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.”
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).
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.
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.