For George W. Bush’s first official visit to Canada, protesters in Ottawa showed a quiet “unwelcome” salute yesterday evening at the site where he was to dine with Prime Minister Paul Martin. At dusk, there were only about six people in front of the Museum of Civilization, where Bush and the First Lady were to meet Martin and his wife Sheila — and a few hundred carefully-chosen guests — for dinner.

A friend and I waited at the foot of the Alexandria Bridge, in Hull, near the double barricades that squared off the intersection, blocking cops in the centre with the museum behind them.

The building’s shell, made up of monstrous concrete waves, stood a short distance away. People waited in anticipation of Bush’s motorcade. Most of them lived nearby and had just come over to see what was happening. Except for three placard-waving protesters, the scene on this side of the museum was dead.

Until, one man shouted: “He’s here!” and I looked up from my notepad, jumping up to run to the barricades. I could only see some cars turning around in front of the museum and all the cops were facing them. There was nothing to see, but we remained for a little while longer.

For some reason, we had hoped his entourage of tinted-windowed black cars and vans would pass us, but it took the side streets. I was with a friend who worked at a local paper and the word was that there were six or seven routes planned for Bush to reach the museum and U.S. authorities would decide at the last minute which they would take. Apparently they had visited Archives Canada just before, an interest Laura had because she used to be a librarian.

While waiting, we got a glimpse into the extent of security organized for this dinner. A lineup of six white vans carrying riot police got the cops to move the barricades to get by, as did the coach bus transporting mainstream media reporters. Under the bridge, a large boat was docked, three speedboats drove around and two fire trucks parked in the parking lot. The firefighters said they were trained to handle hazardous materials such as bomb or SARS threats. Three helicopters circled the area, one flying especially low. But, their motors didn’t drown out the faint sound of whistles and shouting in the distance.

We could see there was a group on the other side of the museum. We walked to the edge of the crowd to see steel barricades lying flat on the ground, seemingly having been knocked over. I asked around to learn of the general story that protesters stomped them down.

The crowd spread wide and deep, reaching about 300 people. We wiggled our way to the front, where a line of riot police shielded protesters, about 20 metres away from the museum doors.

The stench of vinegar-soaked bandannas twitched my nose, while the loud rhythm of bongo drums vibrated in my feet. People chanted and sang and shook their fists. We were getting closer to the front where glowing candles reflected in the shields held by the riot police.

Cops and protesters yelled back and forth and at one point, those at the front sat down, in defense of their right to protest. But the tension rose with the smoke from the candles burning at the riot cops’ feet. Every so often a cop would stomp on a candle that got a little too close to his feet.

But candles were relit and more of them appeared. The chanting continued, as the air got colder. People were angry, calling for justice in Iraq and just plain disgusted with Bush’s foreign and domestic policies and did not want the man in Canada. The protest had a lack of direction, no one really knew at which entrance to stand and people kept dispersing from the crowd to play music or at the end, to form circles to burn placards. Others followed one man who purported to know the route of the motorcade.

It was around 9:30 p.m. when the area cleared out. As we walked away, riot police still formed a barrier around the museum. I looked over my shoulder to see a man sitting in a circle drawn with chalk on the sidewalk. The man sat crossed-legged, facing the police, staring down at a sign that read “imagine democracy.” I waited for a while, but the man didn’t flinch. He sat and stared at his dream, in peaceful protest.