OTTAWA — Jessica Mellor was doing her best to catch her son, Lincoln, running — as toddlers seemingly often do — towards a security gate around the main Canada Day stage on Parliament Hill.
The family made the trek from Sarnia, Ont., for Canada Day, deciding to spend time on Parliament Hill Friday morning before the hoopla of Saturday’s ceremonies.
A family connection to Canadian political history didn’t hurt as well: Lincoln, 2, is named for Lincoln Alexander, the first black Canadian to sit in the House of Commons and first to be a vice regal in the country when became Ontario’s lieutenant-governor in 1985.
The ground was wet, the sky was grey, and the youngest member of the family was dressed in red as he giggled and ran across the lawn, staying a few steps ahead of his mother.
“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 Mellor.
“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.”
The family is among the half a million people expected to jam the downtown of the nation’s capital for a celebration that the government is billing as the largest in the country’s history.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said some 1,000 performers have been involved in celebrations that started on National Aboriginal Day on June 21. There are also events planned in 19 cities and some 2,000 small communities, she said.
“That’s why we say it’s the biggest celebration in 150 years for Canada because there are so many performers and so many celebrations across the country.”
Not everyone will be celebrating. A group of indigenous activists have set up a demonstration teepee on the lawn of Parliament Hill, trying to highlight some of the darker chapters in the country’s history.
The Bawaating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., arrived Wednesday night to erect the teepee and originally the group clashed with police, who arrested nine people and refused to allow the teepee. All nine were later released and the structure was set up close to the main stage as part of what they call a “reoccupation” to draw attention to the history of indigenous people.
The Bawaating Water Protectors are just one of many indigenous groups planning demonstrations this weekend to draw attention to the fact that, for them, there is nothing to celebrate.
On Friday, federal officials were focused on putting the finishing touches of the main stage and the unprecedented security in the surrounding area that has squeezed the usually unfettered access the public has to the lawn of Parliament down to two entry points. Exit points from Parliament Hill are also being tightly controlled.
Many streets around Parliament Hill are now closed and massive concrete barricades have been set up blocking access routes.
A security sweep Friday morning included officers looking into and under the decorative planters which line the roads. At one point during the morning sweep, a security official chided red-shirted personnel for letting a group of people walk past them without being checked; the people in question were Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and two of her staff.
Mid-morning, there were already lineups to get through screening stations to get close to celebrations as security officials used Friday as a run through for tomorrow’s festivities.
“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.”
Jeanne Crowdis said she planned to arrive two hours early on Saturday to get her mother and two children through security. She said being on Parliament Hill for Canada’s sesquicentennial was on her mother’s bucket list, which is why the family came to the capital from Sydney, N.S.
Kyle Mellor said he didn’t mind the extra security, calling the multiple layers comforting.
“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.”
Many downtown workers elected to telecommute rather than brave the maze of road closures, while others hopped on their bikes to avoid traffic snarls.
Tourists dressed in red, or donning some piece of swag with the maple leaf snapped pictures and laughed as heavily-armed police manned security checkpoints.
Workers were busy putting the final touches on the main stage as visitors, who came from across the country and the world, snapped pictures by the centennial flame, hoping to get the large Canada 150 sign hanging over the stage in the background.
Joly described the mood as hectic ahead of Saturday’s events, which will include the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and U2 band members Bono and The Edge, but stressed federal officials are ready in terms of security, organization and the show itself.
“We want people to be able to celebrate and have fun and we want to showcase the best of Canada. That’s exactly what we’ve been working for for two years and now this is our big moment.”
The weather may not be so helpful.
Environment Canada’s forecast for Saturday predicts a mainly cloudy day with rain late morning and the risk of a thunderstorm in the afternoon. At night, there is also a 60 per cent chance of showers or a thunderstorm, which could put a damper on plans for a 20 minute and 17 seconds fireworks display that will use the biggest mortar shells legally allowed in Canada to light up the sky over Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River.
Only lightning or severe rain would put a pause on the Parliament Hill show. Joly said officials will adapt Saturday’s festivities according to the weather.