Trip to Ottawa helps student appreciate being a Canadian

Grade 12 student Arliss Sidloski had an experience of a lifetime as she travelled to Ottawa to take part in the Rotary Club’s Adventures in Citizenship program, including tours of historic sites and witnessing a citizenship ceremony.

She was encouraged to apply by Weyburn Rotary Club president Deana Mainil as no other students had shown any interest, and she spent from April 27 to May 1 in the nation’s capital.

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There were over 200 students from across Canada who took part in the program from every province in the country (other than the Yukon Territory), with a total of six students from Saskatchewan. The students were billeted by the Ottawa Rotary Club with local residents. Sidloski, along with two other girls from the program, stayed with Roy and Florence Nias, a couple originally from the Caribbean area.

The program was short but intense with many speakers, presentations and opportunities to visit various facilities or take tours, such as of the Parliament Buildings and the Canadian War Museum.

“I learned how privileged we are that we are Canadian. They just showed us how many opportunities we have with all of our freedoms,” said Sidloski. “Even the fact we got to do this trip and fly to Ottawa, all expenses paid. They really put a lot of effort into the program with all the venues and special speeches, even the mayor of Ottawa spoke to us.”

She also noted that the students asked a lot of good, intelligent questions and she enjoyed the interaction they were able to have with their presenters.

“We learned leadership skills, and there are specific examples of how you can create change in your community,” said Sidloski

Among the presentations that impacted her the most was the tour of the Canadian War Museum, and hearing from a war veteran, Bob Watts, as part of the “Witness to History” program.

“The War Museum has amazing displays, with four different areas, for the First World War, Second World War, Korea and Viet Nam, and there were interactive displays and activities that you can do. I would’ve stayed longer if we had the time,” said Sidloski.

She also found attending the citizenship ceremony very meaningful, watching as 50 new Canadians were sworn in. The students were able say the same oaths as the new Canadians, and they sang O Canada before intermingling with the new citizens and meeting some of them.

“It made me proud to be Canadian. It was the most meaningful ceremony we attended,” said Sidloski, noting this was held on the morning of their last day there.

Along with a tour of the Parliament Buildings (“that was really cool”), they were able to sit in the House of Commons in their new location, the first outside group to be allowed in since the Commons moved from their normal location. The Commons was moved as there are going to be major renovations and upgrades to the Parliament Buildings over the next five years or so.

The new home for the Commons “is an open box inside of a box,” said Sidloski, noting that while visiting there, they had a presentation by the Speaker of House, Geoff Regan, as well as information about the page program for young people.

“I don’t want to go into politics, but we learned more about how politics works, and how the First Nations want to run their own affairs,” said Sidloski, noting their visit included a stop at Algonquin College at the University of Ottawa and a number of presentations by First Nations representatives.

The university had many interesting features, such as a five-storey living wall, a Maker lab with a laser cutter, 3-D printer and other items of interest.

The First Nations presentations included such features as traditional dances, a presentation on truth and reconciliation, and Inuit throat singing.

Sidloski saw some of the flooding of the Ottawa River, which caused the mayor of Ottawa to declare a state of emergency shortly before the students arrived for the Rotary program. She noted one of the bridges was closed due to the high river level, but it didn’t affect her host family that much or the Rotary group, but some of the students were affected somewhat.

The students met the ambassador of Japan, who spoke to the students about leadership and about what his duties entail.