Sunday, June 27, 2010

Canada Day In The Neighbourhood

This Thursday, July 1, Canada will celebrate its 143rd Birthday!

It is a national holiday and there will be countless celebrations across the land. The largest gathering is always in Ottawa – the nation’s capitol but odds are there is also a gathering near you.

I’m one of those people who has access to a party in my own neighbourhood and another one within about a mile.

Having a Canada Day gathering in your part of town can be both good and bad.

On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about how you are going to get there – you can walk or ride a bike if you are so inclined. It’s great if you want to pop in and out at various times of the day and evening. If you forget something you can just walk home. Local transit also offers shuttle service between the larger celebrations if you want to party hop!

The area I live in, has hosted a large street party for many years. The local business improvement zone closes off several blocks so that they and other vendors can set up displays and offer entertainment for the crowds.

They usually start closing streets at 6:00PM on June 30. Stores and vendors set up special displays with crafts, clothes, jewellery, books and other merchandise. Restaurants offer food and drink specials and set up street patios. Food vendors also abound with mini donuts, corn dogs, cotton candy – you name it. Things are more or less set up and ready to party by about 7:30PM.

There is a fun zone for the kids and a beer garden for the adults. The beer garden also has a free stage featuring local performers. A second free stage is also set up at the opposite end of the blocked off area and offers a variety of performers. Just for good measure, there is a smaller, third stage set up about the middle of the blocked off area. Several buskers also set up along the streets between the stages.

The scheduled entertainment goes until about midnight on the stages then resumes late morning on Canada Day. Things start shutting down around midnight on Canada Day and streets are reopened by about 3 or 4 in the morning.

Sounds like fun, right?

Well, yes it can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately there can also be a lot of negatives to a neighbourhood party.

Transit buses are rerouted to usually quiet side streets. Aside from emergency vehicles from the neighbourhood fire hall, most streets are restricted to local access only. In other words, if you don’t live in the area and have your vehicle parked here before the streets are blocked - then don’t even bother trying to drive here or you will be walking at least 10 minutes from wherever you do find a place to park!

Depending on the weather, up to 10,000 people may visit the party. That is a lot of extra people milling about. That is great for local businesses and vendors, but can be a nuisance for local residents who are tolerating you traipsing through their streets and back lanes.

The part that I hate the most though, is the noise factor.

Walking along the party area can be a bit loud – much like walking through a packed midway - especially as the day wears on and the crowds swell. Many businesses and vendors also have their own sound systems. Everybody wants your attention. They want you to check out what they are offering and open your wallets. The entertainers on the free stages, tend to ramp up the volume as the day goes on. That is okay, IF you happen to like whatever genre of music that stage is offering but not much fun if you aren’t a fan. Sometimes you have to shout just to be heard by the person standing next to you.

Regardless of your audio tastes or how long you stay, you tend to walk away with a bit of ringing in your ears. That goes away fairly quickly once you get to quieter areas.

Escaping the sound isn’t much of an option for those of us living in the area. There are a lot of apartment blocks in this neighbourhood and the audio from the various sound systems of the three stages tends to reverberate off of the nearby buildings. You don’t notice it much from street level but if you live in one of those buildings it can be very annoying. It’s like getting three overlapping radio stations and not getting any of them clearly. The booming base of all three stages comes through though! Add to that the drone of the crowd and ... well it starts to sound like those annoying horns that are constantly blaring during the World Cup Soccer Games in Africa this year.

It probably wouldn’t be so bad if the street noise actually went to a reasonable level after the stage entertainment ends at midnight. Unfortunately, that is when so many of the buskers – with varying degrees of talent - come out and try to entertain the young revellers who don’t want to go home yet as well as the semi sober and the inebriated who have spent some time in the beer gardens or local pubs. For these people, there is something very appealing and liberating about being able to party in the middle of a deserted city thoroughfare. They want to enjoy this normally forbidden activity as long and as loudly as possible. Just when you think things have quieted down, someone will set off a few firecrackers or start singing Oh Canada at the top of their longs – off key!

They don’t realize – no make that they don’t care – that there are thousands of people living in the area who are trying to sleep. Children who need their rest. People who don’t have the next day off to sleep in. Residents who didn’t have the option or ability to go somewhere else for a couple of days of peace and quiet.

I think most of us who live here, tolerate the inconvenience and the absurdly high decibel of noise for the street party. After all it is only once a year for a day and a half right? Well, yes unless of course Canada Day falls on a weekend in which case the party is usually a 2 ½ day affair with three nights of little or no sleep. Oh, joy!!

Over the years, I’ve tried using earplugs to block the noise and get some shut eye, but I don’t sleep as well with them in. I can barely hear my phone ring with them in, let alone if there were a fire alarm. Frankly, I find the earplugs make things too quiet and very disorienting. It’s not that I am a party pooper – I love my country and want to celebrate its birthday just as much as the next person - I just need my rest to function decently the next day.

Wherever you happen to be, I hope that you have a safe and enjoyable Canada Day as you celebrate the birthday of our great country.

Just one little favour ... please try and keep it down to a dull roar after midnight, okay? Thanks!


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