Thursday, 27 June 2013

Monumental Ottawa

I come from a small town, St. Catharines, in Southern Ontario, and we don't have many monuments that I can recall. If there are some, nobody took the time to point them out to me.
There must be a war monument somewhere -- there's one in every town and city in this country -- but as a teenager, I was never dragged to one.
We had a carousel on the beach, a gazebo where old people listened to geezer tunes. There were cemetaries with granite statues. But monuments? Not so much.
Part of the problem in monument building is that you have to have money for it. The community has to raise it, and then decide which founding fathers or mothers it wants to commemorate. Largely, I suspect, the monuments are paid for by the commemorees, if that's even a word.
But Ottawa is brimming with monuments to this cause or that. This person or that person.
You can sit a spell with Lester B. Pearson or leak tears at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can take tea with Nellie McClung and the other Fab Four and read about how the old dolls got the government to agree that women were "persons".
The most useful monument on Parliament Hill, of course, is Queen Victoria.
Queen Vickie is the patron saint of bladder dysfunction.  She guards the spot where tourists gratefully step out to wee and change diapers in the middle of the Changing of the Guard.
Needless to say, I'm not really up on my monuments.
The trouble with living in a city like this one is that you take for granted the privilege of living here. You no longer feel the urge to drink in its fabulousness unless, of course, you are arm-wrestled into it by visiting tourists.
Last week, we got a request to visit the new Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial. The request came from one of my Facebook friends whose father had died in a fire back in 1970. I'm not sure why we hadn't visited the memorial. Scott and I had worked for years with the organization who raised the money to build it. We hadn't even bothered to go to the unveiling.
So we set out to find the memorial, which is inexplicably built in front of a condo complex across from the War Memorial. Perhaps its location was chosen for its proximity to the Mill Street Brew Pub (hey! firefighters like their fire water). Who knows?
Anyway, we made our way to the site which holds the names of the more than 1,000 firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. It's a Holy place with the names of the fallen sketched in granite with little pegs to allow loved ones to place sheets of paper and rub the names of their dads or sons onto them, a little souvenir to take back to home.
Every year, the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation holds a ceremony to honor the fallen. Some have died in tragic house or forest fires. Others, most in fact, have died from work-related cancers, wasting diseases that they've acquired tearing down buildings filled with carcinogens. Still others have died from heart attacks and in traffic accidents on their way to and from scenes.
We've attended this ceremony for years on Parliament Hill on a beautiful Sunday in September. The men and women of Canada's fire service honor the families with black helmets. As you would expect, the fallen receive quite a send off.
I know a few of the names on the monument.
It makes me sad.
But the monument will surely given families some comfort.
Their loved ones died heroes.
Protecting their communities.
It's got to count for something.
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