By Jordan Haworth, FSWEP Student with the Guard –
Surprisingly, the Ottawa weather would help make my first experience of a decades-long tradition, the Changing of the Guard, to be more enjoyable. By about 0930 hrs, the morning chill was beginning to evaporate, and in its place came a fresh reminder of the wisp of summer that we were now floating on into the fall. From my experience as an Air Cadet, I could fairly assume that the Ceremonial Guard members would be very happy to find that the temperature had postponed its usual climb into the low 30s until the afternoon, long after the ceremony would be over.
Despite the calmness of the morning, which the cool had no doubt added to, there was a bustling atmosphere on Parliament Hill. Hundreds of spectators pushed up against barricades; which served to prevent the eager bodies from spilling onto the East Lawn. I am sure the pigeons and gulls flying overhead could only see a massive rectangle of grass, framed by baseball caps and cameras. Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) officers corralled people onto the sidewalks, loudly outlining the path of the marching troops.
In the distance, the sound of the Pipes and Drums began to slowly crescendo until dark kilts and red plaid socks appeared first, with honourable faces to match the patriotic tunes they played. Although each face was identifiable, it was hard not to see them, marching in perfect unison with matching uniforms, as one single entity. The harmonies they created were not just limited to the music. It is 0945 hrs.
Behind them followed a sight that would transport the spectators to the colonial era and remind them of Canada’s British past, as bright red coats with silver buttons and white accents, and tall, black, beaver-skin headwear bobbed onto the Lawn. The uniforms were in contrast to the matte black Colt C7 Canada assault rifles, tipped with bayonets, which were stowed in their left arms. They swung their right arms high into the air as they marched.
After the Old Guard had taken up their positions to the west side of the Lawn, a new sound could be heard approaching. Coming from the Cartier Square Drill Hall almost a kilometre away, the New Guard was announced by similarly red-coated, black-hatted musicians that held brass and woodwind instruments. The buttons and brass, perfectly polished, gleamed in the eyes of spectators. As someone who struggled to play the saxophone, I couldn’t help but wonder at how many hours it must had taken for these musicians to perfect their art, and combine it with calculated turns, swings and steps to create the display before us; all-the-while keeping their gaze on the sheet music that dangled in front of their eyes. Surely, the auditions must have been very competitive.
Behind them was a troop similar to that of the Old Guard, but there were certain details that made them discernible from the members they were relieving. For instance, the single, horizontal gold feather that was placed on the right side of the tall hats had turned to red, and the rifles were no longer armed with bayonets. The New Guard took their position across from the Old with the musicians at the head of the formation facing both parties, their backs towards Parliament. As they took up their positions, the rhythmic tune of “The 10 Provinces March” began to play. The majority of all these members, I would find out, were Reservists from across Canada who had volunteered their summer hours for the prestigious position of being a member of the Ceremonial Guard. It is 1000 hrs.
Now in position, the New Guard performs the tradition of being formed and inspected by the Old Guard Commander to the tune of “The British Grenadiers.” He approves, and the New Guard marches towards the Old, and the parade lifts their rifles in presentation as the colours are marched on. Two members from each troop advance forward in greeting, and exchange a small key. The New Guard Commander accepts his key, and with this, the Old Guard is officially relieved. The ceremony is adjourned under the sun of the late morning, while the temperature climbs. The groups march off to their respective areas. As the sun rises higher, I take a few moments to photograph the departing soldiers and say farewell to my first experience of the final Ceremonial Guard change of 2018.
Photo: DND/Captain Mike Wonnacott
This post is also available in: Français (French)