My Ottawa: Why YOW CEO Mark Laroche is high on the region and the Bytown hero he’d like to meet

Mark Laroche headshot
Mark Laroche is president and CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority.
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.

The National Capital Region has it all, according to Mark Laroche, president and CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority. 

Laroche, who has called the region home for most of the past 55 years, earned a civil engineering degree from Royal Military College in 1981. He eventually became a city manager in the Montreal area before serving as chief administrative officer for the City of Gatineau from 2001-07. Laroche then spent nearly six years as head of the Canada Lands Company, commuting between his home in the Ottawa region and the firm’s head office in Toronto.

But his heart remained in the nation’s capital. When an executive search firm approached him to gauge his interest in the top job at his hometown airport, he jumped at the opportunity.

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Recently, Laroche announced he is retiring after more than a decade in the role. The change at the top comes as YOW, as the airport is known, continues to add new routes and gain traffic after bottoming out during the COVID-19 crisis.

In this instalment of My Ottawa, Laroche breaks down his favourite spots for outdoor sports and tells us who he’s looking forward to seeing at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. 

What area of the city/region do you live in?

My wife Marie-Hélène and I live in Gatineau in an area called Le Plateau.

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

We live in a house but are currently downsizing and plan to live a post-retirement, urban lifestyle in an apartment.

What type of pet do you have?

We love animals but due to my wife’s allergies we can’t have a cat or dog. We get our fix of wildlife at our chalet in Mont Tremblant, with daily visits from plenty of deer, turkeys, squirrels, the odd groundhog and a variety of birds, including my favourite: hummingbirds. We have four types of bird feeders to keep everyone happy.

What type of car do you drive?

I drive a Honda Ridgeline to carry my outdoor gear, including bicycles, stand-up paddle boards, skis, etc.

What’s your favourite part of town?

By the Ottawa River or the Rideau Canal.

What is your favourite place to eat in Ottawa?

For a quick business breakfast or lunch, definitely Lansdowne. For anything else, The Shore Club at the Westin or The Whalesbone on Bank Street.

What is your favourite activity in Ottawa?

I love cycling, including in Gatineau Park. We are so fortunate to have easy access to great bike paths and road closures to accommodate cycling. Gatineau Park has the best cycling in Canada, but with a steep (hills) price to pay!

What’s your favourite hobby?

I can be a voracious reader to stay current on a variety of topics. The pace of change is daunting. I drive my family nuts sometimes when discussing things that I read. To stay sane and to get out of their hair I head outdoors as much as I can – I’m sure the trend here is obvious.

What’s your favourite local charity or cause?

The Alzheimer Society. My wife is on the board of directors for the Federation of Alzheimer Societies of Quebec and it’s a cause that is close to our hearts.

What’s your favourite festival?

I’m looking forward to seeing Norah Jones at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in Confederation Park, but must say that Bluesfest at LeBreton is another top contender. Though I may be somewhat biased since one of my favourite artists, Neil Young, is playing. I’m a boomer, what can I say?

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

I would grab a bike and say “let’s roll!” If they’re up to it, definitely the Champlain Lookout to see the most spectacular view of the Outaouais Valley.

What’s your favourite retailer in Ottawa?

MEC, Sail, and Bushtukah (still on trend!).

What type of music do you listen to?

Boomer music (rock and pop) and jazz. And, once in a while, we have classical playing in the background at home.

Where do you get your hair cut?

Typically at Mont Tremblant when I get there. My hair isn’t what it used to be, so No. 2 clipper does the job.

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

Get outside on the SUP, bike, trek or skis. My whitewater canoe days on the nearby Dumoine or Black rivers are mostly done.

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

I would have gladly grabbed a pint or two with Jos Montferrand if I lived in the early Bytown days — he seemed like quite the character.

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

I would do what I have the opportunity to do most days – enjoy the great outdoors. I never tire of it. Where else can you ride your bike and happen upon a black bear? Or ride in the quiet early morning hours all alone except for the trees? Or jump on an SUP in Dow’s Lake or Meech Lake? Or canoe or raft down spectacular rivers that are practically in your backyard? We are incredibly lucky to live in a region that has so much natural beauty to enjoy so easily.

What’s your favourite business event or conference in Ottawa?

I think the Ottawa Board of Trade does an amazing job of organizing events that bring the business community together. I participate in as many as I can, including the City Building Summit and mayor’s breakfasts. I’m sure it goes without saying that events like the opening of Porter’s hangars at the airport or Air France’s inaugural flight to Paris are the events I like doing the most.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Ottawa to pamper or treat yourself?

A night out dining with Marie-Hélène after a full day of the outdoor activities we love doing together.

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

When I travel elsewhere in Canada, I always say that Ottawa and the National Capital Region have the best of both worlds: lively urban cores for doing business, with ready access to the great outdoors for fun. Despite working in many places in Canada, I have always come back home to the NCR.

What’s your favourite season to spend in Ottawa?

I love the variety so every season is great. For sure when the winter weather hits minus 20 and the wind howls, I get anxious for the next season. LOL.

What’s your favourite thing about Ottawa?

The perfect balance of work-live-play.

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