Last week, Mayor Jim Watson presented the Key to the City to Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health, as well as another Key to the whole Ottawa Public Health team, in recognition of Dr. Etches’ leadership and the health unit’s exceptional work during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Etches’ calm, clear and thoughtful public leadership not only reassured residents, but also led to Ottawa’s success in controlling outbreaks and achieving high vaccination rates. Dr. Etches credits her dedicated staff at Ottawa Public Health with making these outcomes possible.

Hindia Mohamoud, Director of the Ottawa Local Integration Partnership, and Dr. Etches’ parents, Dr. Duncan Etches and Dr. Nora Etches, each shared memories and remarks about Dr. Etches’ career and character. The Chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, Councillor Keith Egli, provided comments on the work of Ottawa Public Health staff. The Key was accepted by Robyn Muzik, Co-Chair of Ottawa Public Health’s Employee Engagement and Wellness Committee.

The event included a video montage of the team’s work over the past two years, as well as messages from a range of well-wishers, including Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario, actor/comedian Colin Mochrie, actor Ryan Reynolds and Stewart Reynolds (a.k.a. Brittlestar, ‘the Internet’s favourite dad’).


“Dr. Etches inspired control, confidence and calm in our residents through the darkest days of the pandemic. As a result of her always thoughtful, humane and science-based efforts, Ottawa has been a leader in the fight against COVID-19. I am honoured to present the Key to the City today to our very own public health hero, Dr. Etches, and her remarkable support team at OPH.”

Mayor Jim Watson

“Our city is so fortunate to have the steady hand of Dr. Etches guiding us throughout the pandemic. In the earliest days, she emerged as a reassuring and trusted voice advising residents and continues to guide us all as we learn to live with COVID. Her leadership, both of the pandemic response and of the hundreds of employees at OPH, no doubt saved lives. We are also very fortunate to have a team of dedicated professionals working at OPH. Throughout the pandemic, they have faced every challenge with professionalism, thoughtfulness, kindness, empathy and compassion. The residents of Ottawa have been well served by the OPH team.”

Councillor Keith Egli, Chair of the Ottawa Board of Health

About Dr. Etches

Dr. Vera Etches was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Ottawa Public Health in April 2018, having served as Deputy Medical Officer of Health for three years and Associate for five years before that. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa.

Prior to joining Ottawa Public Health, Dr. Etches served as Associate Medical Officer of Health, Acting Medical Officer of Health and Director of Clinical Services for the Sudbury & District Health Unit. In 2005, she completed specialty training in Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Etches is passionate about preventing illness and injury and working with partners to support people’s wellbeing, with a focus on priority populations. She is committed to public health work addressing inequities in health status stemming from racism and colonialism.

About Ottawa Public Health

The goal of Ottawa Public Health is to keep people healthy, safe and well. Ottawa Public Health works with the community and partner agencies across many sectors on both programs and policies, serving people across their lifespan. The organization’s areas of focus include prenatal, parenting, baby and maternal health, healthy aging, mental and dental health, substance use, nutrition, and injury and disease prevention.

Ottawa Public Health was on the front line of the local pandemic response. It led the largest vaccination campaign in Ottawa’s history, which to date has achieved 92% full vaccination coverage (at least two doses) for the population aged 12 and older.

About the Key to the City award

  • The Key to the City is Ottawa’s most prestigious municipal award.
  • The practice of presenting a key can be traced back to medieval times, when admission into a city was hampered by many legal restrictions, as well as by walls and locked gates. The key symbolized free entry and is now used to recognize accomplished Canadians who have had an impact on the city and its image on the national and international stage.
  • Previous Key to the City recipients include author Margaret Atwood, photographer Yousuf Karsh, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, actress Sandra Oh and retired hockey player Daniel Alfredsson.
  • The most recent recipient was the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean in recognition of her illustrious and distinguished career as a journalist, 27th Governor General of Canada, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti and third Secretary General for La Francophonie.