‘Women are persons’ on Parliament Hill

With two of the Famous Five: Nellie McClung

Reaching up, I grabbed Nellie McClung’s right hand. Held aloft in her left hand is a replica the Ottawa Journal headline dated October 18, 1929 declares: “Women are Persons…”

“Thanks, Nellie,” I said. From Suffragette Heaven, I’m sure she and her friends smiled.

Tagged the Famous Five for their determined fight for women’s rights, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards  and Louise McKinney are immortalized in bronze on the Parliament Hill park grounds in Ottawa.

The triumphant tableaux (created by Barbara Paterson and cast by Bronzart Casting Ltd. of Calgary) commemorates the women celebrating their landmark battle to have Canadian women declared “persons” under the law, and therefore eligible to sit in the Senate.

I stumbled on the bronzes by accident, but they – and the majestic bronze of Queen Elizabeth ll on horseback nearby – delighted me. If I’d known they were there I’d have brought tea along, joined them at the nearby bronze table, and reflected. Such determined and far-sighted women in Canada, plus Britain’s Emmeline Pankhurst who fought for women’s right to vote, set western women on the road we are fortunate to travel today.

Clambering on up to Canada’s Parliament I’m more impressed than I anticipate. Imposing portals, marble halls, chambers, and art depicting historic faces, names and dates which shaped my adopted nation were expected. More surprising, however, are the Library of Parliament at the back of the complex, and the Memorial Chamber located in the Peace Tower.

I must still be tuned in to Nellie and friends, because I take particular note of gleaming brass plaques honouring service women and nurses in the Memorial Chamber. Far above me the Peace Tower Carillon sports 53 bells weighing 66 tonnes.

Satiated with history, architecture and politics, I’m now off to prowl the eclectic ByWard Market in search of BeaverTails. If they were good enough for Barack Obama, they have to be good enough for me. And so they are. Warm, sugary, handmade, the ‘floated’ (aka deep fried) pastries are my perfect post-Parliament reward. I’d lobby for them any day.

Ready to relax, I’m glad my Lord Elgin Hotel room is just minutes by foot up the road near the War Memorial. Still on my week’s agenda are the Museums of Civilization and Modern Art (walking shoes are key in this conveniently walk-able museum-friendly city), a Rideau Canal cruise and a ghost tour.

Aircraft have featured largely in my life so, despite Saturday showers, I’m taking a 30-minute bus ride to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. I’m delighted to find Lower Mainland pilot Bill Cowan’s Ray Ban Gold Pitts Special parked at the entrance. It brought back memories of Bill, George Kirbyson, Al Hauff and Rod Ellis (formerly The Canadian Reds) thrilling Abbotsford International Airshow attendees with their aerobatic talents in the late 1980s.

Though well laid out in a single floor hanger-like building, I am surprised – despite the name – to find little space program history. The aircraft collection and memorabilia still made this a worthwhile side trip.

Sunday being a day of rest (even on holiday), I’m booked for brunch on the Wakefield Steam Train to admire the autumn scenery while resting my weary feet. The 93-ton heritage steam engine choofs merrily along between Gatineau Hills clad in brilliant autumn colours and the Gatineau River. Personable tour guides, flanked by local musicians, share area anecdotes. Arrival at Wakefield means everyone offloads to browse village souvenir shops while the locomotive is pivoted on Canada’s last operating manual turntable.

Then, it’s “All aboard!” for the return journey.

On Monday, my departure looms. What better way to adjourn an inaugural Capitol meeting than via tea (and a champagne toast) at the illustrious Fairmont Château Laurier. Rain taps the windows. Parliament is etched in the distance. My major debates are: which tea shall I vote for, and it is ‘yea, or ‘nay’ to scones and clotted cream, cheese, or perfect pastries? A premier way to bid Ottawa, “Adieu”.

– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a journalist and photographer with a passion for eclectic travel tales.

Find her on Twitter @YouTravel

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