Ottawa Honours Its Own

Photos by Andre Gagne

As many gathered in front of televisions, inside local pubs and at a sold out Canadian Tire Centre across town as the Sens readied for round two of the playoffs, the setting sun cast amber hues over the Capital’s most iconic landmark. A few blocks away from both the Peace Tower and the excitement on Sens Mile, the city was honoring their own at the Ottawa Tourism Awards.

Mayor Jim Watson

“This just does wonders for us. Even being nominated is amazing,” said Jane Kolbe, chair and organizer for the Capital Ukrainian Festival.  In only the third year of her cultural summer event, she found herself nominated alongside the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival for Tourism Partner of the Year.

Created to honor those who have “set high standards and demonstrated outstanding achievement contributing to the growth and development of tourism” in the city, the annual awards coordinated by Ottawa Tourism received numerous entrants in 2016. They would be narrowed down to 23 finalists in five categories. The organization, founded in 1971, has prided itself on attracting visitors to the Capital Region for over 40 years and all the nominees gathered in the Shaw Centre last night were instrumental in making the city a welcoming hub for tourists last year.

“Tonight is truly a celebration and tribute to all things tourism,” said Nina Kressler, President & CEO of Shaw Centre looking out on the guests from a rotating state in the middle of the Trillium Ballroom. The Centre itself was a boon for tourism hosting just under 500 events, creating 975 jobs, and bringing in 81 million dollars of outside revenue to the Capital.

“Tourism affects us in many ways on a day to day basis. Whether it’s a visitors experience stepping into our award winning airport, to the time it takes in a taxi to ride downtown, to the hotel they call home for several nights, we all have a way to affect our visitors in a positive way,” Kressler went on the say.

Before the ceremony, Mayor Jim Watson spoke highly of a city that continues to surprise him each year. Addressing the crowd, he listed off the events for Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations here to show how Ottawa has reached even higher elevations in becoming a tourism Mecca this year.

“We’re giving residents in Canada and people around the world great reasons to visit our nation’s Capital not just in 2017 but in 2018 and beyond,” said Watson thanking all nominees for the work they have done in what he calls a blessed city.

The event was hosted by former Redblacks quarterback and Grey Cup champion Henry Burris who spoke about how he’s experienced the hospitality of the city firsthand. Though most of his time was spent focusing on football, since retiring in January he’s had a chance to see much more of his Ottawa home.

“This is a first class city and a place I’m very happy to call home,” Burris said welling up with tears as he announced that he had just received word that his family has been granted permanent residency. “I’m very happy to be here to celebrate a world class city for business and the people and organizations that contribute to it.”

Escape Manor's Neil Schwartz and the Diefenbunker's Kelly Eyamie win the Partnership of the Year Award

One of the first awards of the evening was handed out to the unique partnership of the Diefenbunker and Escape Manor. The collaboration sees groups of people tasked with finding a way out of the 100,000 square foot Cold War bunker after thwarting an attack. The program’s first six months sold out within days as escapees were drawn to the unique merging of action, puzzles and education.

“I think we can all agree in a town full of opinions that nothing says tourism like locking people 75 feet underground under 25,000 feet of concrete,” joked Escape Manor’s Neil Schwartz who accepted the award with the museum’s Kelly Eyamie.

The team behind Baconpalooza!

“It’s hard to beat bacon,” said Fernand Proulx, Interim President and CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, continuing the jovial nature of the evening. Knowing clearly the main attraction that netted them the honor for Food and Drink Experience of the Year, he was quick to acknowledge everyone who made the Agriculture and Food Museums’ attraction Baconpalooza a scrumptious slice of the summer.

Mark Saunders and Angela Grant Saunders

The tireless efforts of the Saunders family were recognized in winning the Event of the Year (Themed Celebration or Exhibition) Award. For 25 Years, the farm has been exciting tourists and locals alike especially during their annual Haunting Season fright fests. When accepting, Angela Grant Saunders said how humble considering the other events in the category.

RBC Bluesfest took the second award in the Event of the Year category, recognized for the 2016 edition of the festival which saw its first sellout evening in 20 years. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were a huge draw last July and nearly 350,000 attendees, 30 per cent of them tourists, packed LeBreton Flats over the course of the two week festival.  

“I’d like to say that in 1994 the prospect of having a career in the festival and events industry in Ottawa was meager thought,” said Mark Monahan, the festival’s executive director. “Really, what I’d like to stress tonight is that this is a celebration of our local industry. We having a thriving industry here in Ottawa and we’re all poised to take advantage of 2017!”

New Company of the Year, sponsored by CTM Media Group
Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market

Tourism Partnership of the Year, sponsored by Where Ottawa
Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum and Escape Manor

Food and Drink Experience of the Year
Canada Agriculture and Food Museum: Baconpalooza

Event of the Year – Themed Celebration or Exhibition
Saunders Farm: Haunting Season

Event of the Year – Festival
RBC Bluesfest

The Don Blakslee Hotelier Award
Peter Wilson of the Holiday Inn & Suites Ottawa Kanata

Tourism Achievement Award
2016 One Young World Summit

Ottawa Tourism Travel Writing Award
Dan Rubinstein for Keeping it Wheel

Ottawa Tourism Social Media Influence Award
James Pelzer

Ottawa Tourism Scholarship
Abbey Crockett

2016 Star of the City
Nathalie Coutou of Khewa Native Art Boutique