A home called Ballybeg

| June 23, 2015 | 0 Comments
Ballybeg is the name of the large stone Rockcliffe home that’s been occupied by Tunisian ambassadors since 1970. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Ballybeg is the name of the large stone Rockcliffe home that’s been occupied by Tunisian ambassadors since 1970. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Ballybeg is the anglicized version of the Irish word for “little town.” The large stone Rockcliffe house that bears that name may not exactly fit the translation, but it is as much a hub of activity today as it was in the days of admiral Sir Charles Kingsmill, who, during the First World War, commissioned Montreal architect H.C. Stone to design his imposing home on Crescent Road.
The admiral became the first director of the Royal Canadian Navy in 1910 and he and his wife, Constance, were leading figures in Ottawa’s social life. Active in many causes, Lady Kingsmill even supported a campaign in favour of birth control. Since Rockcliffe in those days was really in the country, Lady Kingsmill, like many of her neighbours, kept chickens and a cow at Ballybeg. It wasn’t until 1971 that roosters and cattle were barred from village properties.
Marauding livestock is of no concern to Ambassador Riadh Essid and his wife, Chiraz, who lead a busy life representing Tunisia in Canada. Ballybeg has been the residence of Tunisia’s ambassadors since 1970 and that is fortunate, says the ambassador, “considering what this house would cost today.”

The main reception room features Tunisian carpets and paintings representing the people of the country.  (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

The main reception room features Tunisian carpets and paintings representing the people of the country. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Immediately inside a glass entranceway of the residence, visitors are greeted by a typical Tunisian mosaic, a portrait of Circe during the Punic Wars; three battles, in fact, fought between Carthage and Rome between 264 and 146 BC. The original mosaic can be found in the famous Bardo National Museum in Tunis.
While simply furnished with functional Canadian furniture, the main reception room features magnificent Tunisian carpets and paintings representing the people of the country. A large picture of men racing horses is the featured artwork, but there are many paintings of ordinary people doing ordinary tasks. Women making coffee and homemade couscous are among the scenes representing life in Tunisia.
Off the main reception room is a casually furnished sunroom, added to the house 15 years ago, a lively alternative to the more formal reception room.
“It’s my favourite room in the house,” says the ambassador, “because it is bright and comfortable.”
The sunroom leads out to a sizable veranda where guests can gather for receptions. Set atop a hill, the back garden is surrounded by trees.

Ambassador Riadh Essid and his wife, Chiraz, have lived in the residence for two years. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Ambassador Riadh Essid and his wife, Chiraz, have lived in the residence for two years. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Everywhere there are mementos of home, from replica hookahs to dolls wearing national dress. For Diplomat’s visit, sweet mint tea sprinkled with pine nuts was served, along with delectable dates and hard-to-resist sweets.
The walls of the sunny dining room are papered in white and gold stripes with gold seat coverings and ornate chandeliers. An imposing fireplace has a predominant spot in the room and a sideboard holds an array of flasks for tea and juice along with teapots, most of them with delicate silver trim. Here guests are always served Tunisian specialties created by a chef from Tunisia.
“Everyone wants couscous when they come here, so we always serve it,” says the ambassador. Then there could be favourites including brik, a popular snack involving an egg wrapped in thin pastry and fried. Sometimes the pastry is filled with tuna or vegetables. And then, of course, there is that most addictive of sweets, baklava.
The couple and their two children, who both attend the University of Ottawa, have had several major postings, including South Africa, where the ambassador mentions he met Nelson Mandela. But after more than two years here, they admit they are very happy in Ottawa, he with his diplomatic duties, she an active member of the International Women’s Club.

Guests to this dining room often want, and always receive, traditional Tunisian couscous. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Guests to this dining room often want, and always receive, traditional Tunisian couscous. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

The three-storey house is comfortable and spacious for a family of four, with five bedrooms on the top floor, three bedrooms and a TV room on the second, and, along with the main reception areas, a sizable panelled study. A large kitchen and pantry with an extra freezer and refrigerator ensure that everyone is well looked after. It is in the kitchen that Chiraz can often be found organizing the couple’s social events.
And when guests leave, they often take home beautiful gift boxes with special Tunisian treats, including baklava or olive oil, one of Tunisia’s major exports.

The home features several typical Tunisian treasures, including a set of these tea cups. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

The home features several typical Tunisian treasures, including a set of these tea cups. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

And a confession: As I write, I’m nibbling on a most wonderful Tunisian date plucked from a beautiful red and gold gift box on my desk. Yum, and thanks, is all I can say.

Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor. Article written with information from Rockcliffe Park, A History of the Village by Martha Edmond.

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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