We deplaned at YOW and were immediately swarmed. Like Hare Krishnas pushing carnations, Ottawans kept forcing themselves upon us just to say, “Thank you.”
At first I replied with, “you’re welcome,” thinking that maybe people here took Canadian politeness to another level (it is the nation’s capital, after all) and I didn’t want to seem like a boor from “the provinces.” But after a while, I just started blankly. “Who are these people,” I wondered, “and what do they want?”
The answer came from our host as we drove along Queen Elizabeth Drive admiring the lush, manicured parks that seem to meander through the city. “In case no one has said it yet,” he entreated, “I sincerely want to thank you.”
“Enough!” I spat back. “Why is everybody in this damn city always saying thank you?”
Somewhat dismayed, he replied that Ottawans benefit from the tens of millions of Canadian taxpayers dollars that go into the NCC (National Capital Commission) and they want to make sure that Canadians know just how grateful they are.
Created in 1959, the NCC has as its goal “to ensure that Canada’s Capital Region is a source of national pride and significance.”
This is the organization that looks after the Parliament buildings, the national museums and galleries, and the official residences of government officials. But it also looks after the greenways that weave through so much of the city and provide an embarrassment of recreational opportunities — from biking to rock climbing to skating — for Ottawans and Hullians.
All this costs money, of course (in 2010-’11, the NCC spent $64 million) and it’s all Canadians who pay for our capital region. And in case you haven’t made it here yet, let me tell you, they do a fine job of it. Kilometres of biking and running trails snake through the city; Gatineau Park offers swimming and hiking; and events occur regularly on The Hill.
According to its strategic planning document, the NCC wants “to create a vibrant and dynamic meeting place that captures the hearts of Canadians.” And if Canadians knew anything about it, it might just capture us, but frankly, outside of Central Canada, very few of us have any idea of the extent of the amenities in this city.
In the minds of most Canadians, Ottawa is a sleepy little burg with little or nothing to offer in terms of entertainment or recreation, so all of the efforts of the NCC are for the benefit of those who live in the region.
I can report, though, that these Ottawans are appreciative and they do thank you.