Wel­com­ing sum­mer house guests by Amelie Crosson

Ottawa Magazine - - NEWS - Amélie Crosson im­mi­grated to Ot­tawa in 1985. She writes speeches for work and fic­tion for fun, in both of­fi­cial lan­guages.

If you live in Ot­tawa, you at­tract house guests.

I try to scare them away. “From Novem­ber to March, ev­ery day is -35. And when it fi­nally warms up, that’s when the mos­qui­toes come out.”

The un­fazed are en­ti­tled to clean sheets, tow­els, keys, bus tick­ets, and a map. I wave them off with a smile to dis­cover Canada’s cap­i­tal.

When it comes to dis­cov­er­ing my city, how­ever, that’s when I get in­volved. Be­cause be­yond Par­lia­ment Hill, the mu­se­ums, and the canal, there is a scrappy, homey city, un­pre­ten­tious but not with­out charm, kind of like the peo­ple who live here. And it’s the peo­ple’s story I like to tell. Take your vis­i­tors to watch the sun­set from Cham­plain Look­out. Marvel how, at the con­ver­gence of three rivers, cen­turies be­fore Phile­mon Wright set­tled here, this part of the Al­go­nquin Na­tion was the Pear­son Air­port of wa­ter travel: a place you passed through on your way to some­where else.

Tell the story of the English, Celtic, and French set­tlers, who re­ally did brave -35 tem­per­a­tures and mos­qui­toes long be­fore cen­tral heat­ing and DEET.

Take your guests to Cen­tre­town and visit St. Pa­trick’s Basil­ica at Kent and Ne­pean streets. De­signed by the same ar­chi­tec­tural firm be­hind the East and West blocks of Par­lia­ment, the stained­glass win­dows of this church bear the names of some of Ot­tawa’s early Ir­ish: the O’Connors, Ka­vanaghs, Gal­laghers, and Doyles, prom­i­nent among the hearty souls who came to build the canal, hew tim­ber, and make Ot­tawa a 19th-cen­tury Fort McMur­ray.

Play a game with your house guests and see if they can pro­nounce the names of our neigh­bour­hoods and streets. Is the area with the cute lit­tle over­priced houses near the gover­nor gen­eral’s res­i­dence pro­nounced New Ed­in­burg or New Ed­in­bur­row? The street be­tween Lau­rier and Ne­pean, is it Gloss-ter or Gloss-ess-ter? And in the mar­ket, Dal­howzie or Daloozie? Only the OC Transpo Voice of God knows for sure.

Make sure your guests un­der­stand that Ot­tawa has two of­fi­cial lan­guages. Take them for a walk through the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa cam­pus, the largest English and French bilin­gual univer­sity in the world, where you hear French di­alects from all over Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa.

Make your house guests use­ful and get them to pick up veg­gies in the ByWard Mar­ket. Non-French speak­ers will be able to brush up on their high-school French, and Euro­pean French speak­ers will love it as much as, if not more than, Marché Ra­s­pail in Paris.

If the tim­ing is right, take your guests east of the city to the Prescott Rus­sell Fes­ti­val de la Curd: mu­sic, bingo, and a cel­e­bra­tion of ru­ral life, all in French. And yes, Euro­pean cheese snobs, cheese curds do war­rant a fes­ti­val. And yes, Amer­i­can vis­i­tors, French coun­try mu­sic is a thing. A big thing.

Take your vis­i­tors across the river and visit Chelsea and Wake­field. “Wait … what?” they’ll say. “Why is there so much English even though we’re in Que­bec?” Just shrug. Yup. Just like there’s lots of French in eastern On­tario, there’s lots of English in west­ern Que­bec. Lan­guage in our re­gion is more about peo­ple than bor­ders. And peo­ple in Ot­tawa come from ev­ery­where.

You will hear the breathy stac­cato of Up­per Canada-speak, with its over-po­lite “Sorry” and neg­a­tive for­mu­la­tions: “I couldn’t pos­si­bly!” “You mustn’t go to any trou­ble.” “You’re not se­ri­ous!”

You’ll also hear traces of the lilt­ing Ot­tawa Val­ley di­alect that makes Toos­day the day be­tween Mon­day and Wed­nes­day and turns “th” into a furry mix of “t” and “d”. The ob­ser­vant house guest might no­tice “eh” less of­ten in Ot­tawa, maybe be­cause we tend to favour an English ver­sion of the Québé­cois sen­tence-en­der, “là.” So you might hear some­thing like “I’ll see you Toos­day, dere.”

The lin­guis­tic cross-pol­li­na­tion works both ways, so in June of 2016, you might have read mes­sages like: “What­ever you do, avoid Rideau Street. The sink­hole! OMG! C’est tout f*cké!”

Be­yond the story of the English and French of the re­gion, tell your guest how im­mi­gra­tion con­tin­ues to en­rich our city with suc­ces­sive waves of new­com­ers from all over the world so your chil­dren are likely to have at least as many Nguyens and Mo­hammeds for class­mates as Nel­sons and Martins.

Take your house guests to your favourite place for pho, and tell them the story of Project 4000, when Mar­ion De­war, mayor at the time, con­vinced cit­i­zens in 1979 to open their homes, hearts, and wal­lets to Viet­namese, Lao­tian, and Cam­bo­dian boat peo­ple. It’s a story that con­tin­ues to in­spire to­day as we wel­come Syr­ian fam­i­lies to life in Ot­tawa.

Take them to your favourite place for shawarma, and ex­plain how Ot­tawa has the fourth largest Mid­dle Eastern pop­u­la­tion in Canada. Tell them how Ara­bic is now the third most spo­ken lan­guage in the re­gion. The in­evitable mi­gra­tion from Ara­bic to the Ur­ban Dic­tionary to Ot­tawa ver­nac­u­lar has be­gun with “yalla” find­ing a place next to “let’s go” and “on y va.”

“Cities have the ca­pa­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing some­thing for ev­ery­body, only be­cause, and only when, they are cre­ated by ev­ery­body,” wrote Jane Ja­cobs, the Amer­i­can-Cana­dian au­thor cred­ited for chang­ing the way we think about liv­able cities. This is cer­tainly true of Ot­tawa — an evo­lu­tion­ary ur­ban project of cre­ation that re­flects each of us — a work-in-progress, shift­ing and chang­ing, never grandiose, but al­ways gen­er­ous and wel­com­ing, even to house guests.

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