Wanting to beat the crowds, we set our alarm for 6:30. We got breakfast at the hotel, which was much better than the dinner we’d had on the first night (although they remain mistaken in their belief that it is acceptable to steep tea in a pot that has previously contained coffee).
We left the hotel to walk to the transit exchange. The weather was not especially pleasant, so we donned our rain ponchos. They worked well enough for covering the upper half and backpacks, but at one point we turned a corner and within 3 seconds my shoes had soaked through.
Transit was free today, so we joined the crowds of people on the bus into downtown. We’re lucky in that our hotel is right near one of the main transit exchanges where a lot of people make transfers, so there are 3 express buses to choose from that all go downtown. We got off at Rideau Centre and cut through the mall to get out on the street.
We joined the line for security on Elgin Street around 8:30 (despite my suggestion that we go to the line on Bank Street, which would have been shorter). Shortly after joining the line, one of the city volunteers walked by and told everyone that the Bank Street line had almost nobody in it. We opted to stay where we were, since a mass of people ahead of us jumped at the chance to walk over to Bank Street. Getting through security was even more strict than yesterday. We were through security by 9:15, so our wait wasn’t actually that bad (aside from the rain, which didn’t let up at all while we were in line).
Once we were through security, we tried to find a spot on Parliament Hill where we could see the stage. The lawn was an absolutely waterlogged mess, and our shoes re-filled with water after a single step. We managed to find a pretty good one, fairly close to the left side of the stage, just under a CBC camera panning rig. The indigenous peoples’ demonstration and teepee was just a bit behind us.
We stayed there through the morning performances and opening ceremonies. The rain slowly tapered off over the course of the morning, and had pretty much stopped by the time the opening ceremonies began. One of the morning performers was a group called Choir Choir Choir that taught the audience the words to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and performed it as a sing-along piece. We watched Justin Trudeau speak (lol, forgot Alberta when listing the provinces & territories) and Prince Charles, along with the performance by Bono. We left after the opening ceremonies and exited out of the secured area onto Sparks Street.
Our original plan was to head back to Rideau Centre to get lunch at the food court, and then to kill some time before staking out our spot for the fireworks. Apparently everyone else had the same idea because the mall was absolutely packed. We gave up any hope of getting food there and escaped out towards the Byward Market. That area was also brimming with people, so we ended up just walking (quite a ways) down Rideau Street until we found a food truck around 15:00. It was great to just sit down for a bit after being on our feet all morning.
We decided we might as well head back up Rideau Street and check our Major’s Hill Park, which was another concert and event site and a recommended spot to watch the evening fireworks at 23:00. We walked around there a little bit and found a nice spot with a great view along one of the paths overlooking the escarpment and the Rideau Canal.
We were out of water at this point, so I grabbed our water bottles and walked back to one of the refill stations near the stage in Major’s Hill Park. When I came back through, they’d barricaded off the escarpment area and were telling everyone inside that they had to find a different spot. So I was stuck waiting outside, with the rest of my group inside and absolutely terrible cell service due to the crowds of people. I did manage to get one SMS to go out to my sister, and we did end up meeting up a short while later when they were forced to leave their spot.
We just sat around for a bit debating what to do next. Even though it was only 17:30, we knew we wouldn’t get through security for Parliament Hill again in time for the fireworks. We ended up just walking around for a bit and ended up on Sparks Street again, wandering down until we were past the long security line of people on Bank Street. Ended up finding a Starbucks in the Marriott hotel, so we stopped there for a drink. We were very lucky, since we were the last people in line before the hotel staff locked the doors since Starbucks closed at 19:00.
Upon exiting Starbucks, we discovered that gale-force winds had moved in and there was some distant thundering. We walked up two blocks and it started spitting, and then just as we got under a covered area by the Justice building it started pouring rain. Seriously torrential downpour, and the wind was blowing it in sheets. Was kinda funny seeing everyone huddling under the tiny covered area, and across the street you could see people trying to stay dry in the doorway to a church and under trees in the nearby park. It eventually let up after about 20 minutes, and we continued down a ways until we were up against the security fencing near the Supreme Court building. We had a pretty good view there, so we decided to stake out place.
The rain came back at least twice in the intervening several hours of waiting. At one point, my sister crawled into one of the window wells of a building to stay dry. I had my poncho keeping my upper half dry, but the wind kept blowing it around and the rain had me soaked from mid-thigh down. My shoes had never fully dried out from when we left the hotel, and they just kept getting filled with water every time the weather turned.
We were worried about the lightning, since it had been mentioned that a lightning storm might cause the fireworks to be cancelled for safety reasons, but apparently they decided to go ahead with it. There were 5 sites from which they were setting the fireworks off, and we had a good view of the main display over the water and the ones going off behind the Parliament buildings.
It has to be said, we are totally spoiled as Vancouverites with our annual Celebration of Light fireworks show. The crowd around us through these were an amazing display, and it wasn’t a bad show, but it was nowhere near as impressive as what we routinely get to experience at English Bay.
When the show ended we tried to figure out how we were going to catch the bus back to our hotel, along with hundreds of thousands of other people all trying to do the same. OCTranspo was smart and had stockpiled busses on the downtown streets, so we were pretty much able to get on the first bus we saw and ride it non-stop to the exchange we wanted.
Of course, by this time it was after midnight and we’d had almost nothing to eat all day. The mall was closed for the holiday (and wouldn’t have been open at that hour anyways), but there was a Pizza Pizza on the way to our hotel. It might not be gourmet, but a medium cheese pizza for $5 at 1:00 in the morning will suffice.