I friggin’ hate big hurrah, flag-waving holidays. I love my country, but can’t stand the amateur hour of piling millions of people out in the sun, letting them get shitfaced, some for the first time, then trying to get home in that mess after an afternoon of piss-poor entertainment. Even the small intimate BBQ setting turns into a shit show most times. We found this great guide put together by our good pal Di Golding,when she wrote for heartattakfilms.com, on the do’s and don’ts if you do feel the need to venture out into this bullshit. She is a wicked talent and you can catch her now over at dearcastandcrew.com, as well as ottawamagazine.com, where she is taking over the internet one word at a time.
My advice, enjoy the day off. Have a quiet drink or two with a few close, mild-mannered friends, and leave the sunstroke to the idiots. If you happen to live in Ottawa and have a balcony anywhere near the downtown area, then sit back and enjoy the show; and I’m talking about the shitty stage part or the ‘Hill fireworks either. – FATS)
As much as Canadians hate to admit it, many stereotypes about us are true; we say “sorry” like it’s punctuation, we put maple syrup on everything, and our politetness can almost be mistaken for mockery. But on one day a year, we allow ourselves to submit to the kind of unabashed bacchanalia that other less modest countries simply refer to as ‘Friday’. Nothing brings out our country’s inner Rob Ford quite like Canada Day in the National Capital.
I was a bartender in Ottawa for fifteen years. I spent the best Canada Days of my life witnessing people at their very worst, and what I tell you is based on personal and professional experience and, more regrettably, on sights I can never unsee.
Because common sense is a flower that does not grow in everyone’s garden, I’ve compiled a handy guide for you to navigate the madness that is our country’s biggest party. Most of what follows can be taken as just sound life advice. When I say “don’t be a dick”, I mean not just to fellow partyers and bar staff, but to yourself, too. It’s okay to have fun, just not at the expense of the other 99,999 people (give or take) around you. What I tell you might just save you from being filmed doing something disgraceful. But probably not, because YOLO, or whatever it is you kids say these days.
1. Be Prepared
Go to the bank machine the night before, or even better, go to a bank machine outside the Parliament Hill area, because by 2pm, all (three) ATM’s in the Market will be out of money, or will have become makeshift toilets, most likely both. I know what you’re thinking, “But I don’t need to go to the bank machine, I can just use my debit/credit card wherever I go.” Employing that logic, you could also use your roommate’s toothbrush to clean your bathroom floors, but it takes too damn long and you will end up being universally despised. On Canada Day cash is king. Cabbies, bartenders, dudes on bikes pulling coolers full of water and the guy selling those stupid glowing necklaces your girlfriend wants don’t give a fuck about your aero points plan.
Women: bring kleenex with you unless you enjoy letting your labes drip dry like you’re at goddamn Woodstock. Toilets will be out of paper by noon, and even if the management has put out extra rolls in anticipation, some poorly raised moron will have decided to wad it all up and force it down the sink drain before turning the tap on full blast and walking away. In my 19 years in the service industry I saw some disgusting things, but the level of nasty found in the women’s lav at the end of the night never failed to both offend and impress me. Drunk chicks are pigs.
Bring snacks. Cliff Bars, fruit roll ups, a friggin’ apple, anything portable, because by the time you realize you’re hungry, find a restaurant, get a table, peruse the menu and actually get served, Beyonce will have put out a new album. If you have food allergies, forget it. The regular menu does not apply on Canada Day because the kitchen simply cannot keep up with the demands of anything more than a few easily prepared items. The abridged menu will have nothing you really want and it will be at least three times more expensive than your first car. Expect fries, nachos, poutine, wings, fries, burger and fries, chicken fingers and fries and also fries. You might find bruschetta for the vegetarians but it’s just as likely you’ll see a unicorn riding a beaver dressed as a Mountie. If you are gluten intolerant just kill yourself. Oh, and today, of all days you don’t get to complain about how long anything takes. If you do, your server will give you a look that seems to say, “I’m doing the best I can” but really means, “It’s Canada Day in the Nation’s Capital, fuckstick, what did you think was going to happen?”
2. Dress appropriately.
Bros: You are not Captain Canada so please stop wearing the flag as a cape. At best it shows a painful lack of imagination and at worst it’s disrespectful. If you must go shirtless, consider a fake maple leaf tattoo, a real maple leaf tattoo, or possibly all the unfortunate life events that lead to the false assumption that being half naked and sweaty in a crowd of a hundred thousand people is a considerate thing to do. If you truly love Canada, you won’t let its flag get dragged on the ground, puked on, pissed on or tripped over. You can walk into any store right now and get Canada Day swag for less than the price of a double-double. If it gets ruined, you can throw it away at the end of the night. But our flag deserves a better fate than that of a disposable diaper.
Native American Headdresses. Don’t. The hipster in Wayfarer knock-offs and a traditional feathered war-bonnet from Urban Outfitters is an ignorant trend that has popped up in the last half decade and needs to end now. It wasn’t cute at Coachella circa ’09, or on Pharrell Williams’ cover of UK Elle magazine, or on any number of ass-hats trying to give off a sweet summer vibe. There are all kinds of ridiculous arguments people will use – “I think they are beautiful”, “I’m part Native so it’s okay”, “I’m wearing it to honour Native people” – but none are valid. Headdresses are considered sacred and are worn at specific ceremonies by a very select few who have earned that privelege. If you truly admire the culture, maybe you should sit the festivities out, stay home and learn a little bit about it. I suggest starting here.
If there are any little kids reading this, and Christ, I hope not, heed my advice; if you want to ensure a lifetime of employment, become a podiatrist. By the time you go into practice, there will be a generation of limping souls lined up outside your door, aching from years of wearing flip-flops. Flip-flops are an abomination at the best of times, but if you wear them to what is essentially a drunken zombie apocalypse, you deserve whatever you get. You’d be better off walking into a pharmacy and grabbing a couple of those free health brochures about Hepatitis that they keep on a carousel near the hearing aids, and strapping them onto your feet with hair elastics. At least the brochures are trying to protect you. The ground will be littered with broken glass, sticky red Solo cups, dog shit, unextinguished cigarettes and any matter of effluvia that would make a Mumbai plumber gag. You might get lucky and just end up with a broken sandal and impetigo. Or you might end up with pulpy, bloody stumps and for the rest of your life you will have to come up with some elaborate lie to describe what happened to you because, “I wore flip-flops to Parliament Hill on Canada Day” will be too embarrassing to admit.
3. Leave the strollers at home.
If you’ve read this far and you aren’t nodding to yourself in agreement when you see #3 up there, maybe parenting isn’t for you. Ottawa is family-friendly almost to a fault, but especially on Canada Day, where there are any number of events and activities taking place in more age-appropriate surroundings than the bloated frat party that is Parliament Hill. Here’s a helpful list.
Bringing a kid in a stroller to The Hill on the busiest day of the year is pretty much the equivalent of pushing it through an overcrowded prison yard. In Mexico. If your kid doesn’t get alcohol, urine, vomit or cigarette ashes all over itself while simultaneously being bumped into every five seconds by drunk people who (quite rightly) don’t expect to have to look out for a stroller, it will definitely end up with infant PTSD and whiplash. And if you are fortunate enough to make it home later, don’t be surprised if the inside of the stroller looks like the chum bucket from Jaws.
Dog-owners, same goes for you. If the mob mentality and pavement abbatoir I described above doesn’t convince you to leave your dog safe at home, maybe you should put on your Michael Vick jersey and go sit in a hot car with all the windows up so you can ponder responsible pet ownership.
4. Practice Proper Bar Etiquette
Again, this is just good advice any day of the year, but especially on Canada Day, when most bar staff will work 12-14 hours minimum. If you think the staff will make a killing in tips on the busiest day of the year you’d be dead wrong. They will work twice as hard for half the money and here’s why: the bar is full of tourists who have absolutely no loyalty to the place but have one simple mission statement; to get pissed as fast as possible as cheaply as possible.
If you learn only one thing in your entire life it should be this: If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to drink. Period. Stay home, get pissed on Night Train, make a mess and clean it up yourself. I get that you’re on vacation, and counting your pennies, but if you don’t factor gratuities into your budget, you will not have a good time. You will get served once, but you probably won’t get served again. Like Santa Claus or your first grade teacher, bartenders see everything. Even though you waited til our backs were turned to leave us a quarter, we will instinctively develop a case of selective blindness. You can lean over the bar, wave money around like a jackass and even holler to get our attention, but it won’t matter because you’ve become a ghost. Even Beetlejuice won’t appear if you say his name three times, you know why? Because a quarter isn’t a tip. It’s a fucking quarter.
Doorways, bottom of the stairs, top of the stairs and the server’s station. Don’t stand there.
Concerning behaviour, most bars have a zero tolerance policy at the best of times, but on Canada Day, the slightest infraction will get you thrown out. There are literally thousands of people waiting to get inside so we don’t need to put up with your shit. The staff is sweaty, weary, wired on too many cups of coffee and is just waiting for an excuse to rid the place of one more asshole. If you do anything, anything the staff doesn’t like, you will be out on your ass. And your friends probably won’t follow you because it took them too long to get in and get served in the first place.
If you get thrown out, accept it and move on. There are street parties and beer tubs and numerous other bars where you can get your fix on Canada Day. We don’t want to hear your side of the story, we don’t want an apology and we don’t care who you know that works there. Here’s something a bartender or doorman has never said to anyone ever: “Oh, now that I’ve heard your nuanced and logical version of events I’d like to give you a second chance. We were wrong and you were right. Come on back in!”
5. Wear suncreen, or a hat, and drink lots of water. The worst way to honour this great country of ours is by needlessly burdening our much beloved yet moribund health care system with an unnecessary ER trip for sunstroke or dehydration that could have easily been avoided.
6. Don’t get arrested.
You’re probably laughing right now, because it seems like such obvious advice that surely you would never need. But on Canada Day – in the crowd, in the bars, in line at the McDonalds – shit can go pear-shaped so fast that you won’t even know what happened. What I said about bars having a zero tolerance policy applies to the cops as well. When the two work in concert, well, it’s like watching ballet. One of my favourite Canada Day stories started with a tiny drunk chick being refused service. Not getting thrown out, mind you, just not being allowed to consume alcohol. Instead of drinking the water she was offered she smashed it on the ground and proceeded to tell the doorman some horrible things about his mother. As he struggled to get her outside while she kicked his shins, a cruiser pulled up. The cop jumped out of the car, pulled her off the doorman and tried to calm her down and for his trouble got her fist in his face. The cop swung her around to put her in a hold and – I swear I remember this part happening in slow motion – her purse whipped around with her, opened up and released from it’s depths a ping-pong ball-sized wad of cocaine that glowed like a comet as it trailed across the dark night sky. So now, instead of just sipping her water quietly then going home to reenact the final scene from Scarface, she was face down on the hood of a Crown Vic. Remember that ATM-toilet I described earlier? Imagine that 8 by 8 room crammed full of the worst kind of jag-offs all wearing cape flags, native headdresses and flip flops. But minus the ATM and with more vomit and urine, because that’s what the drunk tank on Canada Day looks like. You don’t want to go there.
PROUD TO BE CANADIAN by DAYGLO ABORTIONS
Here are some of the things you will probably lose on Canada Day;
Your phone, your purse, your friends, your virginity, your patience, your balance, your hotel key, your dignity, your sense of direction, your ability to make good decisions, your inhibitions, your shoes, and control of your bladder. BUT, Canada Day in the Nation’s Capital is something you have to do at least once, and if you want it to, can be one of the best experiences of your life. I’d love to be able to tell you that it’s a party you will never forget, but the reality is, it’s a party you will never remember.