OTTAWA – To roaring applause, U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Paul Martin descended the escalator with their wives into the Great Hall of the Museum of Civilization for the official dinner capping off the first U.S. presidential visit to Ottawa since 1995.
The 740 distinguished attendees gave their hosts and guests of honour a standing ovation for what was the largest dinner hosted by Mr. Martin since becoming prime minister.
As the applause faded, the hall quickly filled with the national anthems, first of the United States, then of Canada, as two Canadian Mounties stood at attention on the stage.
As Mr. Martin took the stage first to welcome his guests, he was greeted by more raucous applause and by another standing ovation.
“Mr. President, it’s good to be back home,” he said to Mr. Bush, who was seated at the large circular head table between Sheila Martin and Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
Depite the good humour, Mr. Martin began the evening on a solemn note with news that master of ceremonies Pierre McNicoll died suddenly early yesterday morning of an apparent heart attack.
Before the proceedings, Mr. Martin asked for a moment of silence in his memory.
Against a backdrop of six U.S. and Canadian flags and giant totem poles of the aboriginal cultures of the Pacific Northwest towering above him, he welcomed the Bushes to Canada.
“The setting for our gathering this evening is uniquely Canadian. Just a look around will give you a glimpse into our earliest history,” said Mr. Martin, pointing out that the museum celebrates “a journey through our social history from the first Viking settlements on the Newfoundland coast.”
While making a toast, Mr. Martin spoke of the “unshakable friendship between our nations,” saying that “while we don’t always agree and we won’t always agree … there is a spirit of renewal in the relationship between our two countries.”
Mr. Bush then took the podium and responding to yet more enthusiastic applause said, “The prime minister says it is good to be home. I say it’s good to be in Canada.”
He spoke about a “close and warm friendship” between our two nations and described Canada as an “honoured ally.” He also thanked his hosts for a great reception and noted he was happy with the menu.
“I’m pleased to see that we will be eating Alberta beef,” said Mr. Bush, a former governor of Texas. Mr. Martin, seated next to Laura Bush, laughed along with the others.
However, the president didn’t know that in fact the menu was specifically designed for him. According to the head chef, the meal was a combination of the two countries’ cuisines.
“The beef is from Alberta, Triple A,” said Philippe Wettel, the executive chef of the Westin Hotel, as he worked in the museum’s kitchen while the guests arrived. “But we put in a touch of pepper and extra spicy mashed potato and corn — to give him a touch of Texas.”
Mr. Wettel said that for an appetizer he would be serving lobster from Eastern Canada and for dessert berries from Saskatchewan and mousse made of Florida oranges. He said that he has served more people in the past but that this was, by far, “the most important dinner ever.”
The food was not the only thing to remind the president of his home state. The head table was decorated with three black vases filled with yellow roses from Texas. Workers had been preparing for the big event since 7 a.m. yesterday.
Amy Butcher of the Prime Minister’s Office called the day a success and remarked that the entire event was planned in less than three weeks.
It was a remarkable feat, she said, as she looked out at the 81 tables, each decorated with candles and a vase filled with tiny purple flowers and white roses.
The gala attracted the who’s who of Canada’s political, business and legal communities, including industrial magnates, cabinet ministers, senators, MP’s and Supreme Court justices. Among those who gathered for the exclusive event were also Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci.
Before the meal, Mr. Bush attended a VIP reception limited to 40 guests, including former prime ministers Jean Chretien and John Turner. Former prime minister Joe Clark was supposed to be in attendance, but was forced to cancel at the last minute. Leaders of the national parties and all the premiers were also attended the private function — except for the premier of Nunavut who was not able to be there.
All the other visitors attended the main reception in the museum’s lobby, sipping wine and eating hors d’oeuvres.
Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan was among those who said she was enjoying herself and downplayed any potential friction between the two neighbours. “People misunderstand,” she said. “Sovereign countries will have disagreements over issues. This does not undermine of interfere with the day to day relations between our countries.”
However, that didn’t keep Canadians from protesting. Outside the museum, demonstrators gathered, but their cries were inaudible to those enjoying the dinner inside.
– Giant shrimp on a bed of Santa Fe guacamole topped with New Brunswick lobster, asparagus and chive cream maple dressing
-Roasted butternut squash and Okanagan apple bisque
– Mesquite smoked medallion of Alberta beef rich jus
-Yukon Gold potatoes mashed with Monterey Jack and jalapeno pepper thyme roasted Taber corn kernels
-Hand-picked fall baby vegetables
-Saskatoon berry creme nestled on dark chocolate fondant
– Florida orange Sabayon Mousseline
-Quebec maple syrup sauce
Henry of Pelham Chardonnay Reserve 2002
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Merlot 2002
Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling 2003