Jessica Mellor was doing her best Friday to catch her son, Lincoln, running — as toddlers often do — towards a security gate around the main Canada Day stage on Parliament Hill.
It was a tranquil moment as the family braced for the hoopla of Saturday, when half a million people are expected to gather in the shadow of the Centre Block to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary — an unprecedented crowd, with logistical planning and security to match.
“We’ve been meaning to come up for Canada Day our whole lives, basically, and never really got around to it,” said Lincoln’s father, Kyle, whose son is named for Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black member of Parliament and former Ontario lieutenant-governor.
“This year, 150, it’s a bit of a pilgrimage to come up and just pay homage to everything that the nation has done for us.”
Officials have been working for months to prepare for this weekend’s events, which the government has billed as the largest in the nation’s history, between the hundreds of thousands who are expected to be in downtown Ottawa to the countless others massing in more than 2,000 communities across the country.
On Friday, workers were putting the finishing touches on the towering main stage, where last-minute rehearsals were underway. Temporary fencing, barricades and bollards created security bottlenecks where visitors normally enjoy unfettered access to the grounds. Much of downtown Ottawa was closed to vehicles.
At one point, officers were seen peering into and under the decorative planters lining the street; a security official was heard chiding staff for letting a group walk past without being checked — a group that turned out to be Environment Minister Catherine McKenna her staff.
“The hoops you have to go through, it’s like a cattle shed here,” Ottawa resident George Neville said of security.
“It seems extreme for a country like Canada.”
Kyle Mellor, meanwhile, described it as a comfort, one he was willing to put up with.
“It’s always in the back of your mind, terrible things (that could happen), but you don’t want that to stop you from doing your thing, then they win. It’s reassuring to see the level of security that’s down here.”
Tourists dressed in red or showcasing swag adorned with the Maple Leaf snapped pictures and laughed as heavily armed police manned security checkpoints nearby.
‘Showcase the best of Canada’
Saturday’s itinerary includes appearances by the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian artists and U2 band members Bono and The Edge. And while Heritage Minister Melanie Joly called the preparations hectic, she said officials are more than ready.
“We want people to be able to celebrate and have fun and we want to showcase the best of Canada,” she said. “That’s exactly what we’ve been working for two years and now this is our big moment.”