My Ottawa: How Alex Munter, the ‘mouthy kid with ideas,’ found himself at home in Ottawa

Alex Munter is the president and CEO of CHEO. Photo supplied.
Alex Munter is the president and CEO of CHEO. Photo supplied.
Editor's Note

My Ottawa is an occasional column where we ask local business personalities about their life in the nation’s capital and what they like most about the city.

For Alex Munter, president and CEO of CHEO, home is where the heart is and Ottawa has always been home. Prior to joining CHEO in 2011, Munter was CEO of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), and before that executive director of the Youth Services Bureau (YSB). Many Ottawans know Munter as a city and regional councillor from 1991 to 2003. Since joining CHEO, Munter has helped the organization evolve into an integrated child and youth health system able to deliver on its vision of the best life for every child and youth. 

In this instalment of My Ottawa, Munter talks about growing up in Kanata, Ottawa’s best festivals, and how it feels to come home. 

What’s your favourite part of town?

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My heart will always be in Kanata, where I grew up. The people of Kanata supported me as a child, teen and young adult – from my earliest volunteering to when I started my business and then when I got elected to city council there. I would not be who or where I am today were it not for the kindness and generosity of the people of Kanata who took a risk on a mouthy kid with ideas.

What type of home do you have (condo, house, etc.)?

Our multigenerational household lives in a semi-detached home – grandpa, parents, child, dog. Always lots happening!

What type of pet do you have?

A boisterous brown Boston terrier named Lola

What’s your favourite season to spend in Ottawa?

Late spring – May/June, with early summer close behind.

What is your favourite place to eat in Ottawa?

My house! My spouse Dennis is the world’s best cook. By contrast, making our kiddo’s school lunch is pretty much the height of my culinary expertise.

What’s your favourite festival?

So many choices! For my brain, the Ottawa International Writers Festival. For the people-watching, Canada Day. For the tunes, CityFolk. For the beauty, the Canadian Tulip Festival. For its message that everyone belongs, Capital Pride.

If you were to play tour guide for a first-time visitor to Ottawa for a day, where would you take them?

Well, there really are two Ottawas — Ottawa the capital and Ottawa the town. I’d like visitors to see both. So, for sure, Parliament, the Rideau Canal, the National Gallery. And also more local attractions – Moo Shu ice cream, the Mer Bleue boardwalk in the east end, the Lansdowne farmer’s market, maybe ride the O-train.

What’s your favourite retailer in Ottawa?

Shoe Plus Shoe on Bank Street in the Glebe. It’s great for kids’ footwear and, tucked in the back, they have hundreds of distinctive children’s toys – many of them handmade. Fun place to find very unique gifts for kids.

What’s your favourite live music or entertainment venue?

The Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield.

What’s your favourite weekend outing to do with family or friends?

Heading over to Gatineau Park for a hike. Cycling to Dow’s Lake. Kiddo loves museums and we have Ingenium and Museum of Nature passes so that’s a frequent destination. Or best of all – having friends over for supper (remember the world’s best cook?).

What Ottawa personality, past or present, do you admire?

Our city’s greatest mayor ever, Marion Dewar, was a friend and mentor. Sadly, she died over 15 years ago. I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life so you can imagine I know a lot of truly awesome people so I’m not going to get myself into trouble by starting to list them.

If you took a staycation in Ottawa, what would you do?

Sleep in! I have a pretty busy life between professional and personal commitments. And then I’d do things I just never have time to do. Like meet up with those people to whom you say “let’s keep in touch” but never do. And this will sound like the geekiest thing ever – I might swing by the Ottawa Room at the main branch of the library. My undergraduate degree was in history and I am fascinated by the history of Ottawa. There’s just so much intriguing archival information in the Ottawa Room and I haven’t gotten there in quite a while.

What local business or attraction do you think is one of Ottawa’s best-kept secrets?

The Pinhey Point historic site on the banks of the Ottawa River in rural Kanata. The manor house is over 200 years old, making it the first home in what is now Ottawa. And the view of the Ottawa River and across to the Quebec side at the bend in the river there is breathtaking. It’s not a drive-by from downtown or the east end, so make it a day trip on a nice summer day. Pack a picnic basket, see the museum and enjoy the views. Or go in the fall, when you look across the river and see the carpet of orange, yellow and red.

What’s your favourite local charity or cause?

Trick question, right? The CHEO Foundation of course! Every day at CHEO, I am blown away by the skill, passion and compassion of the people I work with. The CHEO Foundation helps make so much of that magic happen. And we’re about to celebrate CHEO’s 50th birthday so I’ve been seeing and reading so many truly impactful stories about the past half-century. Such an amazing place. By the way, we’re inviting businesses to celebrate our birthday by lighting up in purple (CHEO’s official colour) on May 17. 

What’s your favourite thing about Ottawa?

If I’m flying back from somewhere, as we start our descent into Ottawa, I look at trees, the road patterns I recognize, the neighbourhoods I’ve lived in, the rivers, and I think … “I’m home.” It’s a great feeling to feel like you fit somewhere.

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