It's an evening with envoys at Rockcliffe's Dining with the Ambassadors

Fourteen diplomats host dinners at their official residences in support of Rockcliffe community
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Dining with the Ambassadors is the kind of fundraiser that proves the strength of a community isn't measured by its big homes and fancy cars but by the positive and healthy social relationships that exist between neighbours.

The Rockcliffe Park Community Centre was a hub of activity on Friday as residents of the upscale neighbourhood gathered there for a unique, biennial fundraiser that relies on the generosity of the diplomat community. Fourteen heads of missions, all of whom have their official residences located in Rockcliffe, graciously hosted dinner parties that night in support of the Rockcliffe Park Foundation.

“It’s about bringing neighbours together,” said Dining with the Ambassadors co-chair Sarah Baxter, publisher of the Ottawa arts coverage site Artsfile. “It’s the largest gathering of this community — if you define the community as Rockcliffe — at any point during the year.

“It’s about making new friends, seeing old friends and, hopefully, become more engaged and involved in our community.”

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From left, Victor Duret, chair of the Ottawa Art Gallery board, with Dorinda Brunst and Hilary McCormack, chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission of Canada, and Thailand's ambassaor, Maris Sangiampongsa, at the cocktail reception for Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Supporters of the sold-out event kicked off the evening at the community centre. They mingled over a friendly cocktail reception catered by nearby Fraser Café and sponsored by luxury home realtor Marilyn Wilson, who was also on the organizing committee. The place was festively decorated with flags from around the world while drinks were served in the building's adjoining public library. 

Organizers introduced all the heads of missions and their spouses to the room before revealing to guests at which home they would be dining. The diplomats and their spouses were given special medals to wear around their necks (much like is done with authors and politicians at the Politics and the Pen literary gala dinner).

Each group, of about a dozen or so folks, then set off to their destination to be wined and dined (and, in the case of the Cameroon official residence, danced into the late evening hours).

Sponsors also included The Minto Group, represented by its CEO, Michael Waters, and his wife, Sarah Waters, and Foundation WCPD, represented by president and founder Peter Nicholson and his spouse, Anabel Bane. Also present were Bonnie Robinson, chair of the Rockcliffe Park Foundation, and Peter Lewis, president of the Rockcliffe Park Residents Association (RPRA).

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Reba Wilson and Marilyn Wilson, with presenting sponsor Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties, at the cocktail reception for Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Sarah Baxter and Robert Collette co-chaired the organizing committee for Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019, in support of the Rockcliffe Park Foundation. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Peter Nicholson and Anabel Bane from Foundation WCPD were new sponsors to Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Rockcliffe Park residents Michael Waters, CEO of The Minto Group,and Sarah Waters sponsored Dining with the Ambassadors. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, spouse Kathleen Billen and Belgium Ambassador Johan Verkammen with Rockcliffe Park Foundation chair Bonnie Robinson at Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The $175 price tag for a ticket is considered a steal compared to how much embassy dinners typically fetch at charity auctions. At Elmwood School's annual fundraising gala, also held this past weekend, a dinner for 15 at the French embassy went for $15,000 during the live auction.

“There are lots of things that I love about living in this neighbourhood, but one of the things I really treasure is the international community,” said Baxter, who led the organizing committee with Robert Collette, a former chief of protocol for Canada. “Not only do we have people from all over the world but these people have been chosen by their countries as being particularly great ambassadors who are passionate about their countries.

“We get to meet them, we get to hear about their countries. On top of that, they know they’re only in Ottawa or Canada for a certain amount of time, so they really make the most of their time here.”

Attendees ranged from prominent businessmen Bill Malhotra (Claridge Homes) and Jim Taggart (Taggart Group of Companies) to newer arrivals, such as executive banker Marjolaine Hudon. She moved to the ‘hood last summer, from Calgary, after being promoted to regional president of RBC for Ontario North and East. It's rare to attend a Rockcliffe event without sighting at least one member of the prominent Murray clan. Sean Murray, from Sakto Corporation, and organizing committee member Fiona Murray were there, just to name a couple.

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Marjolaine Hudon, regional president of RBC, and her husband, John McCourt, attended this year's Dining with the Ambassadors for their first time as new residents to Rockcliffe Park. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa developer Bill Malhotra with his wife, Romina Malhotra, with Jamilah Taib-Murray and Sean Murray, who are chairwoman and president of Sakto Corporation, respectively, at Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Jim Taggart, head of Taggart Group of Companies, with his wife, Jane Panet, who was on the planning committee for Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Fiona Murray, who was on the planning committee for Dining with the Ambassadors, with her husband, Don Cook, a financial advisor with RBC, at the fundraiser for the Rockcliffe Park Foundation. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Peter Lewis, president of the Rockcliffe Park Residents Association, with his wife, Ricarda McFalls, a senior international development consultant, at Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Participating hosts this year were: Algerian Ambassador Hocine Meghar and Elbia Meghar; Bahamas High Commissioner Alvin Smith; Belgium Ambassador Johan Verkammen and Kathleen Billen; Cameroon High Commissioner Solomon Azoh-Mbi and Mercy Azoh-Mbi; Finnish Ambassador Vesa Ilmari Lehtonen and Pirjetta Julia Manninen; Ghana's high commissioner, Ayikoi Otoo and Patricia Ayorkor Hanson-Mettle; Israeli Ambassador Nimrod Barkan and Shlomit Shulov Barkan, Japanese Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane and Kaoru Ishikane; Korean Ambassador Maeng-ho Shin and Dongmin Lee; Slovakia's ambassador, Vit Koziak, and Janka Koziakova; Slovenian Ambassador, Melita Gabrič, and Michael Benson; Spanish Ambassador Enrique Ruiz Molero and Leticia Herberg Carrera; Thailand's ambassador, Maris Sangiampongsa and Kokan Sangiampongsa; and Tunisian Ambassador Mohamed Imed Torjemane and Ihssane Torjemane.

The event raised over $30,000 to support community activities and projects in Rockcliffe Park.

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From left, John French, a board member with the Bruyère Foundation, with planning committee member Marianne Feaver, Mercy Azoh-Mbi and her spouse, Cameroon Ambassador Solomon Azoh-Mbi, Louise French and Liz Pigott at Dining with the Ambassadors. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Finnish Ambassador Vesa Ilmari Lehtonen with Janka Koziakova and her spouse, Slovakian Ambassador Vit Koziak, at Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Jérôme Bresson, deputy head of mission for the Embassy of France, with his wife, Fanny, and Melita Gabrič, ambassador of Slovenia, with her husband Michael Benson, at Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Andy Robinson with Japanese Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane  and his wife, Kaoru, and Patrick O'Keefe at Dining with the Ambassadors, held in Rockcliffe Park on Friday, May 3, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

— caroline@obj.ca