Monday, November 05, 2007

Weekend In Ottawa: A Mint, Museum & Movie

Wouldn’t you love to get your hands on a bar of gold? You can do that at the Royal Canadian Mint under the watchful eye of a friendly armed guard. I used two hands to lift the weight and only raised it a few inches barely extending the chain that anchors it to the platform display. “Is it real gold?” I asked. “I wouldn’t be wearing a gun if it weren’t real,” replied the guard.

The Mint, located in Canada’s national capital of Ottawa, produces only special edition and investment pieces. We didn’t actually see the production because our visit coincided with inventory. We peered through a second floor viewing window to the mint below to watch the count. Imagine counting sheets of silver and bars of gold. No one worked alone. Teams of people carried the heavy metals while others watched or tallied the count. We did see displays of coins many of which were minted for Canada’s historic events and surprisingly under contract for other countries which have no special minting capabilities.

At the end of our tour, we were offered the opportunity to buy newly available souvenir coins for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. “Why mint a quarter showing a downhill skier?” quipped our tour guide. He didn’t wait for an answer. “Because we Canadians think we can win that event,” he added with a smug grin. “And, we have plans to mint coins for the other winter events,” he added with a bit of national pride.

I bought some of the Olympic coins to send to Suzie, Chris and Brianna with a note saying don’t use the coin for laundry (right, Suzie). I sent more to my friends at the USA Swimming Foundation to remind them the competition is always thinking about bringing home the gold.

Parking the coach at the Mint presented no problem, Ed found a spot on the avenue for buses only. Leaving the Mint was not so easy. We wanted to travel to Gatineau, Quebec across the river from Ottawa but our selected route was barricaded. Orange signs detoured us thru a park. Lovely, except there were bridges linking the little islands of the park across an inlet of the Ottawa River. They looked fragile and low! Backing up was not an option with the tow dolly hauling our Toyota, so Ed and I got out of the coach to make a decision to cross or not to cross. Traffic backed up behind our coach. Irritated drivers cut around us. Curious ones waited to see if we dared to cross.

No signs indicated a weight restriction, no signs told us the height of the three bridges we needed to cross. “I’m going across,” Ed decided. “Patty, you watch my roof as I try to keep the coach centered. The distribution of weight from the coach and car should be okay.”

After he made it across the first bridge with me walking along side, his confidence picked up. He left me sprinting in the puff of diesel as he crossed the remaining two bridges. On blacktop then in a residential Ottawa neighborhood, I climbed on board while Ed asked some locals about the next turn on the detour. Assured there were no more bridges, we made our way to Gatineau.

In Gatineau, we visited the Canadian Museum of Civilization acclaimed for its collection of totem poles some three stories high, each pole telling a native myth in wood carving. I explored the First Peoples Hall, Canada’s largest permanent exhibition on the history, diversity and contributions of Canada’s First People. Ed explored Face-to-Face, the Canadian Personalities Hall . Here he found biographical information, artifacts, recordings, and photographs of people who shaped the country from notables like Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to the first mapmaker of the Northwest David Thompson. Together in the IMAX Theater, we watched “ Hurricane on the Bayou”. The film captures the wilderness of the New Orleans wetlands and reveals the vulnerability of Louisiana following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. For me, the film elicited a feeling of disquiet as I remembered the disquieting loss of 230,000 homes and 1,580 lives. To lighten my spirit, I made my way to the contemporary gallery to get lost in fantasy of art – hundreds of balsa model planes suspended in the shape of a cube and white abstract shapes clustered just for the sake of art.

We had driven the Toyota to the museum so we had no navigational challenges upon leaving just the surprise of delicate snow flurries.

October 27 & 28, 2007

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