Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marion Dewar visitation

The photo taken above depicts a portrait of Marion Dewar in the middle of Ottawa City Council chambers (Andrew Haydon Hall) this past Tuesday. The portrait is flanked by the current and former flags of the City of Ottawa. In front of the portrait is a table, upon which is a book for signatures and condolences.

I went today to pay my respects, to give my condolences to her family, and to sign the book of remembrances. I could not bear the thought of photographing the event, out of respect for the Dewar family. If you want photos, the Citizen has a decent gallery of the ceremonies here. The images in this blog entry are purely of the written variety...

I only met Marion Dewar once. It was in the cloakroom in the wet morning of the first Imagine Ottawa Social Forum in September 2006. We had both arrived early; she and I said hello. During that forum, which was just over a month before a municipal election, she gave what remains the most rousing and optimistic speech I have heard on the topic of municipal politics. No doubt a new generation of activists was inspired that day.

While I arrived at City Hall today in the early afternoon, after much of the pomp and ceremony had taken place, the building was still abuzz with Ottawa's who's-who. The Citizen's Randall Denley bristled pensively into the cafeteria. Former mayor Bob Chiarelli chatted with Councillor Diane Deans in the foyer. Two journalists chatted outside the Lisgar entrance on a smoke break, while other people I recognized stood in line.

The decorations were dignified and momentous, but not overly extravagant. Walking into City Hall, I was immediately welcomed by the soothing sound of a violin duet playing Pachebel's Canon, while a red carpet, bordered by velvet rope, guided friends and wellwishers from the Laurier Street entrance, past a display of memorabilia from Ms. Dewar's life and mayoralty, and into the open space of Jean Pigott Hall.

Various members of the Dewar family greeted visitors at the entrance to the main hall, though Paul--the only one I know personally--was away when I passed by. This day also had significance in my own life, as it was the anniversary of the death of my own mother, who herself was a leader in a field dominated by men. That gave me a lot to think about during my visit.

I felt a bit awkward there, as I was among the youngest, clearly not one to have had the opportunity to know Ms. Dewar very well. I occasionally looked over my shoulder in search of familiar faces, and when I found one, I nodded quietly. I had learned much about Ms. Dewar since first hearing her speak, and it was important to me to honour this woman I had come to respect.

The casket was draped with the City of Ottawa's flag, a single yellow rose resting upon it. Two boquets of white roses stood on tall, thin tables on either side.

Unseen in the Citizen's photos, a wall of alternating Canada and Ottawa flags lined the front edge of the reflecting pool. The weather cooperated magnificently, with the sun shining brightly in, highlighting the words "ex oriente lux" inscribed on City Hall's East window, the scene serene and peaceful. Two formally-dressed firefighters stood, bowing their heads, at the corners of the casket. On the hour, the guard changed with two paramedics in formal dress took their place.

Passing the casket, I followed the queue along the carpet toward the table with a book of remembrance, which had been moved out of Council chambers and into the Southwest corner of Jean Pigott Hall. I tried my best to ignore the chatter of an elderly gentleman behind me who was striking up a conversation with the woman in front of him on topics which I did not think suited for such an event. A second antique table joined the first in order to accommodate the overwhelming number of people coming to pay their respects. Atop each table was another boquet of white roses, and the former City of Ottawa flag stood aside Ms. Dewar's portrait.

Some took long to write their messages, some went quickly. I had already assembled my remark in my head, pausing to sculpt the final draft before putting pen to paper.

I picked up a commemorative card as I left. A second card (both cards reproduced below) encourages donations to the Marion Dewar Fund for Women's Leadership at Oxfam Canada, which she chaired from 1994 to 1999.

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