Monday, August 3, 2009

On Parliament and its groundhogs

In April a beaver was walking down Sparks Street in Ottawa, only a couple blocks from Parliament. Two passing Members of Parliament took it upon themselves to herd our national symbol down a cross street, past the Supreme Court and into to the Ottawa River. When I heard of this, it got me watching for other signs of wildlife living within steps of the politically powerful. On a side lawn between the Centre and East blocks of Parliament, under some shrubs near a statue of Queen Elizabeth on horseback, lives a large and very friendly groundhog that gladly accepts handouts from tourists. Around the back of the Centre block lives a colony of feral cats (here's their blog).   

Walk down Sussex Drive and you'll see the usual urban critters - squirrels, sparrows and so forth - but it's a bit of an intermission from the nature tour until you reach the Pearson Building (HQ of Foreign Affairs). There, just upstream where the Rideau River falls into the Ottawa River, I've seen find beavers working on a lodge, cormorants drying their wings, raccoons fishing in the water, and a good variety of waterfowl - not just the ubiquitous Canada geese and mallards, but goldeneyes, wood ducks and even the odd heron.

A short distance farther east, past the gates of the Prime Minister's house and Rideau Hall (the Governor General's swell pad), Sussex Drive gives way to the Rockcliffe Parkway. On the south side of the road are large woodlots and arboretum-style parks, and here is where nature re-stakes her claim to the capital. White-tailed deer visit from time-to-time, but red foxes are permanent residents, as is a growing population of wild turkeys (I saw one with three young earlier today, prompting me to make this posting). My daughter and I like to turn over logs in the woodlot adjacent to the GG's house because you're sure to find red-backed salamanders to admire.

I am not a fan of governments building architectural monuments to themselves, and unfortunately Ottawa has more than its share of such trappings. Better to leave your legacy via wise actions and policies than hollow buildings and forgettable statues. Our city makes a far greater statement both symbolically and tangibly to rest of the country and the rest of the world by the fact that many species of wild creatures that were here before there was such a thing as Canada are still able to make their homes in its capital. Now that is a seat of power worth its salt.

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