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Our Small Neighbor to The North

Canada is real big in a few surprising ways.

by Michael H. Thomson
December 14, 2005

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Our Small Neighbor to The North
Ottawa, Ontario
It is probably the nicest hotel in Canada. It looks like a castle and probably costs three times as much to maintain. It is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier located on One Rideau Street adjacent to the towering Canadian Parliament building -with it's maple leaf flag fluttering in the icy breeze - which I can see outside my window. It's impressive – I'm impressed.
At the moment I'm not doing much sightseeing. I'm just adjusting to my immediate surroundings and getting a feel for the people, attitude, and temperament of Canada's capital city.
Last night I observed something that I'm not used to seeing. I was outside of a bookstore down the street from the hotel and noticed two homeless people sitting wrapped in blankets and insulated by cardboard. It was not the fact that I was observing homeless people that was unusual to me – I've seen plenty of homeless people over the years. What I considered unusual was how the passersby were treating them – with kindness. As I ducked into the Starbucks located in the bookstore, I took a seat facing the window where I drank my hot chocolate and warmed myself. People would walk by, exchange greetings with the two homeless ones sitting on the street, chat with them, and occasionally put a bill or coin into their hand before walking away. Hardly anyone averted their eyes or looked the other direction. This got me to thinking. There was something going on here that I was having a struggle with. The Ottawa passerby's seemed to connect with the homeless ones on the street. I had never noticed this  back home. 

This morning I made another observation – lack of security. You see, in the idyllic village of Paeonian Springs we are very close to Washington, D.C.  A few months ago, my wife and I were part of a tour group that visited the White House. The first thing you notice around the vicinity of the White House is the massive amount of security. Armed men dressed in SWAT outfits can be seen on the roof and on the grounds and tall men in long coats talking into their lapels are seen in the hallways. There is an abundance of security in our nation's capital. Given the events of September 11, 2001, it is understandable. Canada has not had a similar event and let's hope it doesn't.
The seat of Canada's government is surprisingly laid back.  I was actually hoping to see a little more security than I saw because I want to take a photo home of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. Maybe I'll come upon one tomorrow. 

Braving the chill, I passed in front of the Parliament building and noticed a woman being led by her dog – a Scottish terrier.  The little pooch was decked out in some kind of dog outfit that looked like a kilt. I mumbled something like "cute dog" and the lady stopped and started talking to me. She immediately detected I was an American and queried me as to where I was from and asked if I was able to tolerate the cold, etc.  She then asked me if I'd heard any news about the four church workers – two Canadians, one American, and one Briton who were being held hostage in Iraq. I said I had seen something about it on the news. She reached and grasped my hand and asked me if I would pray for them. I said I would. She thanked me and continued walking with her kilt clad mutt. It is then that I connected the dots…

Canada is the second largest country in the world in territory - Russia is the first. It is a vast land stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and reaching into the Arctic. In population however, Canada is smaller than Kenya with only thirty-two million people compared to our nearly two hundred and ninety-six million.
Recalling the observation of the homeless people and the lady on the street's concern for hostages in Iraq, it started to dawn upon me – Canada is not a large country at all. It is still small enough that people look out for each other and have a connectivity that is starting to disappear in our own country. The capital of Ottawa while large in size – over one million people – reflects the attitude of the nation. Let us hope that Canada will always remain a fast friend. This one would be tough to lose.

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larry slay from brewton alabama writes:
December 14, 2005
Mike, as I read this article, a very good one I might add, I saw some things. Things which you have been teaching me about writing. I have been all over the world but never to Canada. While reading this story it was like I was there with you. You have taught me well, in lower Alabama fishing terminology, hook'em, let them take the bait then reel them in.

Phala Partin Hay from Bedford, TX writes:
December 14, 2005
Very astute observation Mr. T. I know Mr. Slay won't agree, but I feel that over-population is not a big problem in Canada, therefore the Canadian citizens have the luxury of connecting with their fellow countrymen. I can't wait for you to visit Canada again and tell us P.O. readers more about our neighboring country. And I just plain love reading your column - even the politically-themed columns - I have no, none, zilch, zero interest in politics - I know I should, but there you go. Keep up the great work!

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