OTTAWA — When former president Barack Obama first visited Ottawa in 2009 he went home with souvenir cookies for his daughters bought during his unannounced visit to the famed ByWard Market, which local residents have been talking about ever since.
When President Joe Biden departs after about 27 hours in the Canadian capital Friday night, he will carry with him a Canadian bar of chocolate.
“I love chocolate,” Biden said, after being handed a yellow-wrapped bar with the word “Peace” written on it by Green Leader Elizabeth May.
Biden’s visit was surrounded by heavy levels of security — much of downtown Ottawa was shut down for the day, civil servants who just recently returned to work in person were urged to stay home, and sniper teams, drones and helicopters dotted the sky around the parliamentary precinct.
But it did not draw the same fanfare as Obama did in 2009, when a couple of thousand people crowded onto Parliament Hill to await his arrival, hoping to glimpse the president from afar.
Only a couple of dozen people stood on the street by Parliament on Friday, holding a “Welcome to Canada” sign, along with a lone protester from the “Freedom Convoy” who waved a large flag.
Obama was also mobbed by happy crowds when he suddenly showed up in the ByWard Market, just northeast of Parliament Hill. He visited a bakery where he purchased maple leaf-shaped iced sugar cookies as souvenirs for his kids, and was also given a fried-dough treat called a BeaverTail.
The cookies became a popular hit, prompting the bakery, Moulin de Provence, to turn the sale into a marketing opportunity. They erected multiple signs referencing the president and the cookies are known now as “Obama cookies.” The store still has the cookies and the signs.
Ottawa’s culinary offering to Biden came thanks to the local ice cream store Moo Shu Ice Cream and Kitchen. The president, and first lady Jill Biden, had a private dinner with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family at their home Thursday night.
The meal ended with the president’s well-known favourite food for dessert.
Moo Shu made toasted marshmallow & maple sugar ice cream, spun with chocolate, officially dubbing it “Friend-chip Goals” to commemorate the two nations’ unbreakable bond.
Biden’s chocolate souvenir comes from Nova Scotia-based chocolatier Peace by Chocolate, run by Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada in 2016. Their venture has been so successful they now have multiple stores and ship their products all over Canada. A documentary was made about their story.
May, who was part of a receiving line of party leaders and other dignitaries greeting Biden on Parliament Hill, told the president she saw the chocolate at a store and thought “you need one too.”
When he signed the Hill guest book, Biden handed the bar to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau briefly, who passed it on to one of the House of Commons staff. But Biden didn’t let it go for long.
“Where’s my chocolate?” he asked as handlers began to usher him out of the room.
He insisted on waiting until the bar was back in his hands. Trudeau told him the story of its makers. Then Biden told the reporters following him around that he might share it with them, later, “depending on how tough your questions are.”
The lack of hoopla around Biden’s visit did not deter Jin Kim from travelling in from Toronto on Friday to see the president in person.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see even a glimpse of him,” said Kim. “We are very excited to be here.”
She travelled to town alongside volunteers from Korea and Chile who are part of the International Youth Fellowship. They said that as future leaders, they want to show the president support.
Another pair of students from the University of Ottawa said they were grabbing a coffee downtown when they decided to spontaneously make their way to Parliament, one of them saying: “All presidents are cool in their own way.”
Two American university students visiting from Virginia expressed annoyance that the police made them change their scenic running route. They were unfazed by the fact of their own president being in town and the heavy security it brought.
The motorcades did draw some excitement. The first lady’s motorcade drove past people Friday who waved excitedly or quickly pulled out their phones to snap photos.