Q&A with social-planning guru Aaron Deane

Aaron Deane (Photo Credit: Kim Ing Photography

A co-founder of STARFISH creative events & inspiration, Aaron Deane arrived in Ottawa in 2000 from Barbados as an international student at the University of Ottawa. In spite of the less-than-permanently-sunny weather, he continues to call Ottawa home. Although Aaron remains tapped into Ottawa’s social scene, he also spends some of his time putting his graphic-design skills to work for local charities.

You’re not native to Ottawa, or even to Canada. Tell us what brought you here. What were your first impressions of the city?

I came to Ottawa in 2000 to pursue studies at the University of Ottawa. Canada was already my third home as I used to visit Toronto often on vacation. As I’m a geography fanatic and love weather, I wanted to study somewhere where there were four distinct seasons. I got that here for sure! One of my cousins was completing her studies at Carleton University when I came here, so I was able to get acquainted with the city very quickly.

I’m a tourist in my own town — I love getting out and doing things. I remember in my early years, a lot of people thought I was from Ottawa, as I knew the city so well! I think Ottawa is an awesome city – picturesque and, I like to say, it’s as exciting as you want it to be. You have so many options for things to do.

You worked at the University of Ottawa’s International House while in school and are working at the Barbados High Commission now. You also serve on the board of directors for Ottawa’s Barbados Association. What perspective do foreign visitors to Ottawa tend to have?

I have been very fortunate to lead the University of Ottawa’s International House for over  five years. It’s a service that represents the interest of over 1,000 international students, and promotes and supports multiculturalism. My work with the Barbados High Commission and also with the Barbados (Ottawa) Association Inc. has also broadened my awareness of cultural diversity and the value of organizations and services that encourage immigrants to maintain and share their culture.

I’ve realized that foreign visitors to the capital are pleasantly surprised at the diversity that exists here. It may not be as apparent as in larger cities, but there surely are residents here from every corner of the world. Visitors are always impressed at the cleanliness of the city, the security, the wide array of activities for all ages, the green areas and bike paths within the city — and in general, the fact that you can feel like you are in a bustling city or a quaint town without going too far.

Would you call Ottawa a multicultural city?

Most definitely. Like I said, it may not be as in your face as in other major cities, but there definitely is a diverse population here. People are always excited to share their culture — this is apparent in the numerous cultural festivities that take place. This is festival central!

You co-founded STARFISH creative events & inspiration in 2007, and serve as the company’s events specialist. Tell us what drove that project.

I’m a natural event planner. I like to see events run smoothly and love to please people more than myself. It’s all about you! I’ve been grateful for my experience at the University of Ottawa and in Barbados before coming here, and wanted to set up business in which I could help others realize their event potential. You don’t have to have a fortune! It’s all about creativity. There are so many ways to make an event memorable and leave your guests longing for the next invitation.

What has been the most memorable event that STARFISH has hosted in Ottawa?

The STARFISH time line is so exciting. We owe it all to some amazing clients who have encouraged us to dream big! One event that stands out is the event we did in early summer of 2008 for Le Cordon Bleu and France Tourism — the event was titled l’Aperitif a la Francaise. We were to create a classy garden party for over 300 of Ottawa’s elite. The purpose of this event was to promote French cuisine.

Well, we didn’t quite have a garden at Le Cordon Bleu to work with, so we transformed their car park in to a garden oasis. Tents with fashion shows, incredible cuisine throughout, lots of food stations and food and ice sculptures, great lighting, and even a projection of images of France on the side of the building.

Check out some photos of the event here!

You’ve got to have the lowdown on the best places to hold a party in Ottawa. Any favourites? What’s key to throwing an unforgettable event?

Oh yes. There are lots of incredible venues in the city. The Museum of Civilization’s Grand Hall is a favorite. And so is the Delta Ottawa City Centre’s (formerly Crowne Plaza Hotel) penthouse.

But really, whether you have an indoor or outdoor space, the key is investing in mood lighting and some decor. You can really transform any space with a little bit of imagination.

Part of the reason LTOttawa started up was to fight the concept that Ottawa is the city fun forgot. How would you describe Ottawa’s social scene?

Just before STARFISH was started, I over heard some people talking about Ottawa, and comparing it to Toronto and Montreal. One person asked the other: “Tell me one good thing about Ottawa?” The other person responded: “Well, its close to Montreal!” I’m not from Ottawa, but I was offended. One cannot compare Ottawa to Toronto or Montreal! Those are mega-cities with millions of people!

There are so many things happening in this city on a daily basis. Ottawa has a great social scene. Ottawans love to party. They love the arts. They love to get dressed up and do something different. They love creative events. That why we added that word to our business name — STARFISH creative events + inspiration.

What’s a good way for people new to Ottawa to get out and about?

Have an open mind. There are lots of creative events in the city and lots of non-traditional venues. This really is a festival city. For starters, get to know the wide array of festivals that this city has to offer! Networking is also key. Attend non-traditional events and network. There is so much out there.

You’re also a supporter of Ottawa’s arts and culture scene. How would you describe it?

The Fringe Festival alone is overwhelming! It offers so much! This city has an excellent arts and culture scene. Get to know www.ottawatourism.ca.

When you’re not rushing around to plan your events, how do you like to spend your down time?

My favorite thing to do in the city is bike! I understand that Ottawa has one of the most extensive bicycle networks in the world. It’s such a great way to enjoy the city! I recommend it to everyone. Other than that I love to chill on patios in the Byward Market.

Thanks for the chat Aaron!