By Ted Simpson –
The Wellington West Business Improvement Area (WWBIA) has a brand new Executive Director, Dennis Van Staalduinen. Some readers might know him from Twitter, @DenVan, or may have seen him perform on stage or even your TV screen, but we are here to help you get to know him a little bit better.
Dennis has been a resident of the Champlain Park neighbourhood for the past 15 years, where he lives with his wife and three children. He’s spent the past 25 years working as a freelance business consultant, helping out in marketing campaigns for businesses as big as Nestle, down to local charities and non-profits.
In late October, Dennis took over the reigns at the WWBIA, an official body that extends from Island Park Drive to the O-Train tracks and stretches down side streets as far as Scott Street and the Queensway.
The Wellington West BIA represents 532 business members, and over 100 property owners, and Dennis is now their go-to person for help on a broad range of issues.
“The first thing I do is represent those people, connect them and provide service to them,” says Dennis. “The second thing is beautification: We fund graffiti removal, we maintain planters and foliage, bike racks. We are a day-to-day street manager. The third leg is advocacy, speaking for the interests of the businesses and the value we provide to the city.”
And now, to dive a little deeper into the personal side of things, here are five things you probably didn’t know about Dennis Van Staalduinen. (Bonus thing: It’s pronounced van-STALL-dine-en.)
1. He actually helped found the BIA.
Back in 2005, Dennis was involved with the unofficial business association in Wellington Village, working on a volunteer basis giving advice and helping out with marketing and promotion. Dennis’ name can actually be found printed at the bottom of the bylaw that authorized the official BIA in 2008.
“After the BIA was founded I pulled back to an advisory role, on and off, since then,” says Dennis. “When this job came open I was just at the right point in my career and in my family life, that I thought, ‘I really enjoyed that work, I love doing it and I think I can dedicate myself full time now.’ That’s what brought me back.”
2. He is a natural performer.
Dennis went to Canterbury High School and became an amateur, and sometimes professional, actor and singer.
Most notable was his role in the short-lived high school drama, Denim Blues, which was filmed in Ottawa in 1989 and ran for 13 episodes on CJOH-TV. Dennis played a regular character on the show named Rob, and the program was broadcast across Canada. Dennis’ co-star, Sandra Oh, went on to international success in the performing arts.
Dennis still regularly performs with Hintonburg’s musical theater company, Orpheus.
Funny enough, the writer/director of that TV show lives in Wellington West to this day.
3. He’s building a giant dragon.
Local theater isn’t all glitz and glamour and sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. So instead of taking a starring role in the next Orpheus production of SHREK The Musical, Dennis has sacrificed a large part of his property to construct the play’s antagonistic dragon.
“I volunteered to help with props, and I was assigned to build a giant dragon for the show,” says Dennis. “We’re talking 12 feet high with mechanical wings about 20 feet long, it’s quite a substantial thing.”
“I have a maker streak in me.”
4. Named a chicken sandwich.
“Back in 2008, I worked with Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Canadian affiliate, they were launching a brand new chicken sandwich and they needed a name for it, they called me up and had me put together some ideas,” says Dennis.
The company ended up releasing the sandwich with one of the names he suggested (although not his top choice): The Big Fresh. It was billed as a healthier product and was supposed to take the brand in a new direction. Unfortunately, the American parent company took over product development in Canada and scrapped Dennis’ chicken sandwich, and, ironically, proceeded to release the Double Down sandwich (we’re using the term loosely here) which uses two pieces of fried chicken fillet instead of bread with bacon, cheese and sauce in between.
5. He is the only person in a family of six born in Canada.
When Dennis was young, his father’s work took him and his family all over the world, and that earned them an interesting collection of birth certificates.
Dennis was born in Ottawa (though he only stuck around for a few months). Both his parents were born in the Netherlands, his older sister was born in the Philippines, his younger brother in India, and younger sister in Chicago.
Dennis eventually returned to Ottawa for high school, before moving to the Toronto area to pursue his post-secondary education. He swore at that time he would never live in Ottawa again. Thankfully for West Wellington and Hintonburg, he eventually came back and made his home in Champlain Park.
Read more “five things” profiles right here and learn about some of the people who make our community a great place to live.