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by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President of Ovation Global DMC

How to be a Canadian

First, the sadness.

How to be a Canadian 2Inside the front cover of the book, a handwritten inscription: “To our favourite non-Canadian, with love Moira”.

My copy of How to be a Canadian by Will Ferguson and Ian Ferguson was given to me by the late, great Moira Hearn, a proud Brit who made her home in Toronto. Meetings Industry readers will know that Moira passed away last year, leaving a big hole in our industry and in our lives. And the book, of course, is “oh so Moira”. Clever, funny, self-deprecating. Picking up on all the foibles and idiosyncrasies of a nation.

Irish people have a natural affinity with Canadians. And with Belgians and Austrians.  We’re the kind of “forgotten” ones, we border bigger, louder entities, live in the shadow of greater powers. We combat this by developing quirky national personalities and tend to be highly creative – think Belgian surrealism, Irish gift-of-the-gab etc. The book Moira gifted me showcases all that’s weird and wonderful about Canada, its cultural and linguistic schizophrenia, its vast physical presence touching the waters of 3 oceans. I re-read it on the final leg of my journey from Newark to Montreal.



Montreal City of SpiresI’m in Montreal for the Annual Conference of the Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI). Last year the Board of ADME voted to change its name by adding “international” to it. Thus it is fitting that the conference is, for the first time, outside of the US, in Canada, in a city where the main language is not English. At first this is the only difference you notice. The ride from the airport to downtown takes you on a typically featureless, wide re-enforced concrete highway but the big green signs and ad hoardings are mainly in French here. Little by little, however, a further difference appears and confirms that you’re not approaching an average US town. There are domes and spires in great abundance, copper green and glistening against a bright winter sun that, try as it might, cannot raise the temperature above -15 degrees centigrade. The domes and spires are Roman Catholic Churches and Catholicism, perhaps more culturally than religiously, is an integral, indispensable element in this part of Canada.

SmartHunt at ADMEI

SheratonThe newly renovated Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel is a big box structure with over 800 guest rooms and acres of meetings space, magnificently located in  downtown Montreal. Check-in is mercifully fast, warm and friendly and soon I’m in Salon ABC excited to have been on time for the SmartHunt, an opening session that we’re promised will be “like no other”. I struggle a little to overcome my pathological dislike of “participative” activities (a dislike I share with a major percentage of the population of the European continent)  and good humouredly join in the “ice breaker” exercise, effectively and expertly managed by the folks at Best Team Building. First we have to organise ourselves into common clusters based on number of siblings in our families and then, even more interestingly, based on month of our birth. The June group, comprised predominantly of hard core Geminis, perhaps not surprisingly, all know each other already!


A Simple Twist of Fate

By some curious twist of fate our SmartHunt group is 50% old guys and 50% hot young girls. Statistically this shouldn’t happened as the 4 guys comprise only about 20% of the entire group demographic. This simple twist of fate might have been good news for the girls had the 4 guys been anyone other than Stuart Gardner, Alan Waxler, David Adler and Padraic Gilligan with an aggregate age of 200+ and a cumulative number of nightly visits to the bathroom of 20.

We receive our briefing and our iPad and embark on a brilliantly conceived scavenger hunt that takes us out of the hotel to discover Montreal and to leave our indelible mark on the unsuspecting city. But it’s the city that leaves its indelible mark on us. The freezing temperatures are directly counter-pointed by, perhaps, the gentlest, warmest, friendliest people I’ve ever met (outside of Ireland, that is!). Our awkward blocking of the escalator that takes busy commuters to their metro train is met with patient smiles; in the Gare Centrale, noting how quizzically we interrogate our Google map, a Good Samaritan intervenes to set us on our way; a assistant at the Swarovski  store trades a bracelet for a paper clip following David Adler’s charity sales pitch.

We complete as many tasks as possible, uploading pictures and videos to our iPad. Cindy Lo of Red Velvet Events, Austin, a dedicated technophile, navigates the SmartHunt app with aplomb while Heather and Elizabeth of FM&A, Boston and Erica of Briggs, NYC add more good looks and great energy. Alan Waxler adds the shapes, Stuart Gardner adds the quips and David Adler, new to our industry is caught somewhere between amused and bemused. Overall it’s a great event and one that can bring immense value to a corporate or association event.

[to be continued]

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Industry Relations at MCI and Vice President of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division. 

Big thanks, too, to Helena Gianotti, Convention Services Manager at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal for the nice Cab Sav



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