Arts & Culture

Q&A: Guy LaFlamme, Ottawa’s master party planner

Planning a full year of celebrations is like composing a fantastic piece of music—moments of earth-shaking sound provide contrast with interludes of quieter magic. When Guy Laflamme left his post at Canadian Heritage and took the reins of the Ottawa 2017 Bureau—which is throwing Canada’s biggest 150th anniversary party—he knew he needed to complement Ottawa’s traditional offerings with programming that stirs the soul and kicks some butt.

What attracted you to this job?

I took it on the basis of the challenge it represented, and having the opportunity to leave a legacy and do all the stuff I’ve been dreaming of doing over the years.

What do you want visitors to feel when they visit Ottawa next year?

We want Ottawa 2017 to be the hub of national celebrations for Canada’s 150th, and we want people to leave with a ‘wow,’ realizing how exciting and beautiful Ottawa is. Over the last few decades Ottawa has really increased in vibrancy in terms of all the cultural offerings, the quality of restaurants, spectacular new architecture, the beauty of natural parks and the proximity of rural areas to an urban environment. We’re showcasing Ottawa as a very modern, techy and vibrant city.

What lessons did you learn from Canada’s 100th anniversary celebrations in 1967?

I had the honour of spending time with Peter Aykroyd (father of actor Dan Aykroyd), who was one of the key decision makers on the Centennial Commission. What stood out was this: Don’t just celebrate our past. Though commemorative anniversaries are important to educate people about our history, we should really focus on using those anniversaries as a springboard to inspire younger generations about our future. Based on that, we decided to really focus our program on stimulating people’s imaginations, igniting our future and opening new horizons. Just like 1967 was an eye-opener and a huge opportunity for Baby Boomers, 2017 should be the same for younger generations and new Canadians.

Some of Ottawa 2017, like the Red Bull Crashed Ice championships or the La Machine creatures you’re bringing in from France, will be massive in scale. But your Ignite 150 program is more about magic springing up in surprising places throughout the year. Where did the idea come from?

It’s a way of creating a matrix between the big blockbuster events we’re hosting by having some special activities to fill the full 12 months of celebration. This was a program element that would really allow us to go wild, to provide activations that allow people to discover unknown jewels in the city. One illustration is the yoga session on a barge floating down the Ottawa Canal with a live performance from musicians. Also, there’s our enlightenment kit: hundreds of lighting devices will be deployed in a park in the afternoon, then in the evening, people can walk in the park to discover this magical canopy of light and lighting effects.

Were you surprised by the response you got from your public call for Ignite 150 proposals?

People came up with some pretty cool out-of-the box concepts, so people understood what we were looking for.

How will people discover Ignite 150 events?

They will be promoted on our website, but we’ll also encourage people to use our app and register for our social media platforms because, in some cases, we want to create surprise and delight by only announcing those experiences at the very last minute.

And you actually start the year with a more literal ignition?

To set the tone right from the beginning of the year, we’ll be launching the celebrations at Ottawa City Hall on Dec. 31. We want to create a human chain between City Hall and Parliament Hill, where people will not just pass on a torch, but light the torch from one person to another. Having this 800-metre stretch of fire is going to create a powerful symbol and a spectacular visual.


This is sponsored content. For more details on Ottawa’s 150th birthday celebrations, please go to Ottawa 2017.