We all love TGIF but up here in the Great White North, last week was TGICD!


It’s the country’s birthday and all are encouraged to celebrate what it means to be Canadian and the joys of living in of the best nations in the world!

(Okay, that’s the political line. To be honest, it’s a national holiday at the beginning of summer and one heck of a reason for a party!)

Being in the capital city of Ottawa is even better as there is always a huge party downtown and on Parliament Hill to commemorate the occasion.  There is music, dance, renditions of the national anthem and even a fly over by the internationally renown Snowbirds.

Normally, about 100,000 people would be expected in the downtown area however this year, the number was estimated at almost 300,000.


The Royal Couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Catherine, had decided to come to Ottawa to take part in the downtown ceremonies.  Despite the crowds, the oppressive July sun, and the necessary security restrictions, everyone appeared to have a great time and not once did the jovial mood turn sour.

Everyone would have said that it was perfect.

Well, almost perfect.

There was a problem with one aspect of the celebrations.  Most would have never given this a second thought prior to coming down and perhaps few would have had to worry. But for each and every person who had a sudden urge overcome them, there was a stark and for some painful reality that faced them.

I’m talking about the washrooms.

Let me just give you a taste of what the Canada Day public washroom experience was like: as you walk towards the washroom, there is a large group of about 50 people standing around, waiting. You can see on their faces either anxiety or disgust; those with the latter offer the first clue as to what is to come.

As you venture to the entrance of the washroom proper, there is a distinct odour that infiltrates your nostrils.  The combination of tens of thousands of different personalized strains of fecal bacteria and their gaseous byproducts of methane, sulfur, and other aromatic compounds meld into one disharmonious scent that elicits an involuntary reaction of disgust.

Moving further into the room, it is clear that there has been far too many visitors and far too little service.  Toilet paper is strewn around, the floor is moist and ripe of the smell of excreted salts, minerals, ions and ammonia.  What’s worse…there are two lineups…one for the urinals; one for the stalls.  You’re going to be here a while.

Not a nice picture, it is?

But it was the experience of one person that truly spoke to me about the real issue.  A young man was in the line for the stalls; he was obviously in dire need of a toilet.  He was a few people ahead of me so I was able to witness his plight in full sight.

As his turn came, he ventured to the newly freed stall and was stopped with abject horror. I almost believe that at one point, he may have rethought the decision.  But he held his breath, walked in and shut the door as I calmly awaited my turn.

After ‘my turn’ at the urinal, I proceeded straight to the sinks to wash my hands.  At the same time, the horror-stricken young man also emerged from his stall and to the sink beside me.  We both turned on the water and started to wet the hands when it became abundantly clear that we were facing an even greater quandary.

 The soap dispenser was empty.

For me, it was simply a matter of rinsing with hot water, drying and then using the hand sanitizer twice to ensure that I had the proper contact time of 30 seconds.  For him, it seemed like a nightmare that wouldn’t end.  As our eyes met, however, I did my best to comfort him and to let him know that there was still a way to stay healthy and hygienic.

I explained the process and that while it would not beat soap and water, it was going to at least keep his hands relatively safe.  He complied and as we both left the washroom, he was thankful for the help…

…and even more for the sanitizer.

After that encounter, it got me thinking.  Over the last four or so years, I’ve been working hard to bring a better understanding of germs and how one can use hygiene to better their health.  While most of the stories have focused on doors, grocery carts, elevator buttons, hands and the workplace, I have a feeling that there was one perspective that has been missed.

Personal hygiene is even more important when it’s ignored by the masses.

Let me put it this way.

  • In an ideal world: everyone would be following good hygiene, have excellently fed and maintained gastrointestinal tracts, good urinary systems, good immunity, and understand the right way to be hygienic.  If that were the case, then a visit to the washroom would be a smooth process without any problems.  Even the handwashing process afterwards would be simple and require only a dab of soap for each person.
  • In the real world: each person will have their own bacterial flora, their own urinary systems, their own immunity and their own means why which they use a washroom.  As such, there will be toilet paper mishaps, urine pressure problems, soap over-usage and a lack of paper towels.  The odor will be obtrusive and there will be more than a few issues with lineups and emotions as people try to find scapegoats for the poor conditions, whether they be property managers, corporations, governments or the guy that just used your stall.  It’s the way of the world and one has to simply learn to live in it.

With good hygiene and an understanding of how best to stay clean, such as keeping the hand sanitizer close, making sure that one is properly hydrated, keeping the bacterial flora in the gut happy and keeping up with the appropriate vitamins, minerals and blood pH (for best immunity), then you may be able to completely avoid the washroom experience altogether.  And even if you need to dispose of a little waste, you can be rest assured that whatever bugs might be laying around will be left behind or, if an attempt is made to accompany you, they will be killed and you will be able to go on with your day.

I really did enjoy my Canada Day and I am proud of my country.  However, as this washroom incident clearly shows, we have a long way to go to improve the overall hygiene and health in our country and around the world.

I’m doing my part; I hope you will do the same.