The Art Deco-inspired Embassy of France, overlooking the scenic Ottawa River on Sussex Drive, has served as a diplomatic mission, embassy and official residence for the Ambassador of France to Canada since its official opening in 1939.
Designed by French architect Eugene Beaudoin and Montreal architects Antoine Monette and Marcel Parizeau, the grey granite structure was built utilizing elements from France while also incorporating Canadian materials. French Aubusson tapestries grace the entrance hall, the pink marble for the gallery bench and staircase was shipped from Burgundy, and wooden doors and frames are from Quebec.
One of the most impressive areas is the formal dining room which features a painted mural depicting France in happy times. Fine French food prepared by Chef de cuisine Laurent Provence is served in a room designed around entertaining.
The relationship between Canada and France is a steadfast one. Last June, France’s first female Ambassador to Canada, Kareen Rispal, arrived to strengthen this bond with her vast business and foreign service experience. Holding a Master of Laws from the University of Nanterre, she has worked on many portfolios in both the private and government sectors.
The ambassador has held a number of prestigious positions since she joined the French Foreign Ministry in 1986, and has lived in Brussels, London and New York. When asked which country she would like to be appointed to as an ambassador, Canada was her top choice. Her platform centres on gender-equality issues, climate change, and trade negotiations. Having a demanding career while raising four children has been a balancing act, and she is proud that she has been able to achieve so much without giving up her goals.
Why did you choose the life of a diplomat? I was always fascinated by how the world and the relationship between countries was like a strategic game. It is a constant evolving scene about power, influence, and culture and how you see yourself in the world. I feel privileged because I cannot remember a single posting where I was unhappy. Each one is a new discovery. We, who are so fortunate because we have everything, don’t always know it and should be happy knowing how blessed our lives are.
What is a day in the life of an ambassador like? I wake up early and try to go for a run, weather permitting. I am French and love breakfast, and call my husband where it is his lunch time. It is the first time that we have not lived in the same country and this has not been an easy adjustment. My husband Nicola de Riviere is a political director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for France and his life is always hectic. My days vary with meeting and speaking with people from all sectors, and talking with the media about current affairs in France. On the weekends I try not to do too many things as the demands of the position are high. Freedom and time for myself is the most precious thing I have.
What do you enjoy about living in Ottawa? I love the residence here. It is the most amazing place—the view of the river, the sunsets—I never get used to this beauty. I am a very outdoorsy person and my surroundings here let me enjoy nature to the fullest. There is something to do with each season. To me, Ottawa is a serene city and everyday here is a new beginning for me.
Have you visited many of our provinces yet? I love British Columbia and have travelled to Vancouver many times. In June I am going to the Canadian North. I have also visited New Brunswick and Alberta. Canada’s landscapes are breathtaking. Canada suits me. Canadians are happy and helpful, and very different from Americans. Canadians love their country. Immigrants choose to come here. You have this wonderful ability to live together in harmony with respect for all cultures.