magical, historical, Hogwarts-like. Those were words that came to my mind when I entered this circular room. This is a room that would make for a great sleep over. Tall bookshelves hold thousands of documents used by those who work in Parliament. Detailed carvings adorn the tops of these shelves. Small tables with bright lights are used to search antiquated documents. A statue of Queen Victoria guards this room of knowledge. When I closed my eyes I could see myself walking along with Hermoine Granger in the restricted section. If only I had an invisibility cloak…
We admired the Senate from the glass windows and doors that protect it. Green carpet lines the floors and gold coloured moulding lines the arches of the gallery. Peering into this restricted place, I could almost hear the chairs creak. The flowers of the provinces and territories are represented in stained glass and are arranged to reflect their position in Parliament. However, Nunavut does not yet have its Territorial flower represented in this room. Perhaps one day when all the renovations are complete it will be added.
Our night was capped off with a Welcome dinner where Sheila Copps was the keynote speaker. A woman filled with passion, pride, and enthusiasm. She spoke about the differences between Canadian and American governments. She spoke about Donald Trump and about the power that we hold as teachers. How I wish I spoke French because the more excited Sheila became, the more French she spoke. If only my translator worked…
While walking out of Centre Block, Parliament was aglow with large, bright red poppies that were projected on the building by laser lights. Much like the rain that had fallen all day, these poppies were graceful in their movements. Day one on Parliament Hill was one of reflection, gratefulness, and education.