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Surviving Canada 150 in Ottawa

September 23, 2017
Canada 150

This year we spent the Canada Day long weekend in Ottawa to celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada.  It was an incredible party with many nice people but was it ever busy.

We started our weekend on the Friday waiting for my wife to finish work at her school, then driving 500km to our campground, the Cardinal/Ottawa South KOA.  The campground was an hour south of Ottawa just off the 416.  We had to rush there to arrive before the desk closed at 9pm at the KOA, as Canada Day was the next morning and we planned to head into Ottawa before the desk opened the next morning.

The drive down was like nothing we have ever experienced.  Not only was it a Friday in the summer, but it was a long weekend Friday and we had to cross Toronto during rush hour.  What we did not expect was that so many people would also be heading to Ottawa for the celebrations the next day and Toronto would be the easy part.  I have never seen a 500km long traffic jam before that day.  Even though we took the 407 around the edge of Toronto, there was still heavy traffic all the way.  The service plazas along the way were lined up down the off ramps and the McDonald’s we stopped at in Brighton was so busy that people were lined up across the entire store to go to the bathroom with most of the men and boys opting for the back side of the dumpsters instead of waiting.

We ended up arriving at the KOA at 9pm on the nose and they had just locked the door.  I was able to get them to open back up with almost no convincing and we got checked in and were set up by 9:30.

The next day was to be a day like no other.  We planned strategically to park at a suburban park and ride in Fallowfield and take the express bus downtown.  The park and ride and the bus were not too busy but the bus filled up at the next stop.  When we arrived downtown I immediately noticed that things were different.  There were more police than I had ever seen, and many of them were carrying assault rifles.  The streets of the outer perimeter were blocked off with dump trucks, dozers, and graders presumably to prevent a repeat of some of the incidents that had happened in Europe recently.  There were so many people, all the streets were packed solid all thru the business district and the Byward Market areas which were both part of the outer perimeter.  News reports were saying that there were close to a half million people inside the perimeter which was smaller than Magic Kingdom at Disney World.

We decided that we wanted to catch the concerts so we got in the line to get into the inner perimeter around the Parliament.  When we got in the line, it was about 1km long and growing by the minute.  It took us 3 and a half hours to get to the first security checkpoint.  We met in the line some of the nicest people and spent most of the time talking with our linemates.  We also met a fair share of idiots insistent on creating new offshoots of the line wherever they liked.

When we reached the first checkpoint we noticed that security would be tight.  There were sniper nests setup on top of almost every building, more RCMP than I have ever seen, and every RCMP officer was carrying an assault rifle.  We cleared the first checkpoint quickly but the second one took a lot more work, as they checked everything on every person (adult and child).  They opened everything, poured out all the bags, questioned about anything unusual, they were very thorough which is what slowed the line down the most despite several dozen RCMP and security guards checking people.

We managed to finally get into the inner perimeter just after the Prime Minister and Prince Charles’ speeches.  After several hours on the hill we moved on to the Byward Market.

The day did not end quietly though.  It took about an hour to get on a bus as the crowds at the bust stops were huge.  Even after walking back a couple stops we still had huge crowds at the bus stops and had to wait about 10 full busses until we got on one.  It was only luck that we got on that bus as 2 busses arrived at the same time and the crowd headed to the first one and we went against the flow to head to the second bus.  That decision paid off as we were some of the first on the bus and all got seats.

In the end it was a lot of fun and a chance of a lifetime to do Canada’s 150th birthday.  Despite the crowds and disorganization,  we expected madness and have been to Disney World twice on Independence day so we had some idea of what the crowds would be like.

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