James Villeneuve

Consul General of Canada, and His Loyal Dog Named Poppy

By: Aliya-Jasmine Sovani @AliyaJasmine

James Villeneuve is the Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles. He and his wife, Kim Walker, live in the official residence of Canada in LA. adjacent to the Wilshire Golf Course. Their home – formerly lived in by Kim Campbell and her pup – is the largest property in Hancock Park. And in so much that James, Kim, and their home represent Canadians in tinseltown, it could be concluded that their dog, Poppy, is thus the representative for all Canadian dogs in the city of angels. In a wide-ranging conversation inside their Hollywood home with one of Canada’s most well known reporters, James and Kim talk about representing our nation in SoCal, what Canada 150 means for expats living abroad, and the sweet story of their live-in diplomutt.

ALIYA-JASMINE: I have a vivid memory of the first time I was invited to an event at Canada’s official residence. You were hosting an event here for the Grammy Awards and I was in a deep conversation with the President of Live Nation in your living room. I reached down to grab some cheese and crackers, and to my surprise, a sweet dog popped her head up from around the coffee table and grabbed a piece of cheddar with ninja-speed before taking off without anyone else noticing! At that moment – I fell in love with your dog. Was it hard for your family to move into the official residence with a dog? Are most of the residences set aside for Consul Generals and Ambassadors dog-friendly?

JAMES: (Laughs) Yes, most are dog friendly. In fact Kim Campbell (Canada’s first female Prime Minister) once lived here with her dog. I think she actually met her husband in this living room. The grounds here are beautiful, but Poppy usually stays upstairs during our events, even though she’s quite a hit at parties! As you can imagine, it’s a bit stressful for a dog to have hundreds of people coming in at one time. She likes to lie on one of the kids’ beds and wait it out with them!

AJ: Besides the obvious nod to Canadian patriotism, is there a story behind Poppy’s name?

JAMES: We adopted Poppy in St. Louis, so technically she’s American! But our daughter named her after the poppy fields in Belgium; we lived there before moving to Los Angeles.

AJ: For those who aren’t familiar with what you do, what is your mandate?

JAMES: As the Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles, my mission is to represent the Government of Canada in our region of the U.S., which includes Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. I lead a team of approximately 60 people who serve this mission in four main capacities at the consulate: trade, consular services, immigration and political and public affairs.

The trade team promotes trade and investment between Canada and the United States, creating opportunities for Canadian companies to do business in the U.S., and attracting American companies to expand their operations north of the border.

The consular team assists Canadians in this region with everything from replacing lost and stolen passports to managing distress situations like natural disasters and medical emergencies.

The immigration team processes thousands of visa applications for people wanting to visit Canada.

The political and public affairs team communicates and promotes the goals of the federal government of Canada to elected representatives within our region and, in turn, helps the Canadian government understand the actions and intentions of our host country as it formulates policies regarding trade and investment.

KIM: As the spouse of the Consul General, I oversee events hosted at the Official Residence. It was our goal from the beginning of James’ term to use this valuable resource as much as possible for meetings and events to promote the agenda of our government and to fulfill the mission of this Consulate with regard to trade and investment. Some weeks are quieter, with only one or two breakfast meetings or maybe a luncheon but we have had weeks where we’ve hosted five events in one week! Where we juggle a bit is in trying to have a fairly normal life for our two teenagers and our dog. We host all the events on the first floor of the house – the “formal floor” – but we actually live on the second floor of the Residence, where there are four bedrooms and a small living room. As there is no kitchen or eating area on the 2nd floor, I try to have meals for the kids ready ahead of time so that they can eat upstairs during the events. I have a gate that goes across the top of the stairs for the dog so she can still wander around upstairs during the events.

AJ: From Grammy Awards parties to meeting Olympic heroes – some of the most epic events I have experienced in LA have actually happened in your living room, what have been the coolest memories for you?

JAMES: Hosting Rush for their 40th anniversary tour, and hosting 450 athletes, coaches and families from Special Olympics Canada for a barbecue. And of course, we hosted Leonard Cohen twice for album launches. That photo next to the piano was taken when he played here last, 10 days before he died. He performed the poem we have framed, it’s called the Hummingbird poem and it has never been published. So that means a lot to us.

KIM: We are actually going to name this room the Leonard Cohen Room. It’s very special to us.

JAMES: We love the grand piano. Kim actually taught herself how to play as an adult – and has done an incredible job. But one of our kids is a natural, he plays very well, so nearly every day I hear the piano – love it!

After a little convincing, Kim pulls out some music sheets and plays a song for us. She plays a beautiful song, and it’s extra special for all of us watching her play – self taught – in what we now know will be named, the Leonard Cohen Room. A room the couple will leave behind as their imprint on this historic house, long after they eventually move on to their next assignment and a new CG is living here.

AJ: What does Canada 150 mean for you, and for other Canadians living in Los Angeles?

JAMES: This is an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on Canada’s values and accomplishments. As Canada increasingly asserts itself on the global stage, combating climate change, expanding international trade, and promoting peace, we see these values come into play. This 150th is a powerful reminder of who we are and what guides Canada’s work. It also lets us look back at Canadians’ many contributions to our country and the world — for example, insulin, the prosthetic hand, snowmobiles and snow blowers (of course!), IMAX, Trivial Pursuit, the alkaline battery, peanut butter, universal healthcare, Terry Fox, Margaret Atwood, and Drake.

KIM: More than ever before, in a world where there is so much anger and hate-filled speech, I am proud of Canada for its tolerance, peace and prosperity.

AJ: Kim, you echo my thoughts exactly! I think a lot of Canadians expats feel that sense of pride and connection to our country. Even if we can’t be home.

JAMES: We wish we could be in Canada celebrating the 150th with family and friends but we are proud to represent Canada abroad – we are actually hosting a big Canadian breakfast (with maple syrup and pancakes, of course!) at the Official Residence with Canada 150 ambassador Alex Trebek. After that, we will represent the government at several Canadian events taking place in Los Angeles, Orange Country and Phoenix.

KIM: I will be even farther abroad on Canada Day; I will be taking my father to see several war memorials in France over Canada Day weekend. We will visit Vimy (this is the 100th anniversary), Dieppe and the Canadian landing beaches in Normandy. I bought 50 small Canadian flags to place at grave sites and memorials.

AJ: When we do these “Doggy Style” features for Get Leashed magazine, a big part of the interview is about the interior decor of the home. But since you moved into a fully furnished house that belongs to Canada – how were you able to incorporate your personal style into your living space?

 KIM:  I’d say our personal style could be described as, Open Door. We host a lot of friends and family, in addition to official and work events. Different families that live here occupy their tenure in different ways, some more private than others. We are relaxed, open, and welcoming.

AJ: Are there any pieces of décor that stand out to you?

KIM: We both love the totem pole at the front entrance. It’s made by the same family as the totem poles at UBC.

AJ: Yes! It’s beautiful – and very Canadian! What’s your favorite room in the house?

KIM: On the main “formal floor” I love the living room and the small library attached where James works and usually does media interviews.

AJ: Your family is obviously very busy representing our country. When you get personal time, what does your ideal weekend usually look like?

KIM: We usually attend our kids’ sports games, we play tennis, read the paper, and of course, we love walking the dog in one of the canyons.

AJ: Yes, the dog! Let’s talk about Poppy. How did she come into your life?

KIM: In 2009, when we moved to St. Louis, Missouri, for James’ job, we adopted Poppy from a veterinarian who rescued cats and dogs. She was a puppy, one of a litter of nine, actually.

JAMES: She is a mixed breed, likely Lab and Ridgeback. We called her Poppy after the poppy fields we saw in Belgium, near Ypres and Passchendaele.

AJ: Based on her personality, if Poppy was a Canadian Prime Minister who would she most likely be?

JAMES: Kim Cambell, because she’s a strong female, she lives in Kim’s old house, and if you ask me – Poppy is a great diplomutt!

KIM: James loves calling Poppy a diplomutt! I will say, Jean Chrétien for loyalty.

The couple sips on Tim Hortons coffee, and James quips at Poppy “Don’t drool on the government issued carpet!” after which the entire room bursts into laughter. The family has really made the space welcoming, and the love of a loyal old dog is truly the cherry on the cake. We move the interview outside to the backyard, where Poppy runs around with a toy in her mouth before stopping for a quick pee in front of a very familiar tree. “Oh geez, that’s our maple tree!” says James, as he points out a fairly new addition to the property. They planted it during an event with the Canadian military. “It’s the closest thing to a maple tree we could find in SoCal. It reminds us of home.” Poppy runs around us with a red stuffed toy-dog in her mouth. “She has been burying, digging up and re-burying that same toy for the past three years!” Kim tells me.  Sometimes there is a sense of comfort with the familiar. For some of us, it’s a red toy-dog. For others, it’s a red and white flag above an open door in Hancock Park, wherein lies a totem pole, a nice Canadian family, and the smell of Tim Horton’s coffee.

Photographer: Alexandra Petruck