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How Ottawa is preparing for a huge influx of visitors on Canada Day

A youngster wearing a Mountie uniform is pictured at Ottawa's Rideau Hall on Nov. 4, 2015.
A youngster wearing a Mountie uniform is pictured at Ottawa's Rideau Hall on Nov. 4, 2015. Justin Tang/ The Canadian Press

In a typical year, about 350,000 people will make their way to Ottawa to celebrate Canada Day.

Some years, it rains and the crowds downtown and around Parliament Hill stay relatively small. Other years bring sun, and the number surges.

Special guests can also make a difference. When the newly married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge showed up for the festivities in July 2011, 510,000 people were there to greet Will and Kate.

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With less than a month to go until July 1, however, officials still aren’t sure what to expect in the nation’s capital as the country marks 150 years since Confederation. On top of the big anniversary, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, are scheduled to attend.

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“With the addition of a royal visit and the Canada 150th celebrations we can expect this Canada Day to be extremely well attended, above and beyond typical year figures,” confirmed city of Ottawa spokesperson Nadege Adam.

“These estimates represent overall attendance of Canada Day festivities downtown – combining Ottawans and people from out of town.”

Ottawa Tourism is backing up that assertion. Catherine Frechette, senior communications director for the not-for-profit organization, said they do have projections based on past Canada Day celebrations, but they don’t track attendance for several reasons. Among other things, it’s hard to guess how many visitors come to stay with friends and relatives.

Thousands of people typically gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to celebrate Canada Day.
Thousands of people typically gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to celebrate Canada Day. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

A surge in population is inevitable, however. That will mean a host of logistical issues, from limited parking to extra security, to crowd control and the increased demands on the city’s transit service and utilities.

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According to Adam, the city of Ottawa has a special events advisory team (SEAT) that handles “event planning, logistical co-ordination, resource allocation and hazard mitigation/preparedness” for events like the July 1 weekend.

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The city’s transportation services, emergency and protective services and public health departments all have a seat at that table, as do the Ottawa police, local business associations, and the federally run National Capital Commission.

“This group is well versed in co-ordinating large scale signature events that are becoming increasingly more common in the city,” Adam added.

The city did not respond to a request to list specific measures that will be in place as visitors pour in, but OC Transpo has announced separately that it will be beefing up transit service and providing free rides on July 1.

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Visitors and locals are being encouraged to avoid bringing vehicles into the downtown, instead taking advantage of large parking lots on the outskirts and then taking transit in, or if possible, simply walking.

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Details surrounding security are always closely guarded, but visitors and residents should expect a significant police presence throughout the downtown and on Parliament Hill itself.

The Parliamentary Protective Service, formed in the wake of a terror attack on the Hill in 2014, requested an additional $6 million in March to pad out its annual budget for this year.