Author Archive

PARTY PLANNERS’ GUIDE: Remember your loved ones with a service that reflects who they are


WITH PARTY PRO Elizabeth Young

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine


Tivoli Florist, Elizabeth Young. Photo: Jessica Deeks

Elizabeth Young is the new owner of Tivoli Florist, but she’s no rookie when it comes to flowers and events. Before taking over the 26-year-old Westboro shop last year, she operated Flowers Talk, completed the horticulture program at the University of Guelph, and ran her own event-planning company out of the Westin Hotel for three years.

She got into the business because she loves plants and has always had a keen interest in events. “I grew up with my fingers in the dirt,” she jokes. And while she enjoyed planning events, she eventually fell in love with flowers. “Flowers and events go hand in hand,” says Young. “They can literally transform a space. Flowers bring an event to another level — it’s almost regal.”

She specializes in weddings and other events. “From the first consult to the delivery, we are very detail-oriented.” In terms of style, Young describes her approach as “modern romantic” — not too fussy, not too much “stuff.” She keeps filler greenery to a minimum and chooses beautiful, high-quality flowers.

Her top tip when it comes to funeral arrangements is to approach your florist with personal information about the deceased. What flowers do they love — or hate? She adds, “Sympathy arrangements should be a reflection of the person’s personality.” Plus, memorial events feature lots of flowers, so if you want your contribution to be front and centre, better go big. On the other hand, if it is going to a memorial where an urn will be present, scale back in size.

Remembering Loved Ones

iStock_000002384861LargeThe Entertainment What is a modern funeral without a jazzy slideshow? “People like that perspective on a life lived,” says Mike Wood of Ottawa Special Events, the go-to technicians for Tubman Funeral Home. Their company provides technical help for audiovisual aspects of memorials and rents projectors, speakers, and televisions for all kinds of events. “If they don’t know how [to use equipment], we take the time to walk them through it,” says Wood, who lost his mother four years ago and says that experience made him even more tuned in to supporting people during the funeral process.

The Venue Before the last century, families and friends of the deceased carried out funeral rites. And just as home births are changing childbirth, so too are home funerals coming back into vogue. While still a fringe movement, “death midwifery” and “post-death care” offer an intimate experience. For those looking to help loved ones of the deceased (a.k.a. “death journeyers”), the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives is the place to go for videos, DIY instructions, and testimonials. And this May, the Funeral Information Society of Ottawa is hosting a lecture by Cobourg-based thanadoula (death midwife) Barb Phillips to speak about her services — both practical and spiritual.


Photo courtesy of Beechwood Cemetery

The Spend In Canada, for years the cost of a traditional funeral has come in at between $8,000 and $10,000. But online competition, the popularity of cremation (because of the dwindling availability and rising cost of grave sites), and a general eschewing of bells-and-whistles ceremonies have encouraged alternative approaches to saying goodbye. In Ottawa, Basic Funerals offers packages starting at $1,500.

The Dress Black is a safe option, but if the ceremony is at an unconventional location such as a beach or backyard, think outside the box. More and more often, family and friends are looking to pay homage to departed loved ones in unique ways — and the all-black dress code is being questioned. So if the death notice says “no black,” do your best to abide. Why not honour the deceased by donning their favourite colour or an item of clothing that speaks to one of their passions? At the military funeral of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo last October, some onlookers wore red to salute the young soldier’s sacrifice for his country.

The Extras Why accept the standard urn? If it’s going to be the receptacle of treasured remains, make it personal. Better yet, spread those ashes among family members and friends by hiring local artist Janet Jensen to create glass beads that “tastefully and elegantly” suspend cremated ash in a customized, portable tribute to your dear departed. (She also works with Resting Paws Cemetery and Cremation Inc., the city’s first full-service pet funeral home.) Pretty and discreet, the beads warm to the touch and serve as a calming memento.



Dish Catering. Photo: Christian Lalonde, Photolux Studio

Expert Edibles from Dish Catering

Sustenance is comforting, especially if the food has a personal touch — the deceased’s family recipes, his love of fishing, or her practice of making preserves

  • French-Canadian tourtière. In hand-held sizes
  • Tea sandwiches. Smoked trout rillette; cucumber and whipped butter; pink beauty radish with brown butter and lemon.
  • Trifle. Blackberry preserves, lemon curd, whipped cream, and sponge toffee

DISH Catering, 119 Ross Ave., 613-761-1302,



WEEKEND LONG READ: Ottawa’s CoSA Works With High-Risk Sexual Offenders to Build Safer Communities

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

Circles of Support and Accountability has a proven track record for assisting high-risk sexual offenders
with integrating into society and ensuring that they do not reoffend.
But its current funding crisis is raising alarm bells for those who study offence rates.
Brielle Morgan looks at the state of prison treatment programs, meets the people who volunteer
with CoSA, and talks to two men who are struggling to make past wrongs right

Illustration by Anothony Tremmaglia

Illustration by Anothony Tremmaglia

Heinous. Monstrous. Disgusting.

I stack these adjectives in my mind as I consider the stout man sitting next to me on the bench inside the Elgin Street church where we had agreed to meet. A convicted child molester, he has likely heard them before.

Sam (not his real name) unloads a stash of colourful candy from his coat pocket, piling it between us while announcing the name of each plastic-wrapped sweet: gumball, Skittles, Fizz, candy necklace, Fireball. Once a month, he splurges at local confectionery Sugar Mountain.

“Guy told me about that store,” Sam says. As if on cue, the door opens and Guy Dagenais comes in from the cold.

“Hey, Sam!” says the silver-haired man, his smile glaringly white against a deep tan.

Read the rest of this entry »

PARTY PLANNERS’ GUIDE: Celebrate life’s next chapter with the perfect retirement party

WITH PARTY PROS Ben Welland and Colleen Johnson

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine


Ben Welland and Colleen Johnson of Byfied-Pitman Photography. Photo: Jessica Deeks

Ben Welland and Colleen Johnson of Byfield-Pitman Photography channel the intimacy that comes from being a married couple in order to capture life’s best moments.

They got into the business because it gives them the opportunity to shoot in a documentary style and record fleeting moments that unfold at special gatherings.

They specialize in weddings, but they have also been hired for birthdays and anniversary celebrations. They always look for natural interactions among guests.
“We don’t ask people to look at our cameras,” says Welland. “After a while, people get used to this and relax, and that allows us to work,” adds Johnson. Plus, working as a married couple gives them an advantage. “Even though we’ll be shooting the same scene, we see different things. That enables us to get different angles,” explains Welland. “It speeds the process up. One can shoot wide-angle while the other captures close-ups.” Adds Johnson: “We’re very much in sync.”

Their top tip is to meet with the photographer(s) in person first. “If you trust them, that trust will transfer to your guests, and you’ll get better photos.” And while you might not want to think about Grandma and Grandpa passing on, Welland points out that it’s important to document the lives of elderly relatives. “Younger photographs at funerals don’t resonate as well with, say, grandchildren, who only remember Grandpa as an older man.”

iStock_ChampagneToastA New Chapter

The Drink One thing is certain when it comes to retirement parties: there will be plenty of toasts. Steve Benson of Ottawa Cocktails suggests a sparkling wine or champagne cocktail. “Retirement parties are different because they are half happy, half sad. So you want to do something fun that emphasizes the positive side of retirement.” Bubbly cocktails are also fairly unisex drinks, and Benson notes that they can easily be personalized. Keep it classy with a Kir Royale (crème de cassis and champagne), or toast the guest of honour with a drink crafted to his or her hobbies: how about something made with maple syrup for the guy with the sugar-bush dreams?

The Gift So if a watch is out, then what is in? As with weddings, taking that next step in life calls for cash, and plenty of financial planners suggest this gifting route. But personalization is key. So why not look to their future plans for inspiration? If they are hoping to spend more time at the cottage, some practical luxury might be in order. Or if the retiree in your life is making that dream trip a reality, give a gift certificate to a Michelin-starred restaurant in their port of call.


Andrew Carter; photo by Melissa McMahon Photography

The Entertainment DJ Andrew Carter, who has been in the business for 17 years and regularly plays at upscale venues like Social in the ByWard Market, suggests a playlist tailored to the guest of honour. “It’s really about doing your research. What genres or songs does the person love? That provides a blueprint.” Or plans for the next chapter in their life can serve as inspiration. Carter played the 2008 Snowsuit Fund Gala, which had a Marrakech theme. The organizer of the event, Karen Wood of Knock on Wood Communications & Events Inc., was over the moon about Carter’s ability to weave traditional Moroccan sounds with modern rhythms. No time to fiddle around on iTunes? Consider hiring Carter, who often makes CDs of playlists for guests to take home as a memento of the event.


Photo courtesy of LouLou Lounge

The Extras Paper plates for an anniversary or retirement party? They scream hotdogs and coleslaw, not tapas and hors d’oeuvres. Fine china complements both the food and the honoured guest’s achievements. But most of us do not have enough of the good stuff to outfit a big bash. That’s where rental dishware comes in. Two of Ottawa’s bigger players — Cody Party and Party Time Rental — can provide glassware, cutlery, and everything in between. Smaller companies, such as Groovy Linens, stock an abundance of table runners, backdrops, napkins, and chair covers in different colours, styles, and fabrics. If you’re looking to transform a space, check out LouLou Lounge. They rent stools, chairs, couches, tables, area rugs, and even throw pillows in a variety of styles. And don’t forget to put some flair into announcing the big day. Instead of simply emailing friends and colleagues, why not let the entire neighbourhood know that he or she is retiring? E & R Lawn-A-Grams puts a spin on the retro flamingo, filling lawns with armies of yellow T. Rexes. What a great way to let the one you love know he or she is now officially a dinosaur!



El Meson. Photo: Christian Lalonde, Photolux Studio

EXPERT EDIBLES from El Meson Catering

Retirement is often a chance to take that long-awaited voyage abroad. Spain, you say? Then tapas are sure to please.

  • Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp). With white wine and herb sauce
  • Spicy chorizo. Soaked in hard cider, garnished with apple
  • Charred octopus. Perfectly tender, with smoked paprika

El Meson Ristorante, 94 Beechwood Ave., 613-744-8484,

SHOP TALK: Visit Victoire for modern, vintage-inspired wedding dresses from Birds of North America


Earlier this year, Victoire hosted a bridal event showcasing local wedding sources as well as the Birds of North America bridal collection. Fittings can be arranged at the Wellington location of Victoire

Earlier this year, Victoire hosted a bridal event showcasing local wedding sources as well as the Birds of North America bridal collection. Fittings can be arranged at the Wellington location of Victoire

In the April issue of Ottawa Magazine, we look at how we’ve celebrated milestones from past to present. And while weddings will forever be regarded as the bride’s big day, wedding styles and traditions have gone through many transformations over the years. Lately, we’ve witnessed a shift from the grandiose weddings to more personal and intimate affairs that prove to be just as enchanting.

At Victoire Boutique, owners Katie Frappier and Regine Paquette have seen an influx of brides who’ve gone a little simpler in their wedding planning but put a lot of care in adding more unique and heartfelt touches to their special day. Earlier this year, Victoire hosted A Modern Wedding Event for the vintage-loving brides with the collaboration of talented local businesses Auntie Loo’s Treats, Sparrow Floral Design, and Heart Deco Jewellery.

The event also marked the unveiling of the first bridal collection by Birds of North America, a Canadian design label that’s been a favourite to Victoire customers. Knee length cuts, bows, and the 1950/60’s aesthetics work beautifully in this collection for the bride who wants something old, something new.

The Birds of North America bridal line features knee-length dresses in simple silhouettes

The Birds of North America bridal line features knee-length dresses in simple silhouettes


Here, OTTAWA MAGAZINE talks to Birds of North America designer Hayley Gibson about the details behind her new bridal collection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A — Hans Sinn: Peace Activist Says Acknowledging Armenian Genocide May Advance Mid-East Peace


This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine


Hans Sinn. Photo: David Kawai

On April 24, when the world marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which claimed over one million lives, Ottawa Valley peace activist Hans Sinn proposes that coming to terms with that grim episode may advance peace in the Middle East. Since leaving his native Germany after World War Two, and marrying an Armenian woman, Sinn has tirelessly advocated citizen-led peace initiatives. He is co-founder of Peace Brigades International, an organization that has protected endangered human-rights activists since 1981. Sinn spoke with Ottawa Magazine about the legacy of the Armenian Genocide and the potential for non-violent solutions in an increasingly barbaric world.

Why should people care about the Armenian Genocide?
The non-resolution of the Armenian Genocide is playing itself out in the role Turkey plays in current Middle East problems, which goes back to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. [The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk and the “Young Turks” foresaw the nation state of Turkey occupying the motherland of the Armenians and the Kurds. So the elimination — the extermination and expulsion — of the Armenians and the Kurds was foreseen and planned. While Atatürk managed to rescue from the Ottoman Empire what became modern Turkey, the Armenians and the Kurds paid the price.

How does that impact the Middle East today?
The Kurds are now playing a major role fighting ISIS, but Turkey is worried about the Kurds’ objective of achieving a nation state. Hence, Turkey is easier on ISIS. Turkey continues to deny responsibility for the past. Settling the Armenian issue — which also would require settling the Kurdish issue with Turkey — would make the situation in the Middle East less complicated and enable more dialogue.

And you feel there is a political opening in Turkey that makes this possible?
Atatürk once said “peace at home, peace in the world.” I’m using that as an opening. Genocide is a matter for humanity as a whole. It’s not necessarily just between the Turks and the Armenians. If they [the leadership] can’t sort it out, I would favour truth-and-reconciliation bodies at the local level. Non-Turks and non-Armenians could also be participants, because genocide is a concern for all. And the work done by academics in the field of “the unspeakable” [it’s a crime to speak about the Armenian genocide in Turkey] will help bring those issues into public view.

As co-founder of Peace Brigades International (PBI), you have a long connection with this idea of citizens finding solutions to conflict.
PBI was founded at Grindstone Island, not far from Ottawa. It’s been successful because we limited ourselves to what is doable. Our first project was in Guatemala. The mothers of the disappeared appealed to us for an international presence. By looking for their children, who had been made to disappear, they came under threat too. They needed a link to the outside world — for protection and for international pressure to help improve the situation — and we provided that.


Hans Sinn. Photo: David Kawai

Tell me about PBI spin-offs.
The Guatemala Stove Project is a big thing for people in Perth. It helps people build stoves, which replace open wood fires that are health hazards, in particular for women, who traditionally cook.

Why should civilians be involved in global diplomacy?
My own experience is that civilians are well advised to look after their own security, because depending on governments and politicians is a precarious and historically unadvisable way to proceed.

I understand that you came to this realization as a 16-year-old boy in Germany.
In 1945, the youth of Hamburg were assembled for the last-ditch defence of Germany, and we were sent to various training camps. I picked Denmark because I thought the food would be better. It turned out to be an SS [Nazi paramilitary organization Schutzstaffel] camp, and I became a preliminary SS officer cadet. I experienced the end of the war there. I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back or if Hamburg would still be standing. That, for me, was year zero: as far as I was concerned, we had to rethink and start fresh. When I came to Canada, my agenda was to campaign for a reunified but disarmed, peaceful Germany.

In the current context, with all the sabre-rattling of the post-911 era, is it harder to promote pro-peace initiatives?
Yes and no. I see more potential than is being reflected by our government’s policies. They continue to polish up the war mythology, and at that level, we are going backwards. But I don’t think most young people buy it.

PARTY PLANNERS’ GUIDE: Everything you need to know to make your wedding extra special


WITH PARTY PRO Meaghan Brunetti

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.


Meaghan Brunetti of The Handmade Bride. Photo: Jessica Deeks

Meaghan Brunetti is the owner of The Handmade Bride, a quaint, welcoming bridal boutique in New Edinburgh that caters to women seeking something alternative for their big day. She got into the business because of her own frustrating experience of not being able to shop locally for atypical items for her wedding. While she was able to find most things on Etsy, she missed the tactile and social aspects of traditional shopping. She opened The Handmade Bride so that other women could find unique products. She specializes in assessing which dresses look best on different body types. She’s also an expert on alterations, which is why she doesn’t let brides get away with rejecting dresses before trying them on. Most dresses, she says, can be altered in ways that may not occur to clients. And though the shop carries only new dresses, albeit vintage-inspired, clients can bring in dresses they want to have altered. One bride approached her with a $30 dress from Value Village. Brunetti brought the skirt up over the bodice and altered the neckline, and the customer was thrilled with the result. Her top tip is to choose the dress first. “It’s easier to fit your wedding dress to a theme than the other way around,” she explains. “If you set a rigid theme first, it may not work with the dress you eventually fall in love with.” Falling in love with a dress, whether it’s a logical choice or not, is okay in Brunetti’s books. As she points out, “weddings are emotional, so there’s no need to be reasonable.” Most select a dress based on feeling rather than on thought. “When they put on a dress they like, they look happy, they act happy, they lighten up,” Brunetti adds.


A Story and Rose bouquet c/o Jennifer Moher


A Life Partnership


Photo c/o Mademoiselle Artsy

The Extras Brunetti sources from many local designers, including Gatineau artist Stéphanie Laliberté, a.k.a. Mademoiselle Artsy. Laliberté creates glamorous vintage-inspired jewellery and accessories, but her specialty is “brooch bouquets.” These breathtaking clusters of fabric, brooches, ribbons, lace, and mementoes special to the bride are perfect keepsakes. Boutonnieres are also available — in fact, Laliberté can provide everything that you would normally hire a florist for, such as paper and linen floral-inspired centrepieces.

The Venue A church might appeal to some traditionalists, but more than ever, people are thinking outside the box when it comes to choosing a location for their big day. Barns, backyards, hotels, and museums are no longer unusual locales for tying the knot. Stonefields Heritage Farm, a historic property in Carleton Place, and Evermore, the former home of Dr. James Naismith in Almonte, are two locations that provide a beautiful rustic backdrop. For those seeking a tropical ambience, Aquatopia is the perfect venue: it’s a newly opened greenhouse and water-garden conservatory that provides a lush backdrop throughout the year.

The Flowers After the dress and the venue, the decor should be next on the list. Flowers are a good place to start: the bouquet, boutonniere, and centrepieces can all be designed to suit your personal style. Brunetti recommends local florist Alysia McTague of Story & Rose, who sources flowers locally whenever possible and specializes in environmentally friendly arrangements free of foam and other artificial fillers. She generally meets with clients a year before the event to develop a look. “My idea of organic-looking might be very different than someone else’s,” she notes.


Photo c/o Kathi Robertson Weddings; dress: McCaffrey Haute Couture; hair: Erin Heather; makeup: Jill Currie; model Victoria, Angie’s Models (Aquatopia)

The Spend According to a 2014 study by Bank of Montreal, Canadians plan to spend an average of $15,000 on their wedding. Sound like a lot? Weddingbells Magazine gauges it as closer to $30,000. The BMO survey found that couples between the ages of 18 and 44 plan to spend the most, an average of $18,150. Those who are 65 or older will spend the least, just under $5,000.

The Gifts Dowries may be a thing of the past, and registries linked to a single store are on their way out, but gifts are still an integral part of the wedding experience. People are getting married later now, which means they’re often merging two households and already have everything they need. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things they want, especially big-ticket items like an extravagant honeymoon. Ottawa’s Wedding Republic offers a streamlined approach to the registry — people can use it to buy you that camping equipment you’ve always wanted or chip in on your honeymoon fund.


EXPERT EDIBLES from Essence Catering

What a send-off this’ll be! After all, you have the wedding of your dreams only once:


Essence Catering. Photo: Photolux Studio, Christian Lalonde

Braised beef short rib. With parsnip purée, leeks, oyster mushrooms, and syrah sauce

Roasted beet and pear in phyllo canapes. With goat cheese mousse

Dark chocolate pots de crème. With cocoa puffs truffle, whipped mascarpone, and port-stewed cherries

Essence Catering430 Parkdale Ave., 613-850-4776

TASTING NOTES: Celebrate World Malbec Day with four fine wines

1272062_74634759BY DAVID LAWRASON

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

April 17 is World Malbec Day. Just what every grape needs — its own day! Given that there are 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world, I suggest we call a halt to this idea.

Malbec, meanwhile, gets its day in the sun. Indeed, it is the marvellously sunny growing season in the high deserts of eastern Argentina that has brought this grape to prominence. It has become the face of red wine — the brand. It creates an expectation that one will be opening a bottle of full-bodied, fairly soft, rich, and plummy red wine that pairs nicely with beef in all its incarnations.

Read the rest of this entry »

REASON TO LOVE: Because the city breeds actors, professional athletes, and literary icons


This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

The one thing that stars of our favourite comics, novels, and movies have in common? A compelling origin story. But how many of us picture that journey including the Rideau Canal? A peak in the success of Ottawa natives reminds us that stars aren’t necessarily training in some fictional Gotham — they might be sitting beside you on the O-train.

Read the rest of this entry »

WEEKENDER: Five things to do on the weekend of April 17 to 19



Steven Page, stripped down

Canadian musical icon Steven Page performs at the National Arts Centre this Friday, April 17, with a little help from his friend, Craig Northey (of The Odds). We all remember Steven Page as the witty former frontman of the Barenaked Ladies, and now that he’s forging his own path as a solo artist, he’s doing things a little bit differently. Collaborating with Northey on guitar and vocals, Page will also perform solo material from his album Page One and, never to disappoint his unyielding fans, there will be plenty of Barenaked Ladies hits too. Tickets start at $57 and can be purchased at
The National Arts Centre is located at 53 Elgin Street.

Twilight stars’ ‘best movie yet’

cloud-of-sils-mariaIndie movie buffs might want to check out Clouds of Sils Maria, which debuts this Friday, April 17 at the Bytowne Cinema. It’s the story of a successful actress who agrees to take part in the revival of the play that made her famous 20 years prior. She must now face an uncomfortable reflection of herself, playing the role of an older character instead of the young temptress she once portrayed. A layered, character-driven film, Clouds of Sils Maria stars Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz. The film is said to be Stewart’s best work yet – though, at this point, anything is better than Twilight. The film runs at the Bytowne Cinema until Thursday, April 23. For ticket info and showtimes, visit
The Bytowne Cinema is located at 325 Rideau Street.

Wax on, wax off

Also on Friday, April 17th, The Raw Sugar Café hosts Record “Swap” Day. It’s completely FREE – all you have to do is show up in your best bartering shoes with a bag of cherished vinyls – that you’ve deemed ready to pass on to the next worthy listener. With a DJ on the ones and twos, it’s time to swap your trash for someone else’s treasure. Don’t have any vinyls to trade? Don’t sweat it – there will be free giveaways and good food too, so anyone can show up and still have a good time. 8 p.m. to 1 p.m.
The Raw Sugar Café is located at 692 Somerset Street West.


Record “Swap” Day is a pre-emptive celebration for International Record Store Day on Saturday, April 18th. Local record shops across town will be participating in the yearly event (such as Compact Music, Vertigo Records, The Record Centre, and many more), which supports the resurgence of vinyl in the hearts and hands of music fans. Not only can you find cool discounts on countless records, there will also be exclusive special releases just for the day. Over a hundred artists, from A-Ha to the Wu-Tang Clan, will release special edition vinyls or first releases on Record Store Day.
Check out the full list of artist releases, along with a list of participating stores,


 … Plus wearable vintage

If all the vintage vinyl wasn’t enough, maybe a little vintage fashion will satiate your hungry hipster pocketbook. On Sunday, April 19th, the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show sets up shop in the Shaw Centre for Canada’s largest vintage clothing event. $10 gets you in the door for a day of hunting for clothing, handbags, accessories, and designer goods, from the ‘20s all the way to the ‘80s. Groovy.
The Shaw Centre (formerly the Ottawa Convention Centre) is located at 55 Colonel By Drive. 

PARTY PLANNERS’ GUIDE: Ottawa Magazine’s guide to today’s birthday parties, proms, weddings, and more

This article was first published in the April 2015 edition of Ottawa Magazine.

Call them rites of passage, milestone celebrations, or just a big bash with friends and family, parties can be amazing — and stressful — occasions. In this five-part series, Ottawa Magazine looks at today’s birthday parties, proms, weddings, retirement send-offs, and funerals; sources the best caterers, venues, flowers, and more from across the city; and offers tips on modern party etiquette

WITH FILES FROM Amy Allen, Cindy Deachman, Matt Harrison, and Dayanti Karunaratne
FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY BY Christian Lalonde (


WITH PARTY PRO Danielle Soucy


Jennifer Mostrey, left, plays the part of Belle in Danielle Soucy’s party company. Photo by Jessica Deeks

Danielle Soucy is the owner of Fêtes en Boîtes – The Sparkling Party Company, a local business with stores in Gatineau and Ottawa. The business works on two levels: parties can be held in the store in one of the themed party rooms (Captain’s Cabin for pirate-themed birthdays, Royal Tea Room for budding princesses, etc.). Or, if you’re keen on hosting the party in your home, Soucy can send princesses, pirates, and other characters on house calls. Either way, the bash comes complete with invitations, costume rental, and 1½ hours of games and other entertainment with your special guest. (Drinks and tableware are provided for in-store parties.) She got into the business in 2004 when her daughter turned five. “I wanted to make it very special. I couldn’t be a princess — I was 40 years old at the time — so I was a beautiful witch called Chlorophylle.” Her green dress, magic potions, and suitcase filled with surprises were a hit with the kids, and she started to get requests to visit other birthday parties. Soon parents wanted other characters, and Soucy found a charismatic young man at a local gas station to be a pirate. And though she tried to resist offering Disney characters, the demand for Cinderella, Jasmine, and Ariel was huge, and by 2010, the troupe had ballooned to around 30 — including Jennifer Mostrey, above, who acts as Belle. She specializes in igniting children’s imagination, keeping young creative people employed, and making sure your house doesn’t get trashed. Her top tip is to give her a call. “I can help organize a scavenger hunt or give tips for games and crafts. I do it all the time. It is free and I do it with pleasure!”


Cards by JeweleighaB offers custom paper decorations. Photo courtesy Julia Badgley


Celebrating the Years

The Gifts If the invitation says “no gifts,” don’t show up at the bash with a brightly wrapped present. Some party hosts shun gift-giving entirely, while others get creative by asking guests to donate to a charity that’s special to the birthday girl/boy. Karen Wood of Knock on Wood Communications & Events recalls a “puppy party” that saw friends of the 10-year-old birthday girl donating to Loyal Rescue. The local foster-based rescue brought a few of the adoptable dogs in their care to the party and told the children how each one came to be a part of the Loyal family. The Ottawa Humane Society also offers birthday party packages. (So if your kid is asking for a dog, this could be a good compromise.)


Photo courtesy FunHaven

The Decor Got time? Got money? Whether you prefer the more time-consuming DIY approach or the click-and-buy option, decor is a big part of children’s birthday parties today. Streamers and balloons? Nope. Think pennants and pinwheels (in the party’s theme colours, of course). For harried parents too busy for crafts, check out local Etsy paper artist Julia Badgley of Cards by JeweleighaB. In business for almost five years, Badgley produces cards and banners with a rustic vibe, but she is open to working with people to create paper products tailored to their theme. She will also provide materials for DIYers. All Badgley’s items can be mailed within three days after ordering or picked up at Badgley’s home.

The Venue More and more often, birthday parties are held outside of the home. The reason is simple: kids make a mess. Top choices for Ottawa kids include Cosmic Adventures, for the super-active preteen set, and Funhaven, which is perfect for keeping everyone happy because it offers rock climbing, laser tag, and bumper cars in addition to bowling and arcade games. The Canadian Museum of Nature has great flexible options for nature lovers.


Photo courtesy Clownatec

The Entertainment Send in the clowns! (Or the crocodiles, if you prefer getting up close and personal with cold-blooded creatures and/or are afraid of clowns). Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo has become renowned for its educational, hands-on kiddie events. Clownatec offers a range of age-specific birthday packages (“artistic animations” for those under three years of age, magic shows for older kids) that engage and entertain. For a high-energy event that will amaze and astound, check out the guys at Busker Birthdays. They also offer circus-training sessions — what better way to show your support of their big-top dreams?


The Rules Loot bags are curated creations. Invitations are volatile. (Did you hear about the British kid fined £15 for failing to show up after he had RSVPed?) And at what age can parents leave their kids at the door? As birthday parties become more fussed-over events, etiquette and programming creep into the mix. For example, if the party is held at a venue that has been booked for two hours, you might not want to stop the action to open presents. Some say guests will be disappointed if their present isn’t opened in front of a captive crowd. We say: you’re in charge. If you’d rather keep the party going and open the gifts at home after the sugar rush has subsided, then do so.

EXPERT EDIBLES from Winchelsea Events


Photo by Christian Lalonde –


Tired of serving hotdogs and pizza? Gently branch out with kid-friendly (and healthy!) ingredients combined in exciting ways.

  • Spanish sliders. Mashed potatoes and ground beef with shredded lettuce, sour cream, and crumbled feta
  • Volavanes. Light, flaky pastries filled with tuna, mayo, corn, and peas, with radish garnish
  • Mini tres leches cakes. Light cake crowned with whipped cream and fresh berries

Winchelsea Events, 157 County Rd. 31., 613-808-9258