When I marched on Parliament Hill

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It was 40 years ago next month that I decided to have a really adventurous summer. For the princely sum of $75/week, I joined the Governor General’s Foot Guards for the summer, and was in the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and took part in sentry duty at Rideau Hall.

Our basic training began at CFB Petawawa on 3 May, and the first ceremony took place on 24 June. It went on until Labour Day, and we were stationed at CFB Rockcliffe during that time. The GGFG, together with the Canadian Grenadier Guards from Montreal, formed the Canadian Forces Public Duties Detachment that was charged with organizing the event. We were all post-secondary students, all male, with some NCOs from the regular forces that had the grim duty of drilling us into shape.

What do I remember of those days? The basic training was rough, and we didn’t get our first pay until six weeks in. On the other hand, the wet mess was cheap – I do remember Canadian Club rye being sold as a premium shot for 45 cents! (That was before the CRA started forcing the Forces to pay excise duties and HST.) I also remember being compelled to donate blood for the first time, with RSM Landry exclaiming to us all, “You will give blood!” And then we went to the wet mess afterwards, because the rumour was out that the alcohol would hit the blood stream faster. I can assure you the rumour was correct, but not as it was so dramatically put. And the songs we sang – the English ones were truly ribald, but the French ones were much more musical, and this one still stands out:

Chevaliers de la table ronde,
Goûtons voir si le vin est bon;
(Repeat)
Goûtons voir, oui, oui, oui,
Goûtons voir, non, non, non,
Goûtons voir si le vin est bon.
(Repeat, ending with slightly different melody, before proceeding to the next verse)

There are some renditions of this that can be found on Youtube, but they are rather slow and folksy. I would recommend ♩=90 as a good beat, with an enthusiastic crowd in the bar.

I also recall the time we staged a performance of our ceremony for the veterans that were receiving treatment at the former National Defence Medical Centre. When we were talking with some of them afterwards, it turned out that many were veterans of the Boer War. Their memories were still excellent, and one of them entertained us with his singing of “The British Grenadiers“:

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

There was also the experience of being invited by the Governor GeneralRoland Michener at that time – to attend a garden party at Rideau Hall. A different experience for me, to be bumping into what are now called the 1%.

There have been changes since to how the event is organized:

I’ve always wondered what happened to all those reprobates I was associated with back then. I’ve never heard tell of any reunions, but it would be interesting to find out some day.

Reflections on the Fragrant Harbour

It’s a dreary day here, raining with the prospect of the temperature dropping to freezing by evening. Ah, such is April in Toronto…

It was around this time in 2004 that I ventured for vacation to the other side of the world – to Hong Kong (香港, being the “fragrant harbour” of the title). I have always liked to vacation abroad for my holidays, but the pound and the euro were getting quite expensive at that time, and the airfares and hotel rates in China were really a bargain in comparison. I had also not taken a vacation in a year and a half, and a break was definitely in order.

And I was amazed. It was an Air Canada flight, switching planes at Vancouver, and the headwinds did slow us down on the way over. We arrived at Hong Kong International Airport (Chek Lap Kok, or 赤鱲角) at 7:15pm on 20 April, cleared Immigration and Customs, took the Airport Express to Central, the shuttle service to the Excelsior Hotel at Causeway Bay, checked in, and flopped down on my hotel room bed. At 8:45pm! Something was definitely going right.

The following seven days did not disappoint. Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Lantau, the various parts of the New Territories – I covered them all. And I fell in love with the territory. I returned every year until 2007, adding trips to Macau, Taipei and Shanghai along the way. My admiration for the Middle Kingdom only grew, and it blossomed into several wonderful friendships, leading to my marriage in 2008.Image

After marrying Jennifer, we went again for me to meet the in-laws in Beijing and Harbin in 2009, around the Lunar New Year. And the adventure continues.