The Seat of Power

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Canada's Parliament House The view of the Ottawa River, overloking the roof Parliamentary Library
The Lower House The Upper House
They're not pigtails, it's a tuque, eh! Kate and Laura outside the Prime Minister's residence
The Smetchers and the Tuque Man... all betuqued! Kate loves Olde Worlde charm!
The Betchers The Smiths
Kate, Laura and the Totem Pole Spot the Gargoyle!

One the way back from our time in Tremblant we decided to stop in at Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Kate's class had been studying Canadian government, so her and Laura were keen to go see many of the things they had been learning about. Not only that, we took our kids to Canberra last April and did the tour through Australia's Parliament House, so I thought it would be a good thing to let them see the Canadian equivalent.

The political systems in our two countries are very closely aligned; both are Constitutional Monarchies, effectively acting independently of Britain and the Queen although remaining as members of the Commonwealth. Both are based on the Westminster system of government, with a Lower House of elected representatives and an Upper House, or Senate. The structure of the Australian and Canadian government systems is virtually identical, with a Prime Minister and a Governor General, so it was good, especially for the kids, to be able to learn about these similarities.

We stayed in a nice hotel on the Quebec side of the river, going out into the centre of the city for dinner. Both our families added new meaning to the term "all you can eat", but it was a good feed!

In the morning, we went back into the city and drove around to get oriented. We found the Prime Minister's residence at 24 Sussex Street, as well as the French, British, American, Japanese and Kuwaiti embassies. After parking the car we walked up to Parliament Hill. On the way we checked out the Rideau Canal (offically the world's longest outdoor public skating rink, although unfortunately closed for the season), and the Ottawa Locks (a system of gates in the canal through which boats may pass).

As we approached the Houses of Parliament, Kate got quite excited about seeing the Eternal Flame and Peace Tower... learning about these things in a classroom is one thing, but seeing them in the flesh is quite another. She told us all about them and explained everything she knew. The kids had their photos taken in front of the Flame, and we proceeded up to the main Parliament building. After a lineup to get through security, we went up to the top of Peace Tower to see a bird's eye view of the city.

You can certainly see the influence of the British here. Peace Tower is modelled closely on London's Big Ben, in fact the architecture of the Parliament buildings is very similar to that of the London equivalent. However, at nearly 14 stories tall, Peace Tower is much larger than Big Ben. At the base of the tower is a memorial room to those lost in wars, and an interesting fact is that the elevator shaft runs at a 9 degree angle to enable the elevator to rise up the tower while leaving space below for the memorial room.

We joined a tour of the Parliament building with an excellent guide named Cam, who took us through the lower house, the upper house and other parts of the building. Unfortunately the Parliamentary Library was being refurbished at the time, so we didn't see that, but it looks a remarkable building.

Kim said to me at one point, "Is this anything like the Parliament House in Australia?" For those of you that know our national building, you'll realise just how hard it is to explain the nature of Australia's Parliment House, and just how architecturally unique it is. I guess the Smiths will just have to see it for themselves when they visit Australia... ;-)

By this stage it was late in the day so we headed back to the city centre for a late lunch, but not before buying some great tuques (thats a beanie for you Aussie readers!) from a street vendor. We all got a tuque, and even got our photo taken with Mr Tuque Seller.

It was a long but relatively uneventful drive back to Oakville, where we waved goodbye to our travelling buddies after a great couple of days.

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