OTTAWA — The first lady of the United States got a sweeping introduction to Canadian sports culture in Ottawa Friday as Sophie Grégoire Trudeau took Jill Biden to the curling rink for her first trip to Ottawa.
President Joe Biden and his wife arrived in the capital Thursday evening for their first official visit to Canada since the president took office two years ago.
While the president spent most of the day close to Parliament Hill in meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, their wives visited the nearby 135 year-old Rideau Curling Club.
The 20 or so curlers on the ice seemed oblivious at first as the two women greeted each other in the lounge with a warm embrace before stepping out to the chilly rink.
The shouts of the tense curling matches quieted slightly as Grégoire Trudeau greeted the players.
"You know, I love sports," Grégoire Trudeau told the players from the side of the ice.
"I love sports," Biden agreed, which earned her a chuckle from the players.
An official itinerary promised that the two would get an introduction to the game, but they opted to take it in from the sidelines rather than pick up a rock or a broom themselves.
Back in the lounge, the first lady and Grégoire Trudeau joined a group of teens to talk about how sports contributes to their mental health and general sense of wellness.
They shook each high-schooler's hand before they sat down, and the first lady — a former classroom teacher — quipped that they were missing school.
"As a mental-heath advocate and as a teacher, we know that we can learn anything in school, which is extraordinary, but taking care of ourselves and knowing more about our mental and physical limits is very important," said Grégoire Trudeau.
"Sport can allow us to do that."
As the women listened to the perspective of the teens, Biden pulled out a pen and notebook to take down their thoughts.
They next travelled to the National Gallery of Canada in separate vehicles as people across downtown Ottawa stopped to wave or take out their phones to capture video of the motorcade. Some people stepped out of shops to watch the 19 vehicles drive by.
As Grégoire Trudeau led Biden into the lobby of the gallery, the first lady paused to admire the glass ceilings.
"I just had to take a moment," she said, as she smiled to step forward and greet the curators and view the exhibit.
Though the trip is the first lady's first to Ottawa, Biden and Grégoire Trudeau know each other fairly well.
The pair met a few months ago at the North American Leaders Summit in Mexico, when the first lady referred to Grégoire Trudeau as a "good friend and neighbour."
Grégoire Trudeau had also established a lasting friendship with former first lady Michelle Obama, who once referred to her as her "soulmate."
Biden and Grégoire Trudeau shared a private lunch at the gallery before joining their husbands as the president addressed Parliament.
The women were expected to end the visit by attending a gala dinner at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.
Several Canadian dignitaries are on the guest list, including Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and her husband, cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press