The Great War and Canada’s French connection

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From left, Jayne Watson, Bill Teron, Jean Teron and Heather Moore on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at the unveiling of Inuit artist Jessie Oonark's magnificent tapestry, partially seen in the background. It has returned to hang in the National Arts Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips.

“Lest we forget” is an admonition French Ambassador Philippe Zeller need not worry about — his home is a veritable memorial to the Canadian sacrifices made during the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The French embassy is a stylish 1930s art deco building located on Sussex Drive. Inside you will find a replica of the Vimy monument overlooking the entrance hall. There is also a lofty set of bronze doors decorated with such indelible images as a French soldier in the trenches welcoming a Canadian soldier arriving to help free his country.

“Remembrance is really at the heart of the relationship between Canada and France,” Zeller told Around Town at a reception he hosted Thursday for The Vimy Foundation and its efforts to preserve and promote Canada’s First World War legacy.

Some 200 guests attended the third annual reception, which raised more than $7,000.

Outgoing Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney was glimpsed mixing with Len Farber, a former senior Finance Department official, and his businesswoman wife, Barbara. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson was there, as was TV journalist Tom Clark and Tory MP Erin O’Toole, who stepped in for Defence Minister Peter MacKay (he was reporting for diaper duty with newborn son Kian Alexander). Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin briefly dropped in and was seen speaking en français with the ambassador.

Guests also included Sanderling Press managing editor Valerie Cousins and creative director Alison Hall of Vimy: Canada’s Memorial to a Generation by Jacqueline Hucker and Julian Smith.

Smith, co-leader of the conservation team for the restoration of the Vimy monument in France, did a five-star job with his keynote address.

The reception involved young cadets as well as young artists from The School of Dance in period costume. Dancers Kay Kenney and Nicola Henry performed on the embassy’s marble staircase while using a hanging tapestry, Spring in Paris, as their colourful backdrop.

When it comes to Ottawa’s social scene, aboriginal arts and cultural is hotter than boiling maple sap these days.

A NORTHERN FESTIVAL EXTRAORDINAIRE

Beginning at the Canadian Museum of Nature, a crowd of 260 turned out Wednesday for the launch of the Extraordinary Arctic month-long festival. It featured a traditional lighting ceremony conducted by Inuit counsellor Reepa Evic-Carleton, throat singers Lynda Brown and Allison Zakal and gifted spoken-word artist Taqralik Partridge. As well, students from the Ottawa-based Nunavut Sivuniksavut college performed drum dancing in the museum’s mezzanine.

Present was museum president and CEO Meg Beckel with scientists who work in the North. Tom Perlmutter and Claude Joli-Coeur were there on behalf of the National Film Board, which has been documenting films by and about the Inuit.

National Inuit leader Terry Audla, president of ITK (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami), spoke about growing up in Resolute Bay and its 24-hour dark winters. He and his classmates would be sent out to play at their school, located at the edge of town.

“We went out at recess in the pitch dark, knowing there would be polar bears out there,” Audla recalled. “We decided, smartly, to sit by the door and wait for those 15 minutes to end.”

The crowd also heard how the Arctic “cast a spell” on Geoff Green from Students on Ice, an educational expedition organization that takes students to the Arctic. Green’s first trip up North was in 1994 to Ellesmere Island.

“I’ve never stopped going back,” said Green. “Like many of you, it got into my heart and into my soul and the pure awe and wonder of the land, the traditional knowledge of the people, the remarkable nature and the resiliency and spirit of the Inuit has all cast a spell on me.”

A DRAMA ABOUT LOVE AND HEALING

It wasn’t your usual night at the the-a-tre Thursday.

For beginners, it wasn’t just an audience but more of “a gathering” at the opening night of The Edward Curtis Project at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre. As well, an Algonquin elder performed a special spiritual ceremony prior to the proverbial rise of the curtain.

“Extraordinary,” was the word Carleton University president Roseann Runte used to describe the poignant drama written and directed by Métis artist Marie Clements. “I would recommend it.”

So would University of Ottawa professor Claudette Commanda. “It’s about the past, it’s about the present, it’s about the future, it’s about survival, it’s about love … it’s about the healing,” Commanda, granddaughter of the late Algonquin elder William Commanda, said at the reception afterward.

The contemporary play is a joint production between the National Arts Centre (NAC) and Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) in association with Red Diva Projects.

Around Town caught up with Ottawa cast member Todd Duckworth to chat about his challenging role as real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis. “It’s been a really fascinating process and I’ve loved it,” said Duckworth, while trying to chill out from the intensity of his performance with a beer or two. “I’ll be wired for the next three hours.”

Duckworth said he’s enjoyed working with Clements, whom he described as smart and strong. “She’s quite a woman,” he added fondly.

TAPESTRY BACK ‘HOME’ AT NAC

Ottawa philanthropist and developer Bill Teron felt a surge of pride as he entered the NAC main foyer Thursday and saw the magnificent tapestry by Inuit artist Jessie Oonark, all beautifully restored and rehung on the wall above the grand staircase.

Having the tapestry permanently back up “gives us no end of pleasure,” Teron told Around Town with his wife, Jean, at his side. They were joined at the official unveiling by NAC Foundation CEO Jayne Watson and producer Heather Moore of the upcoming Northern Scene festival.

The eye-popping piece had been commissioned 40 years ago by Teron through the help of art gallery owner John Robertson. Teron had wanted it big enough to put in the lobby or main banquet room of a hotel he was building but it ended up being too large. The wall hanging was stored in the Terons’ home, all folded up, until NAC founder Hamilton Southam learned of it. Teron was on the NAC board at the time. “As they say, the rest is history,” said Teron.

The tapestry was unveiled at the NAC in 1973 and remained on display there until 1994.

Carolyn001@sympatico.ca

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