Day Two in Ottawa began with a chai tea latte from the Starbucks in the hotel. With beverage in hand and after our morning group huddle, it was time to head over to the Sir John A. Macdonald Building. More airport-type security greeted us and within a few minutes we were seated and ready for our first session to begin.
As we were in Ottawa to learn about our country’s Parliament, how it works and where it all began, it only made sense that we would study the formation of the Constitution. Carissma Dean, Professor of Law for the University of Ottawa, spoke passionately about this said document. She made it interesting and the ninety minutes she spent with us felt meaningful. From Federalism to the legislative process to the Supreme Court to what Parliament is and isn’t, I sat intrigued. Notes were taken and photos of slides were saved to my phone. The Constitution is a document that has both written and unwritten parts (conventions and norms). It has obstacles, barriers, and is a Canadian document that isn’t perfect. Carissma Dean motivated me to want to learn more about our Constitution. Perhaps I will save it for some light reading next summer.
A panel of MP’s from all parties met us to answer our questions and share their concerns. They were honest in their differing responses. And even if my political views didn’t mesh with theirs, it was clear they were passionate about their constituencies and those within it they serve.
An optional tour was offered in the evening and I couldn’t resist visiting the building that first housed the offices of Sir John A Macdonald, Governor Generals, and many other early Parliamentarians. The East Block is known to be haunted and as we walked around it we looked for evidence of ghosts…
It was exciting to be in the rooms where history was written and where thoughts were gathered. Thoughts that developed a way of thinking many disagree with now – but for the time – it was what the leaders in Parliament felt they should do. We stood in the office of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A, Macdonald. A room with quit a bit of history. A room where Sir John A Macdonald spent many days on bed rest and was told by his doctor not to move when he was sick. A room that no other prime minister used when he passed away simply out of respect.
The original office of the Governor General welcomes you with its bright colours and comes complete with a fireplace and teapot. It is not used now and was furnished to make it look like it did in 1867. This room was used for meetings, for business, and is still the property of the current Governor General. However, it hasn’t been used as such for many years. My mind went crazy thinking of a time when Vincent Massey would have sat here. Or perhaps touring this room with Michaëlle Jean. Oh the possibilities!
Our final stop was to visit a room that was used for private conversations. It wasn’t the conversation content that had me curious; it was the placement of the room. This room was placed in this very spot, to allow the Governor General to look out upon the grounds to supervise Canada’s Militia. Back then there weren’t enough guns for each solider to practice with so instead they used brooms!
Throughout the tour, I didn’t see any ghosts but a door did open on its own. No orbs or images of floating sheets appeared when I looked at my photos later on that night. However, I did have chills with every step I took up the stairs and every time I thought about those early Parliamentary days.