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An HR Speaker’s Travelogue

Last week, I was Tweeting a lot about my trip to Ottawa. I was a guest speaker at a large Association’s Annual General Meeting. There I talked about the role of social media in their industry.

In truth, I have been slagging Ottawa for a long time. Unfortunately, the projects I have had there in the past have often been low budget affairs in buildings on the outskirts of town. Their project budgets have meant a lot of fly in/fly outs and have afforded little time to actually get out and “see” Ottawa and so I had an entirely different impression of the city before this.

My view changed somewhat with this trip. In fairness, my client was an extraordinary host, and I experienced Ottawa for the first time in a first class way. I had a corner room in the Chateau Laurier with an unobstructed view of the Parliament buildings which was also in proximity to virtually everything I wanted to see in Ottawa. It was an especially good location since I didn’t have a whole stretch of time to explore, but rather small pockets between meetings. I walked so much I had blisters on my feet.

I’ve long been a foodie, and it was a real treat to experience both lunch and dinner at Chateau Laurier. Let me tell you about my lunch. I chose to go to the restaurant with the buffet. And, what a buffet this was! Duck confit with sour cherries, grilled ahi tuna bites, beef tenderloin in a smoked paprika sauce, smoked salmon, a grilled red cabbage salad with various kinds caramelized fruit, and about 20 other items. My only regret was that I didn’t have a pen and paper with me to write down everything I tried. For dinner I was at their meeting, which was held in the stately Adam’s Room. There was salmon mouseline, creamy mushroom soup, rack of lamb with mustard sauce, and a peanut butter ice cream in a toile for dessert—all excellent.

What I really want to express here though is my experience of walking around the Capitol area.

A few years ago, my husband had business in Washington, DC, and I tagged along to take my first walk through the National Mall. I was blown away by its size and the representation of the power and history of my native land. The sense of scale, the strategic placing of buildings and statues, and the level of pride and patriotism are almost overwhelming. It’s very official feeling. I don’t think I felt more proud of being an American than the day I walked from the Lincoln Memorial to the steps of Capitol Hill.

My walk through Parliament is in stark contrast to this. Let me start by saying that I was barely out of the Chateau Laurier, walking on the bridge over the canal, when I saw Stephane Dion, the former leader of the Liberal Party, and a once-candidate for Prime Minister. He was looking a little dishevelled, and he was carrying a brief case with the strap over his shoulder and across his body. He was by himself, walking hurriedly and my impression was that he was tired and late for the bus. There were no handlers, and no security detail. If I hadn’t seen him on TV many times, I might not have known who he was. To give my American friends the sense of who Stephane Dion is in the grand scheme of things, he might be the equivalent of Al Gore, John Kerry or John McCain. I believe seeing him like that shows how less formal, more relaxed, and provincial the environment of the Capitol and Canada is. It is such a toned down, perhaps back water, version of Washington.

Within minute or so after “bumping into” Stephane Dion, I was walking inside Parliament Hill. I felt a little like I was walking around on a U.S. college campus though. I took the time to go to each of the statues and historic areas and to read what was written. I learned more about Mr. Laurier, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II than I knew before I took this walk. I smiled as I looked at the various costumes of the cultures and the times (the hats of the French, the wigs and coats of the English). I picked up a few things in history that were never taught in my social studies classes, and had visualizations of events depicted in Last of the Mohicans (even if nothing of that has to do with Ottawa). I got to admire the mixed English/French architecture of the various buildings. While the tour was great, I was left with the feeling that as a monument to the great history of the north, and it pales in comparison to Washington. It feels incredibly naïve. Still I’d like to go back and study it more.

My sister has often said that I missed my calling by not becoming a travel writer. Maybe with this blog I do have a small opportunity, once in awhile, to tap into that side of my interests. As an HR Professional, Instructor and Speaker, my world isn’t full of glam, and rarely am I pampered and indulged and so this was a huge treat. If you have a speaking engagement in need of a speaker, and you have some little nicety in mind, call me. It takes very little to please me.

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