I’m making a quick trip to Ottawa to see my sister. It’s supposed to be a time to spend with family, but I’m all-too-aware of the long walk that’s coming up quickly, and worried that I won’t be ready. So, I could feel myself being pulled in opposite directions. The compromise? Yesterday I walked from Kanata, where my brother- and sister-in-law live, to my my sister’s and brother-in-law’s apartment in Vanier, where I spent the afternoon and cooked dinner. Ottawa is a big place; the walk turned out to be 30 kilometres long.
When I lived in Ottawa, I could never have imagined making such a walk or thought it would be possible. Now I know it’s just a question of taking one step at a time in the right direction (more or less) for seven hours. That’s one of the lessons I took away from the Camino de Santiago: small steps can, eventually, lead to achieving bigger goals.
I walked almost the entire way on footpaths, or bicycle paths, through the Greenbelt and then along the Ottawa River. I knew that if I kept the river on my left that I’d be heading in the right direction, so navigation was easy. But getting from Kanata to the river was a bit of a challenge, and I ended up taking a detour through a riverside neighbourhood at Shirley’s Bay. It added several kilometres to the journey, but part of it was a lovely walk through a forest, so I didn’t really mind. Besides, it was early in the day and I was still relatively fresh.
The riverside bicycle path is very different. Like most of the other recreational paths in the city, it’s much more civilized: paved and divided into lanes with a stripe of yellow paint. Signs warn you not to feed the birds and to pick up after your dog. Other signs provide what turned out to be inaccurate information (according to my GPS, anyway) about how far it was to the Parliament Buildings.
At noon, the path filled with civil servants. At one o’clock, they disappeared.
On the plane I read a few chapters from a book someone had recommended called Doing Sensory Ethnography, and I made a point of trying to engage senses other than sight as I walked along: the smell of blossoms or freshly cut grass, the sound of birdsong. I hadn’t brought any food along, and about the time the civil servants went back to work I realized I was hungry; then I wished I could experience the sense of taste. Another hour or two and I was on Rideau Street, where I stopped for a falafel sandwich at my favourite shawarma shop. No photos of the sandwich, though: I was too hungry for such preliminaries.
I walked under the old railway bridge to Quebec and then past the controversial Zibi development on the islands next to the Chaudière Falls where the E.B. Eddy match factory used to be. On the one hand, the development is a good use of a derelict industrial site; the first mill was built there in 1806, drawing on the falls for water power, and the island has been home to mills and factories ever since. On the other hand, though, the Chaudière Falls are sacred to the Algonquin who used to live in Ottawa (and who have never ceded their title to the land where the city is built through a treaty). The late Algonquin Chief William Commanda wanted to see an indigenous cultural centre built on the islands, but the Harper government let the developer, Windmill, buy the land instead. Windmill has promised to hire indigenous people to build the development and to include street signs in English, French, and Anishnaabe, but some Indigenous people–notably the Métis architect Douglas Cardinal–think that’s just window dressing.
Aside from a few “good mornings,” the only people to talk to me were these kids, who wanted to know if I lived around here and teased me about taking their photographs without written permission. I think they were on a school trip. It wasn’t a long conversation–I needed that falafel–and I didn’t stick around long enough to find out what they were up to.
Around behind Parliament Hill (with signs warning of falling rock), up past the Rideau Canal locks, and out onto Rideau Street, thronged with pedestrians (locals and tourists) and with sidewalks closed for the construction of the new LRT line. Finally I crossed the Rideau River and arrived at my sister’s place. There, I discovered that I had no new blisters–a huge relief. Maybe my feet are finally toughening up? We had a good visit and I cooked dinner (chicken and asparagus in white wine with pasta). Then Drew, my brother-in-law, gave me a lift back out to Kanata. It only took 20 minutes instead of the seven hours I spent walking that day. But, like Will Self says, walking is a way to resist the mechanical matrix that compresses the time-space continuum. I’m planning another walk today–maybe not as long–and a third for tomorrow. I’m determined to be prepared for my June walk in southwestern Ontario, no matter what.