Sunday, September 15th – Friday, September 20th.
I am dedicating this to those who made it possible for me to make this journey. To Claude Lalancette, Marj Matchee, Kentrina Jenkins, and the many others who paid for this excursion, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. To my family, who have been an incredible support to me since I started down this road seven months ago, I give my everlasting gratitude and love. None of this would have been possible without you.
It’ll be a few days before I write anything of substance about the last six days. I still have a lot to process, and my emotions are still raw from the events of the past couple of weeks. Before I do that though, I thought I’d share with you some of the pictures I took throughout this adventure.
Day 1, Sunday 15 September
I was up hours before dawn and had a couple quick cups of coffee and a cigarette before double checking to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. My parents drove me to the airport, and I arrived at the departure level two hours before my scheduled 8 am flight. WestJet flight 658 to Toronto was a wide-body 787, equipped with screens at every seat which allowed you to pick from among a variety of ways to occupy your mind. Movies and TV shows were available, as was detailed flight information, available by Flight Tracker.
I got my nerd on and monitored the flight from the time it left the gate in Calgary until it reached the gate in Toronto.
I waited by the baggage carousel at Pearson for over half an hour before my suitcase finally appeared. I didn’t have to wait long before I spotted the man who had come to pick me up, and soon we were on the freeway for the trip to his home about 90 minutes away. Claude and Marcella were very gracious and generous hosts and made me feel very much at home along with their boys.
The highlight of the day was the dinner that Marcella had waiting for us. I could smell it as soon as I walked into the house. Done in a slow cooker, Marcella hade made us some traditional Colombian home cooking; frijoles. Kidney beans, cooked low and slow with some stewing beef, vegetables, spices, and plantains, which I hadn’t tried yet to that point. Served on a bed of rice and with a fried egg on top it was an incredibly delicious, authentic meal, and a glass or two of Corona with a little lime juice and salt added made a perfect pairing.
I consulted the Weather Network app and saw that we could look forward to a beautiful week in Ottawa, and the day of the rally was going to be sunny and 24 degrees C.
Day 2, Monday 16 September
We were up early, 5 am, and after a quick cup of Colombian coffee we were off to catch the GoTrain to Toronto. The commuter train runs between Toronto’s Union Station and Hamilton, Milton, Kitchener, Barrie, Richmond Hill, Linconville, Oshawa, and – seasonally – Niagara Falls.
Union Station, Toronto
Made the train to Ottawa with 10 minutes to spare.
The obligatory shot out the back of a moving train.
Our hotel was only a couple blocks away from Parliament Hill, so that was the first place I headed after checking in. For me, the first stop was the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was an emotional moment for me.
The East Block restoration and modernization.
The iconic Center Block.
After I took this shot, I looked up to the bell tower. It’s something I’ve seen thousands of times in photographs or on video, but it wasn’t until I saw it in person that I noticed the gargoyles beneath the clock.
The statue of Robert Borden.
The eternal flame, seen from in front of the shield of the Province of Alberta.
Fenced off due to construction. Because of this the rally was unable to be held on the steps as it previously had been.
The area around the eternal flame is a hotspot for tourists as well as protesters. While we were there checking things out that first day there we saw these two gentlemen carrying sandwich boards. One side was in French, the other English.
They were from the town of Shannon, Quebec, located near Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. Beginning in the 1940’s a number of toxic chemicals were dumped into local waterways. Among these chemicals was the industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), which can result in harmful effects on the nervous system, liver, respiratory system, kidneys, blood, immune system, heart, and body weight.
Many of the town’s residents have been locked in a legal battle for years, claiming cancer rates in the area are more than twice the national average. I will be looking further into the situation in Shannon at a later date.
The day ends with a plate of mussels and a beer at Big Daddy’s in the hotel.
Day 3, Tuesday 17 September
Back to the Hill in the afternoon with Marj and Trina. On the way to our destination we pass by the Office of the Prime Minister. In a little under a month there should be a new occupant.
We were off to the Confederation Building, which houses the offices of Members of Parliament. We are off to the office of Marj’s MP, Cathay Wagantall, who had graciously let us use her office to do some printing and photocopying for the rally.
The visitors ID badge I was given.
The view out Cathay Wagantall’s office window.
I hate selfies, but there are times when you have to take them. Here I am in an MP’s empty office. Normally this building would by a beehive of activity, but with the place in election mode it’s like a morgue. Everyone is hitting the hustings in their home ridings.
Okay I just had to know what the bathrooms looked like. Apparently, just like any other bathroom in an old office building, complete with signs from management asking the tenants to use a little common sense. There you have it ladies and gentlemen, your parliamentary representatives are also slobs.
Welcome to the parliamentary biffy, where MP stands for Making Poop.
Or, in this case, Men’s Pisser.
I saw this place downtown but didn’t go in. It would have been quite appropriate.
Day 4, Wednesday 18 September
The Quinism Foundation held its annual Canadian Educational Meeting in Kanata. I attended the afternoon session, where afterwards we all congregated in the parking lot before heading over to Montana’s for dinner.
It was then that I took this picture of Val Reyes-santiesteban standing next to Mike Rude’s truck. The picture on the door is of her son, Scott Smith, who took his own life on Christmas Day 1994 while on a peacekeeping mission in Kigali, Rwanda. His suicide is one of many that resulted from the brain damage caused by mefloquine, the neurotoxic anti-malarial the government KNEW could cause extreme psychiatric side effects, yet gave it to highly trained and heavily armed soldiers in a high stress situation.
She is one of the grande dames of mefloquine advocacy in Canada, along with Marj Matchee.
Sgt. (ret.) Mike Rude has been driving all over Canada since early April spreading awareness about mefloquine to as many veterans as he possibly can. Up to this point, he had driven over 52,000 km’s on the Rude Awakening Tour, and saw all three of Canada’s coasts.
We were both at a healing circle later that evening. As we talked before things began, he asked if I would be interested in going up to Tuktoyaktuk with him in October. This is an opportunity that doesn’t exactly come up every day, at least not for me anyways, so it didn’t take me very long to accept the invitation.
I’ll be starting out my 50th year on Earth with a roadtrip adventure to Canada’s Arctic, and I’m pretty pumped about it.
Dr. Remington Nevin checks out the truck with Mike and his service dog Spark.
Mike Rude also has a mission to bring Afghan interpreter Niaz Husseini to Canada. Although he is in the United States and in a safe third country, it would be better for Niaz if he were here.
You see, he was seriously wounded in an IED explosion, losing both legs below the knee. As a result of his experiences, Niaz has PTSD. For many people, it is therapeutic to be near those with whom those traumatic experiences are shared. The Canadian government wouldn’t let him come to live here, and Mike would like very much to bring Niaz to Canada.
I have been telling Niaz’ story, and will be following it as this moves along.
Mike had something for Trina in the back of the truck.
A little while later a group of us headed to Montana’s for dinner. I ducked out for a cigarette, and who should I see but Dr. Nevin, on the phone with a veteran.
To say that the man is committed to his work would be an understatement. He was a doctor in the US Army, and his work on mefloquine at the time was, shall we say, controversial. He was starting to ring the alarm bell about mefloquine, and in doing so very nearly got himself court martialled, the military being very keen on its prized anti-malarial. Brain damage be damned.
Without his groundbreaking body of work on mefloquine, tens of thousands of people would be dead or living a nightmare.
Shortly after taking this photo, I was back inside and had engaged in a conversation with Capt. (ret.) Philip Brooks. We were standing a short distance from where we were seated, a beer in my hand and a glass of water in his. As he was talking to me, something began to happen. His was having difficulty speaking and suddenly he just stood there, staring blankly into space while he held his glass of water.
I looked over at the table, unsure about what exactly was happening, hoping that I could attract someones attention without creating a panic. His companion, Odessa, looked at him and said that he was having a seizure. I took the glass out of his hand and was quickly joined by Dave Bona, who jumped into action and guided Philip back to his seat. We were told that this happens all the time.
It was one of the more poignant moments of the trip, as I experienced first hand what it’s like to be around someone with quinism. I had seen the photophobia, the “Supermarket Syndrome”, and some of the other symptoms of quinism in many of the vets I had met up to that point, but a seizure is slightly more dramatic and it can really hammer home the realities of what this disease is like.
Day 5, Thursday 19 September
I arrived at the starting point near the War Memorial just before noon. I managed to get in a few pics and a video before the march to the Hill began, but not many. I have more pics and video on my Facebook page.
The crowd assembling on the lawn following the march, and before the rally began.
They called for nice weather, and we got it. In fact, it was hot as balls.
The resilient Philip Brooks addresses the crowd the day after his seizure. At his side is his companion the lovely Odessa, who survived the deadliest form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, and was able to be with him in Ottawa.
After the rally, it was over to D’arcy McGee’s for a couple cold beers. This is right out front.
Day 6, Friday 20 September
Once again I’m up early and headed to the airport. My flight leaves at 8 am, and I’ll be on a 737 with no entertainment system. At least I have a window seat. I’m able to see Dave, Teresa, and Marj before they board their plane to Saskatchewan. Trina’s plane doesn’t leave until 11.
Wheels up at 0804 EDT. Until next time Ottawa.
Touchdown in Calgary exactly 4 hours later at 1004 MDT.