I’ve lived in Ottawa my entire life. I should know this town like the back of my hand, should being the operative word in this sentence. The thing is I don’t know Ottawa that well, but I want to.
Ottawa is almost like my older sibling that has always been there but only on the fringes of my life; I did not choose to invest in our relationship until now. I have continuously cited the benefits of living in Ottawa to several of my friends, acquaintances and even random people I meet abroad. It’s the nation’s capital, it’s beautiful, it’s full of culture, the museums are a treat and among other reasons, it’s a political hotbed, which means you are likely to bump into someone cool (though cool is relative) if you hang around downtown enough.
My freshman year of university represented the true beginning of my friendship with my hometown. Carleton University is isolated from the downtown core; we’re almost an island unto ourselves. I chose my post-secondary institution with care, but when it came right down to it, I felt comfortable at Carleton, it was home. The Humanities program sealed the deal for me and set my destiny in motion as I ecstatically accepted my offer of enrolment.
*For more information about the Humanities program click here: http://carleton.ca/bhum/
Despite my self-proclaimed status of hermit extraordinaire I actually do venture outside of my home and my university. Not as often as I would like to, but often enough.
Carleton is in close proximity to Bank Street, a long, long road lined with eclectic little shops that sell everything from used books, tea, kitchen tools and bikes. It’s a fantastic place for a nice stroll, especially if you have the entire afternoon ahead of you.
I’ve also taken to walking up and down Sparks Street, a large pedestrian mall reminiscent of Times Square though it’s much smaller in scale.
I should mention here that when I was in grade six we wrote letters to our twenty year old selves. We were suppose to write down what we hope to have achieved by the time we turned twenty but I can only remember a small portion of what I wrote. However, I know for a fact that, “Walk all the streets in downtown Ottawa” is on that list somewhere. I really hope I didn’t put down skydiving in a fit of puffed up courage – I’m still terrified of heights.
So, for the past year or so I’ve been attempting to accomplish that goal. I don’t mark down all of the streets I’ve walked, there is no cross-reference checklist, it all relies upon me and my feet remembering where we’ve been. I like the freedom of walking; everything looks different when your feet are slapping pavement and not hitting the gas pedal. It gives me a chance to observe people – to stop and appreciate something that catches my eye – as long as I’m not in the middle of crossing a street. I don’t have to worry about parking and when I’m finished for the day it doesn’t matter whether it’s rush hour or not, I’m usually home in a reasonable time frame.
When I was canvassing, walking was one of the best parts of the job. Yes, when I said when I was canvassing. The company and I held different values in high esteem; I confronted their moral ambiguity by declining to continue my employment with them. I’m now working in a position that is more in line with my field (it deals with Canadian political and legal history) and I’m quite content.
Nevertheless, I parted with my canvassing team on good terms and I definitely have stories to tell from my time with them. Remember, earlier on when I said that if you’re downtown often enough you’re bound to run into someone political? Well, on my final day as a canvasser I ended up pitching to Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety.
Of course, at the time I did not recognize him – I was in a business section of the city so people in well-tailored suits were the norm and he didn’t really phase me. He was crossing the street accompanied by another man and as he came closer I spoke my usual opening line with a smile. He stopped and listened to my entire spiel, after which he thanked me, got my name and shook my hand.
It wasn’t until an observer of our interaction came up to me afterwards and asked me if I knew with whom I had just spoken that I was made aware of how my day had risen from interesting to fantastic! I am interested in politics but I have no personal affiliation with any party in Canada, still, to meet a Minister on the street like that made my day.
*Politicians are Ottawa’s rockstars – in case you didn’t know.
All in all, walking Ottawa has its benefits. I’ve discovered more about the city as I discover more about me. I’ve found that I have a love for architecture and old buildings. I know where a great majority of the city’s used book stores are, and I’m slowly getting around to visiting all of the cafés and gelato venues. Walking Ottawa solidifies my sense of personal independence and my pride in Canada. It helps me appreciate how much beauty there is in the world. Walking negates my sense of urgency and it brings my stress levels down – because when you walk, you get there when you get there.
I believe that WALK truly stands for the following – While Away Life in Kilometres, so take your time, stroll a little.
Appreciate the sure thud of your feet. Savour the smell of the flowers. Accept the feel of the wild wind caressing your hair. Enjoy life.
Oh, and if you ever get a chance, walk in Ottawa.
See the traffic, the Parliament Buildings, the history ingrained in every stone and realize how wonderful the city truly is.