Parliament Buildings Tour - Ottawa
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
"The following is an article written after our visit to Ottawa for a tour of the Canadian Parliament Buildings. The tour was conducted by our local MP, Rick Norlock and his wife Judy. To truly appreciate the Parliament Buildings, you need to visit them in person. Have fun!"
Well, we're off to our nation's capital. That's right, we're Ottawa bound! A few weeks ago Judi and I attended a local fundraising event. One of the raffle prizes was “Lunch for Two” at the Parliamentary Dining Room and a private tour of the Parliament Buildings with Rick Norlock, MP (Northumberland-Quinte West). Judi and I were the winners! I have been to Ottawa many times and have never been on a Parliament Building Tour… what a great opportunity! It was also a very nice coincidence, because we had been planning a trip to Ottawa to visit the Canadian Tulip Festival. The timing was perfect because the festival runs from May 4th to May 21st. The date set for our "lunch and tour" was May 9th. We pre-booked our hotel room, which was lucky, because most of the good hotels were fully booked. We left early in the morning and arrived in Ottawa mid-day. We checked into our hotel and were eager to re-acquaint ourselves with downtown Ottawa. But before we left on our walk, I had to telephone Rick Norlock’s office to arrange where to meet tomorrow. Imagine my delight and surprise to find out the Rick’s wife Judy was joining us! With this great news we set out for our tour. What a beautiful city! Armed with a festival guide (our hotel provided one for us); we started to walk down Spark Street to the tulip route. The festival has three tulip sites and many attractions. But, I am getting ahead of my self. Our first encounter with the tulips was on the corner of Queen Elizabeth Driveway and Wellington Street. There is a monument there and it was surrounded with beds of Tulips. From there we found our way to Parliament Hill and its lush grounds. We walked the grounds, snapping pictures along the way (see below). The shear size and history of our capital buildings can be quite overwhelming. By the time we had investigated most of the Parliament Hill grounds, it was time for dinner. We had a pleasant dinner a local Italian Restaurant. It was still fairly early, so we decided to take a drive and locate all of the Tulip Festival sites. What a trip, everywhere we traveled, tulips were blooming in a multitude of colours! Tomorrow was going to be an eventful and interesting day, we were going on a Parliament Building Tour!
After a simple breakfast at our hotel and a relaxing morning, the time had come to go to Parliament. We had arranged to meet Judy Norlock at Rick’s offices located in the Confederation Building. Here we had to pass through the first of three security searches. From there we took the elevator to eventually find Rick’s suite of offices. All the rooms are numbered, but the number we received at the front reception was Rick’s personal office number, not his suite's number. Finally, after poking my head into a number of open doors, we found the right suite. We were greeted by Rick’s assistant, Sonja, and his wife Judy. We were given a quick tour of the offices and introduced to Rick’s staff. All were very friendly and helpful. From there Judy took us downstairs to the side of Rick's building. Here we were able to take a Parliamentary bus to the Centre Block building. Judi and I had to pass through our second security check to get into this building. Once inside, we went directly to the Parliamentary Dining Room. What an elegant room! It certainly rivalled some of the best restaurants I have eaten in over the years. We were a little early and Rick hadn’t arrived yet. He was still in a caucus meeting. After a short wait the dining room started to fill up. The atmosphere was electric. Elected officials from all over Canada converged on the restaurant. One could only image the great stories being told or ideas being discussed. And, yes, very one seemed to be getting along. No fist fights, no shouting or yelling, all very civilized! They all seemed to be very friendly. Once Rick had arrived, it was time to eat. The two girls decided to order from the menu while Rick and I lined up for the buffet. The food was excellent and plentiful. The deserts were TOO good! I know that being a Member of Parliament is a very busy task, so the time Rick spent with us was very much appreciated. The Norlock’s are a delightful couple and a pleasure to be with. Time passed all too quickly. Question Period was looming and there was still the personal Parliament Building Tour!
The Parliament Building Tour
As soon as lunch was over, our Parliament Building Tour started. We couldn’t spend a lot of time, because we had tickets to attend Question Period (a bonus to an already great prize). I won’t try to give you a detailed description of everything I saw. I am sure there are many books and websites that can do much better. Rather, through words and photos, I will tell you what I remember seeing and my impressions. The whole interior, and, of course exterior, is very elegant and grand. Everything seems larger than life. The columns, the archways, the corridors and the pictures that line the rooms and halls all add to this magnificence. I can’t remember the exact order of the rooms we visited, so I will start with the Senate. We had arrived just in time to see the procession of senators filing into the Senate Chamber. The pomp and ceremony of the entry was unexpected for me. I hadn’t realized how formal the procedure was. Watching the Senate’s formality made me feel that I was now part of its tradition. The next rooms I remember were the House of Commons Chamber and its anti-rooms. On television you only see the actual House Chamber. The anti-rooms are special, because this is where House Members can do additional work when the House is in session. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed in the actual House Chamber due to security. The Rotunda (a.k.a. Confederation Hall) is next on my list. It is located “in the heart of the Centre Block”. The height of the ceilings, the sweeping arches, the ornate carvings all add to its grandeur. This is also the place where groups and individuals congregate both before and after their tours. It is and was a very busy place. Off the Rotunda is a corridor that leads to the Library of Parliament. Speaking of the Centre Block corridors, they are a awash in the history of Canada. Every one of Canada’s great leaders are enshrined on canvas for present and future generations. If these painting could talk, what stories they could tell. They would be both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. The Library of Parliament is the oldest and most stunning building connected to the Centre Block. As we walked into the main library hall, my breath was taken away. I friend of mine had told me all about it, but his description wasn’t close to actually seeing it in person. Time was against us, so we had to move on much too soon. Our next adventure was to witness a session of Parliament… Question Period!
Rick went off to join his fellow members of Parliament for the afternoon Question Period. Judy had arranged for my Judi and me to attend today’s session. Judy led us upstairs to an area just outside the corridor that leads to the Chamber balconies. Before we could enter the corridor we experienced our third security check. This time they asked us to leave our camera and cell phones at the security desk. We then entered the corridor. There were only two other people waiting, spouse of an MP and her friend from their riding. Shortly after we arrived several more people arrived. In fact, the whole corridor was filling up. Usually attendees are allowed in around 1:30PM for a 2:10PM start, but today was Wednesday and for some reason they delayed entry on Wednesdays. Someone said something about singing or praying… either way it would have been interesting to see. I had wondered if the House of Commons entry procession was as formal as the Senate’s, but I never got to find out. We were finally allowed to enter the balcony area. We were in the Conservatives section; the balconies face the Conservative members. Because we were one of the first ones in the corridor, we were able to seat ourselves in the front row. Judy showed us the personal audio system and how to use to. I thought it was just to give us the translation of the French speaking members. Judy told we should use it for all speeches. Boy was she right! The noise in the chamber, when everyone is there and in full voice is deafening. When we entered, members were still coming to their seats. Throughout this initial process members were making individual statements. Finally, after most everyone had taken their places, Question Period started and how! I won’t elaborate on what was said, but I’ll tell you what I saw and felt. It started off fairly civilized. When a member stood up to speak, he always addressed the Speaker of the House – “Mr. Speaker”. I’ve watched Question Period on TV, but nothing prepare me for what was to come! On television all you really see is the member making the speech. You don’t see the byplay of all the members surrounding him or her. And yes, the women were just as involved as the men. It reminded me of being at school in an assembly before the teachers arrived, pandemonium to say the least. The House Speaker tried to maintain decorum, and did at times, but with the cameras rolling it was very difficult. Speaking of the cameras rolling, I’m surprised that the actors’ guild hasn’t insisted that all members join the guild! From what I could see there was a lot a great acting going on. If they were members of the guild, when awards night arrived, there could be special categories for members of Parliament. How about… “The most entertaining”; “The most outraged”; “The angriest response”; “The funniest presentation”. You get the picture. It would give the awards night a whole new dimension! Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was great, very entertaining, just like I thought it would be. These people need the television and press exposure to get their points across. I believe when the cameras are off the real work of Parliament begins. I could see this when we were eating in the Parliamentary Dining Room. Everyone was friendly and talking to one another. I am sure it wasn’t just all Conservatives in the room. Question Period was exciting and interesting, as was the Parliament Building Tour. Thank you Judy and Rick for such a memorable day! We’ll be back!