Former governor general Michaëlle Jean is awarded Key to City on International Women's Day

Annual gathering at Ottawa City Hall celebrates social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women
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Mayor Jim Watson presented the Key to the City — Ottawa's highest honour — to former governor general Michaëlle Jean during an International Women's Day celebration hosted at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Women from all walks of life headed to Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday morning to celebrate International Women’s Day and to participate in a special ceremony that saw a former governor general at the receiving end of recognition, for a change, for her outstanding work.

Michaëlle Jean was given Ottawa's highest honour — the Key to the City.

Roughly 180 women and a sprinkling of men gathered for a light breakfast in Jean Pigott Place as part of the IWD event. Attendees came from a range of backgrounds, including the non-profit sector, business, foreign diplomacy and academia.

Next, the crowd was invited into council chamber for a special ceremony with Jean.

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Michaëlle Jean, 27th governor general of Canada, received a Key to the City at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The mayor described the gathering as “bittersweet” because it marked his last time hosting an IWD event. He’s not running for re-election this fall.

Watson was joined by Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, Ottawa city council's liaison for women and gender equity. She cracked the room up when she told everyone how she had “broke the bias” that day by donning leather pants to the event, bypassing the tired yoga pants from pandemic days. “Old ladies can wear these things, too,” said Kavanagh.

The mayor acknowledged the presence of special guests in the room, including several of his city council colleagues, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier and Ottawa police interim chief Steve Bell, who received a hearty round of applause from the crowd in appreciation for his efforts to recently clear the truckers’ convoy out of downtown Ottawa. Last but not least, the mayor gave a shout out to Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa Public Health. She received a standing ovation.

The ceremony included a nice touch of pomp and circumstance with the presence of a pair of Governor General’s Foot Guards, as well as a piper to escort the woman of the hour into the room.

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Some 180 guests filled the City of Ottawa Council Chamber for an International Women's Day celebration that saw former governor general Michaëlle Jean, who was escorted into the room by a piper, receive the Key to the City. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Jean was recognized for her illustrious and distinguished career as a journalist, as the governor general of Canada from 2005 to 2010, UNESCO special envoy for Haiti and third secretary general of La Francophonie.

There were virtual tributes from current Gov. Gen. Mary Simon; Tara Lapointe, executive director of The Michaëlle Jean Foundation; and University of Ottawa president and vice chancellor Jacques Frémont, who also attended in person. The video messages from young female students of the Ottawa-based Michaëlle Jean Elementary School were especially touching.

Jean, 64, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She came as a child to Canada with her family as a refugee and was raised in the town of Thetford Mines, Que.

She was Canada’s first governor general of Caribbean origin and the third woman, after Jeanne Sauvé and Adrienne Clarkson. She's fluent in five languages.

In her speech, Jean addressed several pressing issues, from Russia’s war on the Ukraine, to Truth and Reconciliation and the unmarked graves of residential school children. She touched on the recent three-week occupation of downtown Ottawa by protestors, and the impact the threatening presence had on vulnerable women. She also spoke about Haiti and how the Haitian experience defines who she is.

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From left, Mercy Onuoha (Cornerstone Housing for Women) seen in conversation with the City of Ottawa's auditor general, Nathalie Gougeon, alongside writer, human rights advocate and public speaker Amanda Jetté Knox and Sarah Kennedy, head of the Petrie Island Canoe Club at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa city councillor Catherine Kitts (Cumberland Ward) with Treasury Board President and Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Former senator Marie-Paule Charette-Poulin with University of Ottawa president and vice chancellor Jacques Frémont at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Alain Lundi and Gwen Madiba, president of Equal Chance, at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Meredith Kerr, director of development and communications with the Parkdale Food Centre, and Preeti Prabhu, senior director of public policy with United Way East Ontario, at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, consultant and former journalist Heather Bakken with Susan Smith, co-founder and principal at Bluesky Strategy Group, at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, with Margaret Dickenson and Shannon Day-Newman at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Women's Business Network of Ottawa volunteer vice president Christina Nesrallah (Desjardins Financial Security) with WBN of Ottawa volunteer president Victoria Stewart (Ottawa Business Journal) at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Victoria Lehman, general manager of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, with Ottawa city councillor Rawlson King (Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward), Laura Peck and Dr. Vera Etches at an International Women's Day celebration held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Ottawa city councillor Theresa Kavanagh, liaison for women and gender equity, addressed the crowd at an International Women's Day celebration and Key to the City ceremony held at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca