Inspiration Village Opens to Celebrate Canada
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Photos by Andre Gagne
“Welcome to Inspiration Village,” shouted a jubilant Guy Laflamme as he looked over a dream that took over three years to bring to life.
Crowds eagerly awaited his and Mayor Jim Watson’s cutting of the ribbon to allow access to what is being called one of the centrepieces of Ottawa 2017’s massive year of celebratory programing and events during Canada’s 150th.
With Inspiration Village officially opened, hundreds then followed a parade right of Mardi Gras as members of the Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival vibrantly ushered those gathered down York Street lead by local children carrying provincial flags.
“You can’t imagine the stress, the pressure, the work that went into getting ready for this moment. I’m so proud that after three and a half years of dreaming this crazy concept to properly open this,” said Laflamme who went on to relay how the creation of the core site for Ottawa 2017 programming lived up to its name in more ways than one.
As Canada’s big year approached Laflamme kept thinking back to fond memories he still has from being a youngster for the Centennial in 1967. With this in mind he was inspired to create the Village by both Quebec’s 400th anniversary as well as a South African colleague from the International Festival and Events Association who told him of a similar project happening there. The concept soon was developed to create an ephemeral hub for the sesquicentennial out of 41 sea containers each weighing about 5071 pounds and containing various exhibits showcasing the best of Canada.
While the South African village engaged at risk youth to help with the site, Inspiration Village has turned to the Ottawa Mission, paying those in need for the upkeep of the area between now and September 4. Taking nearly a month to build, the site containers will be open daily until 8 p.m. with the common remaining free to roam 24/7.
When first hearing of Laflamme’s ideas, Mayor Watson admitted that he was a bit skeptical wondering just how 41 shipping containers in one of the city’s most popular spots for tourists and locals alike, the ByWard Market, might look. Closing down close to a hundred parking spots created a bit of an uproar but upon seeing the completed project Watson, and other government officials, finally saw the scope of what Laflamme and his team were envisioning.
“We live in an inspirational community. Families from 120 different countries speaking 90 different languages have chosen to make Ottawa home. We live together, we go to school together, we work together and we play together. You can see it everywhere,” said MPP of Ottawa South, John Fraser shortly after the site opened.
“We live in an incredible place and Inspiration Village is a great place for us to celebrate our community, the community that is Canada.”
That community was out in droves on a gorgeous Spring day in with the curious packing the street, checking out booths and pausing for selfies on the huge Ottawa sign at the Village entrance. Others sat by the performance stage for a show by the youth empowering OrKidstra, throat singes Silla & Rise and Francophone duo Geneviève RB & Alain Barbeau.
After a month of anticipation during the construction, representatives from across the country were enthusiastic to finally start showing off their provinces. Zenia Wadhwani, Executive Director of the Ontario 150 Secretariat, was happy to see so many people come down to the opening, glad to relish in the chance to show them how much of Ontario there is to explore.
“What you will have when you come to the booth is a opportunity to look at different photographs across the province. You will get to interact and engage with some digital content that we have. We have some fun selfie frames people can take their pictures with. There’ll be contests. They’ll be all kinds of fun things. The idea is to come find out that Ontario is so much more, so diverse, and beautiful to visit,” Wadhwani told Ottawa Life.
Other exhibits on display had people dressing up for rock stars for pics inside the Quebec booth, learning how they could sign up for a free pass with Parks Canada and popping their smiles inside cut-outs of polar bears and whales.
Over the summer Laflamme says the Village will bring in more cultural music and art, culinary demonstrations and family programming to ensure tourists and Canadians continue to discover that Canada is, in a word, inspirational.
“This was a pretty gutsy project, to remove 90 parking spots and bring in those shipping containers,” he said, greeting new people as they stepped into the Inspiration Village for the first time. “Today I think we are delivering on our vision.”