In Ottawa, a red maple leaf floats high against a blue sky, blazing in the clear sunshine of a Canadian summer. Below, its tall mast stretches down to the green copper roofs and arch-and-gargoyle-verticality of the Peace Tower of the Centre Block of Parliament. This is the seat of Canadian government, and as such, a place steeped in 20th century power and politics. But its graceful charm recalls the never-were days of medieval romance. Standing before it, you half expect a Canadian Arthur to come riding up to draw Excalibur and claim his kingdom.
The buildings of Parliament stand on a green cliff jutting into a bend of the Ottawa River. On the opposite shore, you find yourself no longer in Camelot, but on the Rhine, viewing some storied castle or cathedral. But the image wavers like a glimpse through a time warp, because beyond the sandstone towers and flying buttresses rise shafts of glass, steel, and aluminum, the tide of modern commerce washing up against the walls of ancient romance. And each shimmering window reflects a stone tower, like the present dreaming about the past.
The young men and women gazing up at the maple leaf, their backs momentarily to the towering present, are Latter-day Saints who call Ottawa their home. They are all Scouts and Beehives, because the priests and teachers, Laurels and Mia Maids, are away at a youth conference in Quebec.
But the young sightseers don’t feel bad about staying behind, because Ottawa is a place for all seasons, and there is nowhere they would rather be. Set in the vast Canadian forests, Ottawa offers miles of bike paths along streams and cataracts. Near at hand are Indian trails and all the myriad benefits of a national capital, including government buildings, parks, and every kind of national museum and gallery. Near the Parliament building runs the Rideau Canal, five miles of which become a well-groomed skating rink every winter, attracting Ottawa en masse to celebrate winter, Canadian style.
Within easy reach of Ottawa are countless miles of wilderness canoeing streams over which voyageurs once paddled and portaged. The Scouts often visit these streams on long, rough canoeing trips, working hard at having a good time and achieving the Chief Scout’s Award, Canada’s highest Scouting honor.
Today they meet at the Centennial Flame. Bubbling up through water symbolizing Canada’s linking rivers, natural gas bursts into a clear flame. First lighted on the midnight separating Canada’s first and second centuries of confederation, it lights the nation to a bright future.
Leaving the flame, the young people walk around the Parliament grounds, reliving Canada’s history, with the statues of great Canadian statesmen as their text.
Then it is time to watch the changing of the guard. Ramrod-straight guardsmen in scarlet tunics and tall bearskin busbies march and countermarch under the summer sun. Afterward, the group chats with one of the guardsmen and examines his busby.
Then comes a tour of the Parliament building. They visit the now-solemn-and-empty chambers of the House of Commons and the Senate, but an aura of political excitement and hot debate still hang over them. They stand silently in the sumptuous Library of Parliament. They walk through corridors of dazzling sculpture, carvings, and stained glass telling the story of a noble heritage and a free people.
Just as they emerge into the sunlight, a handsome Mountie rides up on a tall horse. In the conversation that follows they learn a little bit more about being a Mountie and he learns a little bit about being a Mormon.
Then they all say good-bye and go home to the thousand diversions that summertime Ottawa offers to young people.
But each of them will go through life with just a little greater sense of joy because they have stood under the castle on the winding river and the red maple leaf in the free breeze.
And the young men and women themselves will radiate the very special joy that the gospel awakens in the faces and hearts of God’s children everywhere.