Travel broadens. It always does. On the road in Ottawa, I’ve been sopping up information about Canadian government and history like a sponge. I had a lot of gaps to fill.
I came in great part to see the places I had already researched while writing The Renegade Wife. The Rideau canal locks are every bit as impressive as I expected. We watched boats go through them both directions. The Bytown museum covered the building of the canal and the beginnings of Ottawa as expected. I found the location of Colonel By’s house and lamented the lack of appreciation the British government had for his monumental accomplishment. Now Canada recognizes his greatness and the canal is a UNESCO world heritage site.
In touring Parliament Hill and the Central and East Blocks of the Parliament of Canada, I picked up a much better understanding of Canada’s diversity, the evolution of its government, and even had some AHA moments about the parliamentary system. As the loan Americans on both tours, we had the occasional awkward moment.
I had some idea that the Rideau canal was built in order to move vital transportation routes away from the border with the U.S. and make it more defensible. The degree to which Canada views the War of 1812 as a defensive conflict made my eyes widen. Wait, wasn’t the U.S. the defensive party in that conflict? Didn’t the British burn Washington? Well, yes. the British regular army did, but before that those pesky Americans seized parts of Upper Canada (Ontario) and attacked Montreal. Canadians were wary of the U.S. for quite a while. Who knew the push for confederation in the 1860s came from concerns about threats the American government made in response to Canada (as a neutral) refusing to hand over Confederate operatives?
There is a War of 1812 Memorial on Parliament Hill called Triumph Through Diversity, “a lasting tribute to the courage and bravery of those who served their country and successfully defended their land from the American invasion.” It is a great piece with figures of various people who fought: a Metis fighter, a British regular, a Canadian militiaman, a First Nation warrior, a Royal Navy sailor, and a woman bandaging the arm of a rifleman. The idea of us as aggressor took me aback, but the collection of folks defending their country impressed. I’m still mulling a line I saw at a museum to the effect that Canada supported the First Nations in their defense against the Americans. That isn’t the view of the French and Indian or Revolutionary Wars I grew up with. History, once again, proves more complicated than it appears when you peal back a layer or two.