U.S. Embassy celebrates Fourth of July in Ottawa, Creole and Cajun style

Massive party breaks from tradition by moving from ambassador's official residence to National Arts Centre
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What a warm reception the U.S. Embassy gave to its Canadian friends during its annual Fourth of July celebrations in Ottawa. Mind you, it wasn't nearly as warm as it could have — the party moved indoors this year to the air-conditioned relief found at the National Arts Centre.

It was like our nation’s capital chose to be hotter than a Louisiana swamp in honour of the embassy’s party theme: Cajun Bayou Country.

Thursday's festive evening saw some 2,400 invited guests attend the Independence Day bash, which is traditionally held on the sprawling grounds of the U.S. ambassador’s official residence in Rockcliffe Park. Having it downtown did make things simpler, in terms of set up, accessibility, parking and inclement weather.

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The National Arts Centre hosted 2,400 guests of the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Ambassador Kelly Craft — President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — had to send her regards from Western Canada. She was fêting her country’s 243rd birthday with the U.S. Consulate in Calgary.

In her place was the embassy's deputy head of mission, Richard Mills, a seasoned diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Armenia. Turns out, Mills was born in Lafayette, La. — a city famous for its Creole and Cajun culture, with deep ties to Acadia.

To help set the mood, volunteers slipped beaded Mardi Gras necklaces — in the American colours of red, white and blue — over guests’ heads as soon as they arrived.  There were American flags and stars and stripes bunting proudly on display throughout the venue.

The NAC’s Nelson Borges, general manager of food and beverage, and executive chef Kenton Leier, along with their team, served up a menu that included Cajun-styled ribs, Crawfish étouffée, Creole shrimp and grits, veggie gumbo on rice and alligator sausages. The dessert tables included powdery beignets and bourbon pecan butter tarts. 

The food was served in the NAC’s bright and spacious Canada Room, where guest ate communally, side by side, at long tables covered with blue gingham tablecloths and quaint decorations.

Guests could wash it all down with the party’s signature drink, a Hurricane Cocktail made with both a dark and light rum and tropical juices.

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From left, National Arts Centre executive chef Kenton Leier and Nelson Borges, general manager of food and beverage, in the Canada Room during the Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration held at the NAC on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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The National Arts Centre hosted 2,400 guests of the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Spotted in the packed crowd were Canada’s chief of defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance; Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Liberal MP Wayne Easter, co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group; and NAC president and CEO Christopher Deacon.

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From left, U.S. Army Attaché Colonel Rob Worsham with  Canada’s chief of defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, at the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Liberal MP Wayne Easter, co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group, with Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs,  at the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Susan Smith, principal at Bluesky Strategy Group and co-founder of CANADA2020.ca, with her colleague, Neil Brodie, vice-president at Bluesky,  at the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Meg Beckel, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature, with Caroline O'Neill, reporter for ELMNT FM 95.7, and her father, Mark O'Neill, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History and Canadian War Museum, at the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Chris Vivone, senior vice president of public affairs firm Edelman, with his realtor wife, Sarah Grand, chowed down on some ribs at the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Bruce Raganold, director of business development for Welch LLP, with his wife, Giselle Bergeron-Raganold, at the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The purpose of the party was to thank Canadians for their support and friendship, and to show them a good time. The musical entertainment included Louisiana's Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. There was also a presentation of the colours by the U.S. marine colour guards.

Mills spoke about the importance of strong relations between the U.S. and Canada while referring to the words of his vice president, Mike Pence, who called it "as strong as it's ever been" when he visited here recently.

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From left, the U.S. Embassy's Deputy Head of Mission Richard Mills with General Jonathan Vance at the embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, pointed out Mills, before encouraging everyone to check out the images from the iconic space flight that are being projected onto the side of the embassy building, located on Sussex Drive.

The commemorative display, which continues daily from sundown until 1 a.m.  until Aug. 2nd, is being done with permission from the National Capital Commission. “We snuck in, right behind the Château Laurier project,” the diplomat joked, referring to the controversial hotel expansion project. “Nobody asked any questions.”

The historic moon flight was literally rooted in Canada and U.S. cooperation, said Mills of the Montreal-manufactured landing gear that successfully landed a dozen Americans on the moon between July 1969 and December 1972. 

On a political note, Mills spoke of how the U.S. is “deeply troubled” by the arbitrary detainment of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China. 

As well, Mills thanked the sponsors, the embassy staff, the party volunteers, the entertainers, and the NAC for providing the venue and food and for demonstrating such patience.

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James Baxter, former publisher of iPolitics, with his wife, Sarah Baxter, publisher of the Ottawa arts coverage site Artsfile, at the U.S. Embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Speaking on behalf of the Canadian government was Oliphant. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Canada and the United States have the greatest economic and security partnership of any two countries in the world,” he told the room. 

He spoke of the progress our two countries are making toward completing a modernized new NAFTA agreement that will safeguard the more than $2 billion worth of trade crossing the Canada-U.S. border every day. “I know that American as well as Canadians will appreciate the certainly that that deal will give us.”

Canada is the United States’ largest customer and buys more goods from the U.S. than do China, Japan and the United Kingdom combined, he also reminded the room.

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From left, Alex Maheu, senior consultant with Summa Strategies, with Yvonne Langen, business development manager at Abacus Data, and public affairs professional Anthony Carricato at the embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, National Gallery of Canada senior exhibitions manager Serge Belet, seen with the party's signature drink, a Hurricane Cocktail, and Brett Kubicek at the embassy's Cajun Bayou Country Fourth of July Celebration, held at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

— caroline@obj.ca