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.
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.
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.