Author Archive

EVENTS: A-hoy Sailors! It’s National Capital Regatta weekend!

Photo by David Trattles

The National Capital Regatta, this weekend on August 9 & 10 at Britannia Yacht Club. Photo by David Trattles

All aboard
This year marks the 57th anniversary of the National Capital Regatta, which draws participants from as far away as Montreal and Toronto, as well as local sailing enthusiasts, to the Britannia Yacht Club. Held on August 9 and 10, it is considered a major event in the eastern Ontario sailing circuit, as well as one of the best multi-class regattas in Canada. Last year over 100 people took part. The fun, family-friendly weekend attracts sailors of all ages and abilities — plus plenty of water-loving spectators. “People are welcome to come down and watch the races,” says race chairman Tom Clairmont. Take in the action from the comfort of the clubhouse, or cheer on the racers from the water — just stay clear of the course itself.

On course
Races are craft-specific, and because the regatta is open to many kinds of boats, three courses are designed. For example, all Lasers compete in one course, three-person Y-Flyers compete in another, and a special course is designed for windsurfers. All races take place simultaneously, but each course has a designated race officer to watch out for actions, such as false starts, that might disqualify a crew. Inflatable red buoys mark the route but can be moved if winds change drastically. Each course takes between 20 and 40 minutes to complete, depending on conditions, and winners are based on best average rank over multiple races.

Watching the wind
Last year, very high winds on the first day of the regatta caused many of the larger boats to capsize. On the second day, the opposite occurred: low winds left some boats with nothing to fill their sails and some needed to be towed to shore. That’s part of the thrill of the weekend, but it can be an organizer’s worst nightmare. The event gives the Britannia club a chance to iron out the kinks in their course for the 24-foot sailing yachts before hosting the world championships in 2015.

Photo by David Trattles

Photo by David Trattles

PROFILES: Brooke Henderson — PGA Women’s Champ, Canada


(Previously published in Summer 2014 edition Ottawa Magazine)


Amateur golf champion from Smith Falls, Brooke Henderson ranks second in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Photo by Bernard Brault

At 16, Brooke Henderson is considered one of Canada’s brightest golf stars. The Smiths Falls native is an average teenager in many ways, but her drive and passion are the envy of many twice her age. Lisa Wallace catches up with the young golf phenom, who is currently ranked second in the world as a female amateur.

When did you start playing golf?
I started playing for fun when I was three and first started playing competitively when I was nine.

What drew you to golf?
I grew up watching my sister, Brittany, who is six years older. I’ve always looked up to her and would watch her play, so when I was really young, I grabbed a club. My dad used to play, too, so he got us both into it.

Do you play other sports?
I used to play hockey. I was a goalie and I really enjoyed it. I played until I was 14, but then I made the Canadian national [golf] team and I was always travelling, so it made it hard on my team — and me — to be committed to both. I decided just to go with golf.

How do you like to spend your down time?
I love spending time at my cottage. Spending time with my family and friends. I love swimming and playing golf. I always have fun when I play.

You committed to the University of Florida for your college education. How do you juggle training with your schoolwork as a grade 11 student?
I go to Smiths Falls Collegiate, and last semester I took two classes there and three classes online. All my teachers are very supportive and really help me catch up when I travel. I love going to school, so it’s fun to still be able to take part in that and still practise and play golf.

What is your favourite golf moment to this point in your career?
Last year I got to play in the U.S. Open and made the cut and had my sister caddy for me. I got to play with Morgan Pressel, who I really looked up to, in the third round and had a lot of family and friends there to watch. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it.

What are your goals for this upcoming season?
I would like to keep in the top three in the world on the amateur rankings this summer and keep working to get to the top of the leader board. I want to qualify for the U.S. Open again, and at the end of the summer, there’s the World Amateur Championship in Japan, where I would like to contend for the championship.

How challenging is it to work on your game considering the harsh winter climate you have to deal with living in Smiths Falls?
It is challenging, but sometimes it’s nice to get that break because of the weather and you get to relax a bit. This past winter I spent two months in Florida. When I’m home, there’s an indoor golf school here in Smiths Falls that I can practise at. Sometimes I wish I was down South all winter, but I love being from the Ottawa area.

What do you love most when you’re on the course?
I love how quiet it is. I love early-morning tee times, when the dew is on the grass and you can smell how fresh everything is and all the little animals running around. Even if you’re having a bad day, you can think through all your problems and be relaxed. It’s just so nice to be out there.

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Is it ever too late to make amends? PLUS comforting apple cake


By Barbara Sibbald


—   What about me? Fiona asks her dad.

—   Do you think I neglected you too? he asks.

—   Let’s sit down a minute. The dishes can wait. Would you like some Glenmorangie? Or Bowmore?

—   How about another wee piece of that apple cake*, says her dad. It’s really delicious.

—   I’m glad you like it, says Fiona. She decides not to mention that it’s her mother’s recipe.

She sets the plate in front of him.

—   Thanks, he says, taking up his fork. So, do you think I neglected you too?

—   It was a bit different for me, says Fiona. I was in my last year of high school when you left, so I was ready to go anyway. Though I did have to listen to Mom complaining about you for six months or so. She was such a mess when you left. She just couldn’t accept any responsibility.

—   And do you see her role?

—   Sure, I do now, in hindsight. But at the time, it was all pretty bitter and she didn’t hold back with me — probably because I was older than Neil and I was her daughter. She talked about everything: your sex life, your drinking, your flirting. All of it. I had to hate you. That was the choice she gave me: hate you or hate her. And since I was living with her at the time, I had to take her side. Besides, she was so pitiful.

—   And now? What do you think of her now?

—   She’d drive a saint to drink! She’s so negative. And it’s quite incredible how self-centred she is. You know, when Neil tried to commit suicide, all she could think about was getting to her bridge club. Oh and the cost of the taxi.

—   And what do you think of me?

—   I don’t really know you that well. I mean, I was surprised that you even did the dishes.

—   We really haven’t had much to do with each other for what, 25 years?

—   Yeah, she says.

There is a long pause. What am I supposed to say now? wonders Fiona. That he was a crappy father? That I’ll never forgive him? Her dad swirls his scotch.

—    And what about Gavin? he asks, obviously anxious to change the topic as well. You’d like him in the will too?

—   I don’t know about the will, I expect you’ll live a long time, but we could use some help with his education fund. We’ve saved a bit, but we bought the house and Gavin will have tuition, books…. It’s all really expensive now, not like when Neil and I were in school. Plus, if he goes to another city and needs living expenses…. Well, we won’t have enough. I’d hate to see him graduate with debt.

—   It would be nicer if he graduated with a little nest egg to get him started.

—   Well, that would be ideal. There are sometimes a lot of expenses after university: a car, moving, all that. But I’m more concerned about university itself.

—   And how much will Gavin contribute?

—   He’s already got summer work and he’s only fourteen. He’s got something lined up at the corner store, stacking shelves and cleaning and stuff. Plus he’s got a regular Saturday night gig, babysitting a little boy around the corner. That kid adores Gavin, and he’s so sweet with him.

—   Well, so long as he’s putting in some money too. You always did. I think it works out better when the kid is investing too.

—   Yeah. People appreciate things more when they have to contribute.

The thought of Lorelei’s lay-about kids flashes through Fiona’s mind, but she opts not to say anything. No sense in antagonizing Dad.

—   Don’t worry about Gavin, Dad. He’s a hard worker, a straight-A student. He doesn’t know what he wants to study yet, but I’m sure he’ll want to get his undergrad at least.

—   And what do you think I should do about Lorelei’s kids?

Ah, so he’s asking.

scrambled-eggs—   I’m not saying you should shut them out, says Fiona, cautiously, but if Lorelei stands to get the bulk of your estate, and if it’s well invested, there shouldn’t be a problem.

—   That’s not the way she sees it, he says in a soft voice.

Fiona glances at his profile, taking in the flapping jowls and pouches under his eyes. When did he get so old? she wonders. Lorelei’s really doing a number on him.

—   Maybe you could sit down with an accountant or a mediator and hash it out, she says. Find something that’s fair for everyone.

—   I like the mediation model, he says, suddenly brisk and professional, losing a decade in five words.

—   I wish mediation had been more mainstream when I was practicing full time. It can save so much time — court time and lawyer time. Plus money.

—   And it removes the emotional stuff. It’s logical and fair, says Fiona, but she wonders: is he truly going to stick up for Neil?

—   Do you agree that Neil needs your help? she asks.

—   Yes, yes, I know that living with his mom wouldn’t be healthy for him. It certainly wasn’t for me!

He chuckles, then catches himself, perhaps realizing that making fun of Fiona’s mother might offend her. He glances at Fiona: she’s grinning at him. He smiles at her.

—    And I’d really love to be able to help Gavin, too, he says. He’s my only grandchild, after all, and I haven’t actually spent much time with him.

No time, thinks Fiona, but she bites her tongue. He pauses.

—   That’s one of the things about getting old: all the regrets, a lifetime of regrets come home to pummel your heart.

—   Well, here’s your chance to do something about it, says Fiona.

—   And it’s because of you. Your courage in writing that letter and trying to put things right. Thank you, Fiona.

She pats his hand.

—   You’re welcome, Dad.


*Apple cake with hot caramel sauce

½ cup pecans

5 medium apples, to yield 1 ½ cups chopped (use firm applies like Northern Spy or McIntosh)

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup flour


Caramel sauce:

½ cup butter

1 cup light brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup evaporated milk



Whipped cream

Fresh unpeeled apple slices


  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Place pecans in food processor and process until fine (or finely chop).
  3. Peel, core and quarter apples. Place in food processor and process until medium (or chop).
  4. Place butter in large bowl, add sugar and beat by hand or with mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until blended. Add soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and mix quickly. Add the flour and just blend, then fold in the apples and nuts.
  5. Pour mixture into greased 9-inch-round cake pan and bake 30 minutes (or until the top springs back when touched). Cool slightly. Centre may sink a bit, but don’t worry.
  6. Make the caramel sauce: melt butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a bowl, stir mixture with a whisk. Remove from heat, add vanilla and milk. Stir with whisk.
  7. Serve: Cut the cake into eight wedges. Ladle a large spoonful of hot sauce on to each wedge. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and two apple slices.


Note: The sauce can be made ahead of time and reheated over hot water. A refrigerated cake will keep for a week.


KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Gavin helps when a woman is hit by a car. PLUS elegant green beans on endive

By Barbara Sibbald

The Accident

—   That’s delicious salad*, says Trish, putting down her fork. I’m still starving all the time.

She pats her protruding tummy.

—   He’s insatiable!

—   You look fabulous, Trish. And you don’t seem to have gained too much.

—   No, I’m good. Hey, I’ve been talking about myself all through dinner. What’s up with you?

—   I’m in shock, says Fiona. I got an email from Dad today, telling me he’s coming to town next week.

—   Your dad? says Trish. I’ve never even met him. And I’ve known you how long? Twelve years?scrambled-eggs

—   More like fifteen. I can’t remember the last time he came here, says Fiona. I saw him maybe two years ago, when I went to that magazine conference in Vancouver. But now he’s been invited to a meeting here, all expenses paid, to be part of an advisory group on the Young Offenders Act. It was his specialty, even though he’s retired now.

—   So where are you meeting him?

—   Here. For dinner on Wednesday night. We thought that would be best so he could see the new house and spend some time with Gavin — although that’s never really seemed to be a priority for him. Plus, we can have some time to talk without waiters hovering.

—   Didn’t you get some nasty letter from him?

—    Yeah, his will. He basically left everything to his new wife, Lorelei. I talked to a mediator and sent him a letter saying that I understand that he needs to take care of her, but I pointed out that Neil’s in a bad way and that it would be great to have an educational fund for Gavin. There’s plenty for everyone.

—   What about you and Luc?

—   I left us out of it. We’ll pay down the mortgage eventually and Luc has a good pension coming.

—   Well, that seems fair enough, I wonder….

Gavin slams through the screen door; Fiona notices at once how pale he is.

— I need a mom hug, he says.

—   Honey! Fiona puts her arms around him, pleased at being wanted by her fourteen-year-old son, but alarmed too.

—    What’s wrong? Are you okay? she asks.

—   I saw an accident, he stammers. A woman. And she got run over. Her whole body. She screamed and screamed.

He is weeping now.

—   Sit down, sit down, honey.

Fiona sits across from him, holding his hand.

—   Start at the beginning. Take a deep breath and tell me what happened. Trish, could you get a glass of water?

—   I was coming home from the concert, walking down Albert to catch a bus, and this car comes whipping out of an underground garage, going way too fast, and hits this woman. Runs right over her. And I run to help, but all at once there’s a crowd of people. Someone’s talking to the woman, someone’s calling an ambulance on their cell. Then I see this man to the side; he’s crying and shaking and I think, that’s her husband, so I go over to him. I don’t know what to do, so I ask, is that your wife? And he nods and there are tears all over his face, so I tell him everything’s going to be okay. People are looking after her, an ambulance is coming.

Gavin takes a sip of water. Fiona squeezes his hand.

—   That was kind of you.

—   Then this little boy comes and tugs at the man’s coat: Dad, Dad! He’s crying. Then the boy just walks away. So I ask the man if I should go look after his son, because obviously he can’t. And he looks me right in the eyes and says, Please, please. So I go over to the boy and crouch down beside him, blocking his view of the accident. And I ask him questions to distract him: Where do you live? How old are you? — he was six. And then he yells: I want my mom! I want my mom! So I tell him, your mom’s okay. Everyone is looking after her. Then I start asking him other questions, like what’s his favourite subject in school and does he have pets. Then the ambulance comes and they load the woman in, and I’m still trying to distract Joel, the little boy. Then the father comes for Joel and they get into the ambulance and they just drive away. And I started walking really fast, thinking about Joel and what his life will be like if his mom dies. It could have been me that got hit. Another thirty seconds and it would have been me. Or Joel. He’s only six.

Fiona puts her arms around him.

IMG_4300—   Thank God, you’re alright, Gavin. And I’m so proud of you, helping like that. You did the best thing you could’ve done looking out for the little lad. It’s so horrible.

She looks into her son’s pale face, trying to assess the damage.

—   Mom, what about the woman? Do you think she’ll be okay?

—   Maybe there’ll be an article in the paper tomorrow. If she was talking and everything, well, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. But you did the right thing. You did all you could, and a lot more than other people would have done.

Gavin says nothing.

—   You’re mom’s right, says Trish.

Gavin looks at her, aware for the first time that she’s in the room and feels embarrassed by his tears, his reaction. Trish is his mom’s friend but she’s closer to his age, and he’s always felt a bit attracted to her.

—   I’m going to take a shower, he says.

Fiona nods. I’ll make you a cocoa, she says.

—   I’m not a baby, he says. I’ll be okay.

He stomps up the stairs.

—   He’ll be okay, Trish says to Fiona. It’s just the shock

—   I’ll go up when he’s out of the shower, says Fiona.

She pauses.

—   He’s right though, it could have been him. One minute you’re complaining about a dull concert and — she snaps her fingers — like that, your life can change forever. Good thing Dad’s coming next week.


*Green beans on endive

Serves 4


1 pound green beans

1 head Belgian endive

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon oregano

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ to ½ cup diced red onion (to taste)


  1. Wash and trim beans. Cook in a large pot of boiling salted water, in batches, until tender-crisp (6 to 8 minutes) Drain and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry. Refrigerate until serving time.
  2. Wipe and separate endive leaves. Wrap in paper towels and refrigerate until serving time.
  3. Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, mayo, garlic, oregano, sugar and salt and pepper until smooth. Stir in onion.
  4. An hour before serving, pour dressing over beans and gently toss.

To serve, arrange endive leaves around the edge of large serving plate, and pile the beans in the centre. Or, serve the beans on endive leaves. Beautiful either way!

FROM THE PRINT EDITION: The pills, thrills, and chills of an MDMA trip

The popularity of electronic music in Ottawa is rising — as is its go-to drug, MDMA. This article, in which author David Meffe explores the local scene following the tragic death of a friend, first appeared in OTTAWA Magazine’s May issue. We’re releasing it online following two recent drug-related incidents in the city. 


I was on the dance floor when the drugs kicked in. Caught between the elevated DJ booth and a crowd of hundreds, I was aware that something primal was happening in my body, in my brain. I had taken the pill almost an hour earlier, and the telltale signs were manifesting in the tips of my fingers.

Barrymore’s Music Hall on Bank Street was packed solid: punks, ravers, hipsters, jocks, students, greasers, preps — you name it. German electro-trance duo Cosmic Gate had just commandeered the booth to the rising shouts and screams of the audience begging for what they had paid to hear.

Just about everybody was on something, but MDMA — an amphetamine better known as ecstasy — was electro’s all-powerful soup du jour, the raver’s panacea. Pills, caps, or powder, it was everywhere — in pockets, under tongues, on gums, up noses, and in drinks.

I had spent the past hour misinterpreting every shiver I felt as a manifestation of the drug, but doubt evaporated as my senses aggressively sharpened against a rapidly revolving whetstone in my mind. Movements felt exaggerated and elongated, as if they were expressions of a buried instinct.

Cramped together in our communal womb, floating in the nurturing amniotic fluid of bass and electronic sounds, our tribe was moving in unison. Every brush against my skin was a cascade of warmth, a bathing baptism of the cortex, an orgasm of the mind. Flashing lights danced around my dilated pupils, and I lost myself, feeling content to stay there forever if need be.

The side effects I had feared — hallucinations, paranoia, grogginess — were absent. No stifling feelings of deep synthetic insight or forced introspective revelations, just an overwhelming feeling of oneness with the grinding mass. It felt like an endless rabbit hole of unbridled euphoria, an overarching sense that whatever we were doing was right, that nothing could ever be wrong as long as we all kept dancing. But only if it was with others; oh God, I couldn’t do it alone.

At that time, I had no idea that in a few months, the death of a friend would expose the narrow line that separates youthful excess and the dark side of amphetamine use, the short ride from a rave to the grave.

Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia

Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia

Ottawa + Electro + MDMA
Music and drugs have always seen eye to eye, but if MDMA married electro music, Ottawa — despite a short stint in the rave days of the 1990s — showed up late to the reception, long after regular party guests (i.e., Toronto and Montreal) had already passed out drunk at the bar.

Over the past five years, Ottawa has found itself an emerging hotbed for electronic-music concerts. Top artists who previously ignored the nation’s sleepy capital in favour of more established party hubs are beginning to recognize the interest in their brand of music. The summer Escapade Music Festival, which started in 2010, has now become a Canada Day staple that draws concertgoers from across the province to see iconic acts such as DJ Tiesto, Deadmau5, and Avicii.

“More people are willing to come to the city, artists we originally thought would never want to,” says Maninder Virk, of Ottawa-based concert promoter DNA Presents, the company behind Escapade. He says agents are beginning to trust that promoters can ensure a packed audience when their headliners take the booth.

“When people see that Ottawa can sustain a large atmosphere and has a lot of support for the electronic movement, we’re only going to keep getting bigger concerts,” says Virk. “You’re going to see more electronic music incorporated into events like Bluesfest.”

My own MDMA trip started on a street corner — one hand held the ubiquitous raver’s water bottle, the other fidgeted nervously. It was time to take the dive. I kept looking at my chest, where a little plastic bag lay in my left breast pocket.

Read the rest of this entry »

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Will Anne be able to forgive Fiona’s betrayal? PLUS rave reviews for this Caribbean shrimp appetizer.


By Barbara Sibbald



Fiona’s stomach turns. Do I need to go to the bathroom again? she wonders. Was it was a mistake inviting Anne over to the house? Maybe we should have met at a café. Neutral space. She sighs. But Anne agreed to come. Via email. We haven’t talked in nearly a month, Fiona realizes.

Her stomach flips again. What if Anne’s still angry? What if she thinks Luc was insincere, if he apologized to her just because I was so upset.

Her thoughts are interrupted by a tap at the screen.

—   Anne, with a tan! Fiona says with a big smile. She opens the door, beckoning her long-time friend to come in.

—   You look fabulous!

And she does. Her golden skin shows off her blonde curls and her green eyes sparkle.

—   Hi Fee, Anne says, stepping into the kitchen. Tuscany was spectacular!

—   That’s great. Have a seat. Red? It’s a Masi.

—   Thanks. Another taste of Italy.

—   So it was a good holiday?

—   It was a great holiday! We took it easy instead of our usual binge-tourism. Hung out in outdoor cafes, watching people, chatting. Walked for hours. Sat in parks and gardens. We did go to galleries and museums, but we limited ourselves to just a floor or a couple of rooms each day. You actually appreciate and remember what you see. It really worked well.

—   Where did you stay?

—   We were south of Siena, in a small old hotel plopped in the middle of a vineyard. We’d walk through it and on the other side there were these dusty olive trees. We had rented a car so we took in a lot of the sights: San Gimignano, olive groves, an old spa.

—   It sounds divine. Try some of the shrimp. Candace’s recipe.

—   Oh, I love that. And how are things with you, Fee?


Fiona hesitates but opts to plunge into dangerous territory.

—   I won’t pretend I haven’t missed you, Anne. And I’ve been horribly upset by how I behaved. Luc talked to you?

—   Yeah, he did, but it took me a while to process it all. Going away was a good idea in so many ways. I talked to Georges about it as well. He agrees he put Luc in a really awkward situation, and that telling him was a mistake.

—   Really, he said that?

—   Yeah. You know Georges is really making an effort. He was so kind and attentive to me on the holiday. He even bought me a guilt ring.


She flashes an emerald and diamond beauty.

—   It’s gorgeous, says Fiona, catching Anne’s hand. The green is stunning — matches your eyes.

—   Thanks, Fee, she says. More important, it wasn’t just a meaningless gesture. Now that we’re home — well, we just seem to be on a different footing. Early days yet, and we’re still in couples therapy and he’s in individual therapy, which is good, but things seem to be sorting themselves out.

—   Oh Anne, I am so glad things are on the mend. But I still feel horrible about what I did. I feel like I really betrayed you.

—   You did, says Anne simply. Fiona flushes with shame.

—   And I was furious with you at first, then mostly sad and disappointed. But gradually, I realized why you did it. Even if I still think it was wrongheaded, paternalistic….

—   I wanted to protect you, says Fee.

—   I know. I realize that now. And it’s because you care about me.

—   You’re my best friend. But, well, I made a big mistake. A big ethical error. And so did Luc. The right thing to do would have been to tell you the minute we knew. As you said, if the shoe were on the other foot, that’s what I would have wanted.

—   I nearly lost the two people who mean the most to me in the world, says Anne. If I can forgive Georges, I can certainly forgive you and try to move on. I mean, I may have a bit of trouble with trust and it may take a while to get fully back on track, but I think we’re up to the challenge.

—   So do I, Anne. There’s nothing I’d like more.

—   Here’s to a renewed friendship then, says Anne raising her wine glass.

—   And my atonement, says Fiona, clinking. Thank you for giving me another chance, Anne.


*Caribbean Shrimp

- Makes 10 appetizer-type servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 limes, juiced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon hot red paper flakes

¼ cup fresh coriander, washed and minced

2 pounds large tail-on cooked shrimp (thaw, if frozen)

  1. Stir together vegetable oil, ginger, juice of both limes, garlic cloves, soy, sugar and pepper flakes.
  2. Stir in finely chopped coriander and cooked shrimp.
  1. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Stir occasionally.
  2. Place in a shallow plate with toothpicks. Garnish with coriander sprigs.

Thank you to Candace Brookbank for this recipe.

 Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.



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REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA: Because two guys on Parliament Hill have been listening to our secrets for a century

By Cindy Olberg

Sydney Mutendi of Harare, Zimbabwe sits by the Whispering Wall monument on Parliament Hill, May 3rd, 2014.

Sydney Mutendi of Harare, Zimbabwe sits by the Whispering Wall on Parliament Hill, May 3rd, 2014. Photo by Jackson Couse


Perhaps you’ve heard whispers about an unusual monument hidden in plain sight on Parliament Hill. On the east side of the Centre Block, past the statues of the Famous Five and Queen Elizabeth II, there’s a statue referred to as the “whispering wall.”

The Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine memorial, designed by Walter Seymour Allward and built in 1914, is a tribute to two statesmen who worked together to give legislative power to elected assemblies and prove that French and English Canadians could collaborate on political issues.
Often praised for its original curved design, another quality tends to get overlooked: it carries sound. When two people sit at opposite ends of the monument and whisper, they can hear each other — perfectly, as if they were sitting side by side.

According to Craig Merrett, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Carleton University, it’s caused by a phenomenon known as evanescent waves. “Sound waves almost move in a ripple along the surface of the wall, and the person at the other end can hear — with little distortion. With the sound waves moving along the surface of the wall, it actually doesn’t lose its intensity as much as when you normally just talk into open air.”

Students from Sir Guy-Carleton High-school at the Whispering Wall monument commemorating Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolyte Lafontaine, the collaborative Premiers of Upper and Lower Canada. The students, from grades nine through twelve, are on a leadership training scavenger-hunt to Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014. Photo by Jackson Couse.

Students from Sir Guy-Carleton High-school at the Whispering Wall monument commemorating Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolyte Lafontaine, the collaborative Premiers of Upper and Lower Canada. The students, from grades nine through twelve, were on a leadership training scavenger-hunt to Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014. Photo by Jackson Couse.

The effect is fun for passersby, but it’s not an intentional design element. Other famous examples include the dome in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and a dam in Williamstown, Australia – both of which attract tourists with their sound-channeling properties.

Take a friend and experience it for yourself -  tell each other a secret or something nonsensical. But bear in mind: you’ll be doing it under the watchful gaze of two politicians who continue to remind us that communication is the glue that bonds English and French Canadians, whispers and all.

The Novak family of Vancouver - Milan, Marek, and Gabi Novak and their mother, Paula Da Rosa - talk to each other across the Whispering Wall on Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014.

The Novak family of Vancouver – Milan, Marek, and Gabi Novak and their mother, Paula Da Rosa – talk to each other across the Whispering Wall on Parliament Hill, May 4th, 2014. Photo By Jackson Couse.

This REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA is found on Page 17 in the 2014 Summer Issue of Ottawa Magazine, available now at independent local news outlets or at

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Cowboy cuisine from Trish’s Russian pal. PLUS Roast chicken on a vodka bottle


Russian hijinxs

—   Trish! It’s so great to see you. Now I can stop cleaning the damn house!

—   Sorry to just pop by unannounced, Fee, but I was at the market and I just thought I’d see if you were at home.

—   Is something wrong?

—   I’m succumbing to guilt overload. I’ve asked Iryna to leave by Sunday and I’m dodging her!

—   But I thought things were going well.

—   The first few days were great. Last Saturday, we took a long walk along the river and in the evening we sat around talking and drinking shots of vodka. Well, they drank vodka, I had tea.

—   What did you talk about? The political situation? The corruption? That’s what I’d be interested in.

—   Craig too, but she didn’t seem to be interested in politics at all. I think half the reason Craig didn’t make a fuss about her staying was he thought she might give him some insight into what’s going on there. I think she knows a lot, but she skirts his questions, pretends she doesn’t understand. Did you read that article in the Globe a couple of weeks ago about Russia’s nouveau riche and its corrupt bankers? I asked her last week about the banking system, and she pretended she didn’t understand the meaning of “corrupt.”

—   That’s so bizarre.

—   I know! On the one hand, she’ll talk about the hardships now, and how it was better before — under Communism — for the average person; then there was work and food for everyone, all the basics. On the other hand she’s totally loyal to the new system, to the national goals. She’s strident about it, talking about how well they are doing, how rich in resources they are.Russian dolls

—   So nothing about the cowboy capitalism?

—   The Wild West seems to be settling, from what I read. She was a lot more forthcoming on the train. Since she’s been with us, the closest she’s gotten to being critical was on the night of the vodka shooters. Vodka with dill pickle chasers no less. (“Is the Russian way,” she says.) So after about five shots, she admits that the people feel “humiliated.” But then she seemed to immediately regret saying it, but refuses to elaborate. Craig and I talked about it afterward. Our guess is that people feel humiliated because of the failure of communism. Because it didn’t work: with the corruption, the inequity, the brutality under Stalin, people’s innate greed. Yet it seems that, in some ways, people were better off. Free apartments and education, inexpensive cultural events, strong family values and nationalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Trish entertains a surprise visitor from Russia. Plus hearty Ukranian Borscht.

An Actuary from Russia

By Barbara Sibbald


—   So, what’s happening with Anne? asks Trish.

Fiona’s two friends have met a few times, but failed to connect. Anne’s too serious for Trish, not artsy enough. As for Anne, Trish reminds her of her most needy patients. Still, they have a lively interest in each other’s lives, via Fiona.

—   She and Georges have gone away for a couple of weeks, says Fiona. To Paris and then Tuscany. To try to sort things out.

—   Must be nice!

—   Yeah, well, I wish them the best. And I’m really glad Luc had a chance to talk to Anne before they left.

—   What about?

—   He actually apologized for not telling her what he knew, and for putting me in such an awkward situation.

—   Luc apologized, Wow!

Uke Russian Roll

Fiona laughs, but feels a bit miffed by Trish’s insinuation that Luc is incapable of apologizing.


—   He does sometimes, you know. So, what’s up with you?

—   I have a Russian woman coming to stay with us.

—   What? Who? asks Fiona.

—   It just sort of happened, I didn’t plan it, says Trish. I guess I’m too soft-hearted.

—   Or soft-headed, says Fee, grinning.

—   On Sunday, I was coming home on the train from visiting Joanne and I saw an empty seat beside this huge woman. She looked interesting, and it’s a long trip. She’s a giant really, well over six feet, with these huge hands: old Ukrainian stock, it turns out. And she was dressed like she was a hundred and eight: drab grey suit and sturdy scuffed black shoes. Soviet issue I suppose. But it turns out that Iryna’s very well educated — PhD in law — and she’s been sent to Canada by the Russian government to look into types of insurance systems. Think of it, under the Soviet system, there was no insurance. None.

—   Of course. How strange.

—   Yeah, but now people have private property, so suddenly there’s this need. And that’s just one small thing, one thing that we totally take for granted.

—   I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Russia.

—   Me neither. It seems so exotic to me. Chatting with her was like visiting another country: she told me all about things — things you wouldn’t find out even if you visited. She told me about their life, about how, in the old system, personal success was unimportant and personal development meant everything. And how people were so well educated — with two, three degrees. Now illiteracy is a problem. On the plus side, they don’t have to line up for food anymore and can buy anything they want. If they have the money. But of course, most people don’t have the money. Unemployment — another thing that didn’t exist before — is high. And so is crime. And there are people playing instruments in the subway — they might as well be beggars, she said, all disapproving like. But some of them are members of their national orchestra who have to busk because their salaries are so low.

—   That’s just shameful, says Fiona.

—   Especially for Russia, because she says they love art: theatre, ballet, everything. Their metro is filled with sculptures, chandeliers, marble floors. It’s all about the aesthetic, but it’s for everyone, not just the intellectual or social elite, like it is here.

—   What do you mean? We have public galleries?

—   Yeah, but you have to pay to get in. And you and I both know it’s only certain people who go. But in Russia, Moscow anyway, where Iryna lives, the art is everywhere. Banners with poetry on them lining the streets. A sculpture of Pushkin. I mean where’s our sculpture of Birney? Even their chocolate bars wrappers feature iconic paintings. Imagine if Mars bars were wrapped in a Tom Thompson painting!

—   So what did you tell her about Canada?

—   I talked about what it means to be a young country, a country of immigrants. So after all this chat, when we arrive in Ottawa, naturally I offer to give her a lift to her billet. And she asks for my phone number, says she’d like to meet up with me again because I explain things so well. I was flattered, so I gave her my phone number, said we should get together for lunch.

—   And she calls.

—   Of course. She asks me to meet her at her office on the seventh floor of this building on Laurier. So after work, I go to the seventh floor and when I get there, I realize I don’t even know the name of the outfit she’s with. I wander around asking people and, of course, no one’s ever heard of her.

—   Sounds like a scene in a Kafka novel!

—   Yeah! Except this is the twentieth century in Canada. So finally, it dawns on me that I can just call Iryna’s cell. It turns out she’s on the seventeenth floor. She’s holed up with the Canadian Insurer’s Association Anyway, she tells me how much she’s learning and how great it is, and that she’s decided to stay another two weeks. But she has a problem: She can’t stay where she is because it costs too much, and she wants to know if I know of any inexpensive place she might stay, because she doesn’t have very much money.

—   Oooh, tough one!

—   I know! And I’m thinking I’ve become a sort of ambassador of good will for Canada, so before I even think about it — without even asking Craig — I ask if she’d like to stay with us, I have a spare room. Well, it’s supposed to be my office, but I usually take my laptop to the living room anyway. And there is the futon couch in there. Until the crib arrives. So, Irnya accepts; I mean why wouldn’t she?

—   Yikes, what did Craig say when you told him?

—   He was incredulous at first, said I had no right, should have asked him first, et cetera et cetera. Everything I expected him to say, all of which is true. But then when I told him what she’s doing and that she’s respectable and all, well he’s still pissed that I didn’t ask first, but what’s done is done. He came home with a Russian phrase book yesterday, so I think he’s okay with it.

—   When’s she coming?

—   Tomorrow.

—   Maybe she’ll teach you how to make borscht*.

Russian dolls


*Ukranian borscht

Four servings


1 ½ cups potato, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

1 cup sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

1 cup beets, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

2 tablespoons butter

1 ½ cups chopped onion

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Vegetable stock (from cube) to top up beet/potato water to make 4 cups

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 stalk celery, washed and sliced

3 cups cabbage, chopped

black pepper

1 bay leaf

¼ teaspoon dill weed

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey

1 cup tomato puree

sour cream

1 tomato, chopped


  1. Place potatoes and beets into a saucepan, cover with water and boil until tender. Strain, saving the water in a large measuring cup.
  2. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, caraway seeds and salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent.
  3. Top up water from beets and potatoes with vegetable stock, to total 4 cups.
  4. Add stock, celery, carrots and cabbage to pot and cook until vegetables are tender.
  5. Add potatoes, beets, pepper, bay leaf, dill weed, vinegar, honey and puree.
  6. Cover and simmer 30-plus minutes.

To each bowl add a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of dill weed and a couple of tablespoons of chopped tomato.

 Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa MagazineVisit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.